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What will launch Canada's tea-party movement?

Sarah Palin speaks during the National Tea Party Convention at Gaylord Opryland Hotel in Nashville, Tenn., on February 6, 2010.

Will we say it all began with Danny Millions? No we won't. Because we don't do tea parties.

The new week arrived bearing the legacy of several seemingly unrelated events. First, Newfoundland Premier Danny Williams is reportedly recovering from whatever cardiac surgery was performed on him in the United States. Second, the populist tea-party movement ended a successful convention, Sunday, highlighted by former Alaska governor and vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin's rousing speech in which she derided President Barack Obama's own grassroots appeal.

"A year later, how is all that hopey-changey stuff working out for you?" she asked the crowd in Nashville, Tennessee, rhetorically. For those gathered, as for millions of Americans, the answer is clearly: Not so much.

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Canada and the United States are remarkably similar countries - so similar, that no one else on earth can tell the two of us apart, unless this Austrian or that Sri Lankan has an ear so well attuned to English that she can distinguish Newfoundland from Missouri accents.

Yet politically, we are solitudes. Americans are perpetually in full-throated reaction to the status quo. Their grassroots abhorrence of the war in Iraq, the mismanagement of Katrina and the other follies of the Bush administration helped get Barack Obama elected President of the United States.

Now it would seem that an equally large, though very different, assembly of Americans is rallying in reaction to Mr. Obama's statist interventions in the economy, his hopes to reform health care, his government's projected deficits.

This is no confection whipped up by Fox News. Massachusetts elected a Republican senator last month in reaction to the excesses of Obamanation.

Yet here at home, all is quiet.

Only the talking heads seem exercised by Danny Williams's decision to seek treatment for a heart condition in the United States. This seems strange. The Premier of Newfoundland and Labrador has enough money to bypass the queues that are endemic to Canadian health care, not to mention the forced intermingling of non-private hospital rooms. So he does, while the rest of us with bad hearts wait our turn.

Yet apart from the ravers who append comments to blogs such as this, the population is quiescent, even though Mr. Williams's decision nakedly reveals the dirty truth about public health care in Canada: that anyone who can escape it, does.

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For all our shared geography and history, Canadians are more Japanese than American. Or more German. Or Norwegian. We accommodate ourselves to the political reality we inhabit. Only the Americans are perpetually up in arms against the status quo. It makes for more unstable, more dysfunctional, but ultimately more democratic politics.

Newspapers this morning are carrying a story from Canadian Press about a decision by a political aide to Christian Paradis, who was then Public Works minister, to block the release of report on vacancy rates in government office buildings.

There appeared to have been no good reason to suppress the report, other than it might have been embarrassing to the government. But that is enough under our rules, and within our political culture, to prevent disclosure.

We are a well-ordered society. We grumble, we whinge, but we accommodate. Our Southern cousins, in contrast, no sooner storm one barricade than they begin charging another.

Still, reversals are always possible. There is more snow in Washington, right now, than in Ottawa. Maybe someday something will happen that launches a tea-party movement in Canada. After all, Canadians seemed unhappy about the Harper government's decision to shut down Parliament, even if the reaction on the street was pretty feeble, compared to our American cousins' discontent.

But probably not. Populism isn't in our bones. There are no Sarah Palins among us. Whether that's a good thing or bad, it just is.

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Come home, Danny. There won't be protests at the airport.

(Photo: Ms. Palin rallies the faithful at this weekend's tea-party convention. Josh Anderson/Reuters)

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About the Author

John Ibbitson started at The Globe in 1999 and has been Queen's Park columnist and Ottawa political affairs correspondent.Most recently, he was a correspondent and columnist in Washington, where he wrote Open and Shut: Why America has Barack Obama and Canada has Stephen Harper. He returned to Ottawa as bureau chief in 2009. More

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