Normally, when a controversy erupts south of the border, this country’s prime minister refuses to comment on the grounds that the Canadian government should not interfere in American affairs.
But when word emerged that the U.S. Supreme Court was going to strike down Roe v. Wade, the 1973 ruling that made abortion legal throughout that country, Justin Trudeau reached for his smartphone.
“Every woman in Canada has a right to a safe and legal abortion,” Mr. Trudeau tweeted. “We’ll never back down from protecting and promoting women’s rights in Canada and around the world.” Cabinet ministers Chrystia Freeland, Mélanie Joly, Patty Hajdu and others also weighed in.
Liberals love to embarrass Conservatives on the abortion issue: “The silence from the Conservatives is deafening,” Ms. Joly tweeted.
Deafening? While her office asked MPs not to comment on the issue, interim leader Candice Bergen affirmed that a Conservative government would never introduce or support legislation limiting the right to an abortion.
Leslyn Lewis, the sixth candidate, would restrict sex-selective abortions and prohibit foreign aid that funded abortions, but she goes no further; in any case, she has little real hope of winning the leadership.
The Canadian commentariat enjoys dabbling in culture-war porn. Some terrible thing is happening in the United States. It could happen here, too!
No, it can’t.
First, Canada has no South. The struggles over women’s rights, over gun rights, over the rights of racial and sexual and gender minorities – they are all tainted by the legacy of the Southern determination to preserve slavery and then Jim Crow, as well as the Northern determination to end them. You could add a hundred qualifications and exceptions to the statement that would all be valid, but the core truth still holds.
Second, Canada has no rust belt. Yes, we have areas of industrial decline, some of them in Ontario. But Ontario also has Toronto, with a large, prosperous service-based economy. Ohio wouldn’t be Ohio if it had Manhattan in it.
Third, the U.S. is dominated by a few minorities; Canada by many. Latinos now account for 18 per cent of the U.S. population, according to the Pew Research Center. African-Americans account for 12 per cent. The non-Hispanic white population is declining in both relative and absolute terms, and now makes up only 58 per cent. It will drop below 50 per cent in about two decades.
Industrial decline in some states, coupled with resentment among some whites over their waning influence, fuels the culture wars – which are abetted by conservative media and embodied in the Republican Party.
The white population is also declining in Canada. But decades of high but controlled levels of immigration have prevented a racially defined, immigration-fuelled underclass from emerging.
Immigrants come to this country from around the world. On the whole, they prosper, and most of Canada prospers along with them. Equalization, relatively high levels of taxation and other redistributive programs lessen social tensions.
Immigrants integrate peacefully into Canadian society because of deeply entrenched societal norms. In the 19th century, the English and French in British North America had to find a way to co-exist within the same political space, despite centuries of warfare between them in Europe. They gradually developed a culture of accommodation – the real origin of Canada’s famous politeness – in which each community gave the other space.
The respectful entente between English and French that defined Confederation prevented Canada from ever developing a common national identity, but it kept the peace and laid the foundation for multiculturalism in later decades.
However, this culture of accommodation did not extend to Indigenous people in Canada, who were displaced and dispossessed. The country continues to pay the price for that folly. It is to the great credit of First Nation, Inuit and Métis peoples that they continue to pursue redress peacefully.
There are also pockets of intolerance toward women and minorities in Canada. The protests in Ottawa over the winter reminded us that a portion of the population remains resentful of a country that they feel does not accommodate them. And as Canadian Security Intelligence Service director David Vigneault warned Wednesday, social media amplify the most irresponsible voices, here as well as in the U.S.
But let’s not fool ourselves into believing that we are afflicted with the deep and worsening schisms that afflict the United States. Nothing like that is happening here, and as long as we are careful, nothing ever will.
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