Stephen Marche is the author of The Next Civil War.
On Monday, Justin Trudeau seemingly grew tired of being the leader of a small Northern country and decided to see what it might feel like to be the governor of a large Democratic state.
In his announcement banning the purchase, sale, transfer or importation of handguns, while launching a buyback program for military assault-style weapons, Mr. Trudeau explicitly referenced the school shooting in Uvalde, Tex., as a justification: “We need only look south of the border to know that if we do not take action, firmly and rapidly, it gets worse and worse and more difficult to counter.” In doing so, the Prime Minister was indulging a long-standing Canadian pastime: Solving America’s problems while ignoring our own.
As the United States slides further and further into violence and chaos, Canada’s national tendency to import our neighbour’s crises is growing more and more ludicrous. Reacting to America, either in imitation or in resistance, is not a healthy way for Canadians to make policy.
First, the obvious: America has a massive gun problem. Anyone over 17, including those who have a history of mental-health concerns or documented violence, is legally entitled to purchase hugely powerful assault weapons and thousands of rounds of ammunition in states such as New York and Texas; mass murder is the inevitable result. But I fail to see how those massacres there relate even remotely to handgun sales in Canada. Our problems when it comes to guns are completely separate, derived from entirely different political decisions, traditions and cultures. Canada has (thank God) vastly more restrictions on guns of all types, but, more importantly, guns are not fetishized objects here in the way they have become there. You’re not allowed to own a gun for the purposes of personal protection in Canada, which is the No. 1 reason given by American gun owners, and guns here are not symbols of resistance to governmental authority as they are in the U.S. The majority of Canadian gun owners, around 70 per cent, say they own them primarily for hunting. So how can a policy formed in reaction to events in Texas make sense in a Canadian context?
Canadians too often forget that American lessons don’t necessarily apply. I remember, during the Occupy Wall Street protests in 2008, walking through a poor imitation of Zuccotti Park in Toronto, where a few hundred neo-hippies had set up drum circles and a human microphone. But Occupy Bay Street didn’t make any sense. The U.S. financial crisis was caused by policy failures that Canadian authorities didn’t make; the American protesters were fighting to regulate their banks the way Canada already had. But that wasn’t the point: It was more about having the same kind of angry party they were having in New York. The Toronto protesters didn’t want to miss out on the action, and the action was American.
To be so transfixed by the drama of the bigger, more powerful country – to the exclusion of our own dramas – is the heart of the colonial mentality: They matter more than we do. Therefore Canada works hard at being a better version of America, rather than a better version of itself. Mr. Trudeau’s announcement made him seem like the kid in class, desperate for approval, who begs the teacher to call on him to answer a question that another student has been asked to answer.
This mentality obscures our own nature from us. It always has, and it probably always will, because there’s something comforting in this tactic, allowing us to excuse our own crises. Yes, Canada faces rising gun violence, but that reality looks nothing like America’s.
Good for us that, unlike the United States, we have sensible and meaningful gun laws that largely prevent the kind of regular mass shootings that afflict America. But here are some of the problems we do face: Nobody under the age of 30 nearly anywhere in this country is able to afford a house unless they inherit wealth, making the idea of earning equity a joke. We are a well-known haven for money-laundering and organized crime. We rank near the bottom of every study of productivity in advanced economies because our culture is sclerotic and resistant to innovation in any form. We are bringing in many hundreds of thousands of immigrants into the country while failing to integrate them economically and socially. These are Canadian problems. They’re real. And they’re more than enough for the political class here to be dealing with.
The accelerating toxicity of American politics is infecting our country from all sides. Conservative leadership hopeful Pierre Poilievre is trying out the angry brand of U.S. conservatism that has given Republicans power while annihilating their national institutions. The Freedom Convoy, which received significant funding from American sources, signalled the spillover of the violent insurgent aspect of the radical U.S. right wing into Canada. But American politics is so toxic that for our body politic to react against it is unhealthy, too. The hyperpartisanship that has crippled their capacity to govern themselves demands constant political spectacle, which is on the one hand utterly fascinating and, on the other, an exercise in pure futility. Their politics has removed itself from the business of policy.
I tend to believe that Canadians of all political affiliations are generally too sensible and practical to fall into this same state of political histrionics. But if there has ever been a moment for Canada to cut itself off from the dominance of the United States, it is now. The more we remain connected to American politics – to American stories generally – the more unreasonable and angry we will become. The Prime Minister and the potential next leader of the Opposition should think much less about their counterparts across the border. They should not imitate or react against Republicans or Democrats. That path is their path, and it is a path to hell.
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