In the age of Trump, those of us who are immigrants from the United States feel doubly blessed to live in Canada (even in winter). Canada is an island of sanity in a sea of craziness. Not for us the ethno-nationalist populism that has upset so much of Europe. Not for us the xenophobia and anti-immigrant sentiments that helped propel Donald Trump to power. We’re proud of our Canadian exceptionalism. We are the nation that has kept its head. For now.
The nations upended by right-wing populism all have one thing in common. They are all facing white demographic decline. And that is the breeding ground for populist revolts. These revolts are linked directly to immigration, as Eric Kaufmann argues in his deeply researched new book, Whiteshift: Populism, Immigration and the Future of White Majorities.
In Canada, the demographic shift will be huge. Today about 20 per cent of Canadians are visible minorities. But in 90 years, only about 20 per cent of Canadians will be white; most will belong to a racially hybrid majority, according to Mr. Kaufmann. The political fault lines of the future will be drawn along ethnocultural, rather than class divisions.
Whiteshift argues that it’s time to open up room for a legitimate conversation about white anxiety over immigration and the rate of change, rather than treat the subject as automatically toxic. For too long, argues Mr. Kaufmann, the establishment left – with the help of the establishment media – has branded any challenge to immigration levels as illegitimate and racist. This is dangerous, he told me, because “we’re giving ammunition and oxygen to the far right.” The results of not giving a mainstream outlet to these views are all around us: Look at Sweden, or Germany, or the U.S.
Mr. Kaufmann, a professor of politics at Birkbeck College, University of London, was brought up in British Columbia. So he’s well-acquainted with Canada’s cosmopolitan vibe. Among the reigning classes – including the media – the coming demographic transformation is simply assumed to be a good thing, even proof of our superior virtue as a nation.
So why has there been no backlash here? Mr. Kaufmann argues that because of the peculiarities of Anglo-Canadian history, English-Canadian identity basically collapsed along with the Empire. As a result, white English Canadians don’t really have a national identity. “No ethnic founding myth or sense of peoplehood survived the fall of Britannic nationalism,” he writes in his book. What moved into the void was a new religion – the religion of multiculturalism and diversity. "The contemporary Anglo-defined Canadian identity is futuristic: a missionary nationalism centred on the left-modernist ideology of multiculturalism,” he writes. (He’s quick to add that this analysis doesn’t pertain to Quebec, whose brand of ethno-populism looks far more like Europe’s. )
Canada doesn’t really have a right-wing party. On all major issues, including immigration, the Conservatives are almost indistinguishable from the Liberals. The parties’ views on immigration are virtually identical. Even though, according to EKOS, as many as 40 per cent of Canadians think there are too many “visible minorities” among those immigrating to Canada, this view gets no airing by any mainstream politician. Immigration opinion is similar in Canada and the U.S. But it has been politicized only by the American right, not the Canadian right.
“So long as a critical mass of opinion formers support – or fail to challenge – the rule that politicizing multiculturalism and immigration is racist, the system is stable,” writes Mr. Kauffmann. “Though there is sporadic protest over border security and illegal immigration, support for high immigration and multiculturalism is currently unassailable due to anti-racist norms.”
Does this mean that English Canada is safe from the scourge of national populism? Until recently Mr. Kaufmann was inclined to think so. But he’s changed his mind. “People argued that it would never come to Germany, Britain, Sweden, or Spain,” he said. “Now it has hit them all. We are not immune.” He also believes that the Tories’ decision to skirt the immigration issue opens the door for a populist party on the right, or for a populist Conservative leader.
That doesn’t mean Maxime Bernier’s People’s Party will be it. So far the media have done an effective job confining him to the margins. He has few visible followers, and is regarded as a mild threat to the Conservative vote rather than as a political force on his own.
Ironically, Mr. Kaufmann believes the most polarizing political figure in Canadian politics today is probably Justin Trudeau. “He is the standard-bearer for the most out-there version of globalism,” he told me.
Mr, Trudeau speaks for millions of Canadians. But he doesn’t speak for millions more – people who aren’t sure they’re comfortable with the rate of change, folks who think globalism has gone too far, and others who say they don’t recognize the place where they grew up any more. Those people aren’t going to go away. And sooner or later, they will find a voice.