With the anniversary of Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection on Thursday, many Canadians will be thumbing their noses at the Donald Trump cult and what it has done to the beleaguered great republic. Except for about six million of them.
Six million? That’s roughly the number of Canadians, pollsters estimate, who support Mr. Trump or the Trumpism ideology.
It’s a number – more than the population of British Columbia – that’s not easy to fathom. It shows how susceptible Canada is to American currents. It suggests that as we watch Americans recall the horror of that day, we should refrain from gloating. The corrosive forces at work in the U.S. are alive and well here.
Most of the Canadian polling was done in November of 2020, after four years of Mr. Trump’s handiwork. His support numbers didn’t sag during that period. Like Americans, it seems Canadians who are enamoured of the demagogue stay that way no matter what he does.
It’s possible what happened on Jan. 6 – the ghastly images of the attempted overthrow of democracy still shock – resulted in that six million number dropping. But likely not by much. We recall after the election that Mr. Trump began his campaign to negate the result with his wild-eyed stop-the-steal campaign. A poll by the Angus Reid Institute found that no less than 41 per cent of Canadian Conservative voters agreed with him that the election was unfair and should be contested. Overall, the number of Canadians who agreed was 18 per cent, which is in the six-million neighbourhood.
It need be noted that this is less that half the percentage of Americans who continue to back Mr. Trump. But it’s still remarkable given his shredding of democratic values, his race-baiting, his sleaze, his pandering to people’s worst instincts, his serial lying, his record of sexual harassment, his retrograde policy stances and, in Canada’s case, his dismissive treatment.
The Canadian Conservative Party generally steers clear of him. After Jan. 6, long-time Conservative strategist Ken Boessenkool wrote that this was the last straw, that he could no longer tolerate party members who supported him, that Mr. Trump was “an evil man.” His backward populism, he said, served to stoke anger and posed a threat to Canada.
The Trump appeal lies primarily in the Prairie provinces. Among the many reasons for his support, said Abacus Data chairman Bruce Anderson in an interview, is his ransacking of political correctness. There’s a good-sized market for it, “especially among those who harbour resentment towards minorities, women, immigrants.”
Being pro-oil and one who scoffs at climate change wins him support in the West, and he’s struck a chord, as he has in the U.S., with people who detest political institutions, wokeism and elites. Moreover, Mr. Anderson says, “he beats up on the mainstream media and there’s a pretty large – and I think growing market – for that.”
Like Mr. Trump, many of his Canadian supporters tend to be angry and venomous. Being very vocal, they have a disproportionately large presence on social media platforms, where they spew their bile while often hiding behind pseudonyms, too cowardly to reveal their identities.
Their attacks on the media, on my own shortcomings for example, sometimes have merit. But when it comes to truth fornication and fake news, it’s hard to surpass the Trumpians.
Ekos Research president Frank Graves, who has done extensive research on right-wing populism in Canada, said in an interview that the Trumpians tend to be under the age of 50, working class, male, less educated and located mainly outside urban cores.
“My view is that the same forces that produced the Trump presidency in the U.S. are at work in Canada, albeit on a smaller scale.” Trump apostles debase the national dialogue. Their effect, he said, is corrosive on Canadian values, unity, institutions.
It’s too difficult to tell, he added, whether Trump support numbers will grow or decline. Though the People’s Party of Canada denies being a home for Trumpians, there is likely some overlap, and its level of support in the next few years could be a barometer.
Whatever the case, should Mr. Trump return to power he could well have a large cohort of Canadians supporting him and his destabilizing designs.
It’s of paramount concern, said Mr. Anderson, and media organizations, for one, have to step up. They’ve been contributing to the problem “by chasing the clicks rather than modulating the debate, and by removing guardrails rather than protecting a civil conversation.”
Guardrails indeed need to be heightened. Let the first anniversary of what happened at the American Capitol on Jan. 6 be an emphatic reminder.
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