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People hold flags and placards as hundreds of supporters of the Michigan Conservative Coalition protest against the state's extended stay-at-home order at the Capitol building in Lansing, Michigan on April 15, 2020.SETH HERALD/Reuters

“We will not comply,” protesters shouted at Michigan’s Democratic Governor, Gretchen Whitmer, on Wednesday. It was in response to her stay-at-home order to combat the COVID-19 pandemic. “Lock her up,” they hollered.

Spurred on by right-wing media, demonstrations also took place in Democrat-led North Carolina and Republican-governed Ohio. Members of the GOP pressured the White House to reactivate the country; business leaders did the same. And President Donald Trump, who has been most anxious to do so, responded Thursday by issuing a three-phase reopening plan to be run by state governments.

No such foment has been evident in Canada, where, given that the virus has had a less lethal impact, pressure for an early reopening might have been more likely.

But Canadians have been more submissive, willing to heed the federal government’s desire to extend the lockdown with hardly a word of dissent.

It’s in keeping with the old stereotype advanced by U.S. sociologist Seymour Martin Lipset: Canadians are more law-abiding, statist and deferential than Americans.

Ronald Hamowy, who was a history professor at the University of Alberta, put it this way: “If you walk into a store in Canada, and you find a customer having a dispute with a sales clerk, 90 per cent of the other customers will immediately side with the clerk. That person is regarded as an official, and therefore the one to obey.” In the U.S., he said, it wouldn’t happen that way.

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This abiding character difference with Americans, the validity of which is sometimes contested, is now playing out in a critically important way. Canadians are siding with health officials over those who argue that the shutdown cure for the virus – which will probably lead to a long-running recession or depression – could bring on more suffering than the disease itself.

North of the border, the economic argument is not getting as much traction as it is in the U.S. Justin Trudeau’s hand is not likely to be forced by Mr. Trump’s move, at least not right away.

Frank Graves, whose Ekos firm has been doing opinion research for the Prime Minister on the virus, has found no urgency for a change of strategy. Canadians are generally satisfied with the approach, he said in an interview. “Our greater deference appears to be in play.”

Canadians’ attitudes have also been coloured by widespread animosity toward Mr. Trump. Moreover, his reopening plan has the look of being rushed, premature and capable of inducing chaos. U.S. public-health experts have warned that the country isn’t ready for opening up because its testing system, among other things, is still very deficient.

Mr. Trudeau will feel pressure if things go well in the states that open up early. Some Canadian provinces, where the incidence of the virus is more modest than in others, may want to follow suit. Mr. Graves thinks Canadians’ patience might wear thin in another month or two. The way Mr. Trudeau has been talking, the lockdown could last longer than that.

Mr. Trump is under more pressure to get his country moving because he faces an election this fall. A fundraising plea from the Republican Party that somehow landed in my mailbox Thursday warned that the President is in trouble in swing states. “Democrats are pouring millions into key battleground states that President Trump and his allies NEED to win,” it said. “We’ve already seen the ratings for races in three states shift in the Democrats’ favor!”

In the U.S., 22 million people have filed for unemployment assistance. In Ms. Whitmer’s Michigan, the unemployment rate is a staggering 25 per cent.

Mr. Trump had initially threatened to dictate to the states on when to reopen, but he eventually backed away. By leaving the decisions around timing to governors, he is protecting himself to some degree should further outbreaks of COVID-19 occur.

Like in the U.S., the Canadian economy is being decimated by the virus. But even calls for a gradual reopening with strict physical-distancing requirements and limits on the number of people in stores have been met with hostility. The opinion of health experts is considered gospel – even though in some instances they have been off the mark.

Old habits die hard. The late Lipset contended that Canadians’ deferential tendencies have been around since the counterrevolutionary United Empire Loyalists fled north, leaving the American revolutionaries behind.

It’s at times like this that the country finds out how beneficial its enduring character trait is.

Fareed Zakaria says Canada needs to use its positive influence on the U.S. so America can contribute to international solutions for a world gripped by the coronavirus pandemic. The author and journalist was in conversation with Rudyard Griffiths of the Munk Debates.

The Globe and Mail

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