As we celebrate Canada Day, the surveys once again confirm the blessings of living in this land. Canada is the most inclusive and tolerant country in the world (Ipsos), the second best place in the world to live, after Switzerland (U.S. News and World Report). Canadians are among the happiest people on Earth (ranked seventh according to a United Nations report), in part because we live in one of the safest places on Earth (ranked sixth, according to the Global Peace Index) and our cities enjoy the highest quality of life in the Western hemisphere (Mercer Quality of Living Survey).
In the coming months, all of this will be tested, from without and within. The question is whether the Canada we know will survive that test.
The biggest challenges are at the border. This year, like last year, thousands of people are crossing into Canada from the United States illegally and claiming asylum. Montreal and Toronto have both run out of room to house them, and the busiest months may lie ahead.
Canada is able to sustain high levels of immigration – 22 per cent of Canadians weren’t born in Canada – because most Canadians understand that we need immigrants to grow our population and economy. Typically, about 10 per cent of those immigrants are refugees.
But queue-jumpers undermine confidence in the system. The challenge for the federal government is to regain control of the border, to expedite claims and to deport as swiftly as possible those who don’t qualify for asylum. Anything less puts the entire system at risk.
The border also poses a critical economic challenge. July arrives with Canada imposing counter-tariffs to punish the United States for its tariffs on Canadian steel and aluminum exports. If these sanctions and counter-sanctions escalate all the way to tariffs on automobiles, the Canadian economy could be devastated.
The best way to find relief from these tariffs is through the successful renegotiation of the North American free-trade agreement. Although an agreement seemed within reach in May, it lies moribund today. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland simply must find a path to a new agreement. Canada’s economic future depends on it.
The baleful influence of the post-truth Trumpworld seeps across the border in other ways, with Liberals accusing Conservatives of promoting flat-out lies on social media, and Conservatives retorting that Liberals hide data and practise their own forms of deception. Twitter feeds in recent days have become rancid.
Nor is Canada immune to the wave of populism sweeping Western democracies. Ontario Premier Doug Ford is a very different kind of populist from Donald Trump of America or Viktor Orban of Hungary, both of whom openly stoke racist resentments. In contrast, Mr. Ford counted on the strong support of immigrant voters in suburban ridings.
For example: Visible minorities make up 71 per cent of the voters in Mississauga Centre, which the Conservatives won with 41 per cent of the vote. They make up 85 per cent in Markham-Unionville, which the Conservatives won with 62 per cent of the vote. They make up 92 per cent of Scarborough North, where the Tories secured 50 per cent of the vote.
In suburban ridings with large numbers of immigrant voters, Doug Ford did very, very well.
But other elements of his government boast right-wing populist hues, as we saw Friday when he unveiled his cabinet, which no longer contains a separate minister for Indigenous affairs, and which de-emphasized global warming.
Mr. Ford is actively hostile to the media – a key characteristic of right-wing populists – and thinks there’s too much talk of sex in the sex-ed curriculum.
Canadian populism is a heavily diluted version of its American and European counterparts. Nonetheless, it’s now a fact of our political life.
In one respect, these challenges are welcome. In recent decades, Canada has sloughed off its chronic insecurity and sense of inferiority, celebrating the diverse, tolerant society we have become. But confidence can devolve into complacency. Our commitments to high rates of immigration, to multicultural accommodation, to respect each for the other, to a free and open society are about to be tested.
On the nation’s 151st birthday, let’s resolve to pass that test.