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Trudeau and Poilievre are engaging in the no-holds-barred rhetoric you’d expect in a polity so deeply divided that neither side is able to speak to the other. But there is no serious ideological gulf between federal Conservatives and Liberals in Canada.Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press

We like to blame social media or pandemic stress or economic hardship for what feels like growing political polarization. But our leaders fan the flames.

Which is why Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre should stop insulting each other.

Mr. Trudeau started the latest dust-up. When Susan Delacourt of the Toronto Star asked the Prime Minister in an interview why he thought so many people disliked him, he started out sounding sympathetic, if condescending, to those who carry flags bearing an epithet with his name.

“They may think it’s about me, but it’s not about me,” he replied. “It’s about the fact that the world is changing in really unpredictable and sometimes scary ways that people don’t feel they’re part of.”

But then he started slagging Mr. Poilievre.

“He’s saying everything’s broken,” Mr. Trudeau said. “He’s playing and preying on the kinds of anger and anxieties about some Canada that used to be – where men were men and white men ruled.”

The Prime Minister accused the Leader of the Official Opposition of pandering to sexists and racists. Sunny ways.

Mr. Poilievre was quick to up the ante. “This from a guy who dressed up in racist costumes so many times he can’t even remember them all,” he declared in a video addressed to Mr. Trudeau. He also referenced the resignation of Jody Wilson-Raybould, Canada’s first Indigenous attorney-general, and others from cabinet and caucus. “That’s your ugly, racist past.”

This is the kind of no-holds-barred rhetoric you’d expect in a polity so deeply divided that neither side is able to speak to the other, such as is happening, tragically, between Democrats and Republicans in the United States.

But there is no serious ideological gulf between federal Conservatives and Liberals in Canada. The so-called polarization is entirely rhetorical. Consider:

Neither Mr. Trudeau nor Mr. Poilievre has condemned provincial governments that employ greater use of the private sector in delivering publicly funded health care. Both seem fine with it.

For more than seven years, Trudeau governments have sought to increase support and independence for First Nations. On Tuesday, in one of his first major policy initiatives, Mr. Poilievre launched consultations with Indigenous groups with a view to funneling federal resource-tax revenues directly to Indigenous communities.

Both the Conservatives and the Liberals support high levels of immigration to offset societal aging.

The Liberal government is spending billions of dollars in supporting Ukraine’s efforts to resist the Russian invasion. Mr. Poilievre’s only criticism has been that the support is “too little, too late.”

Mr. Poilievre says he would fire Tiff Macklem, the Governor of the Bank of Canada. But I detect no fundamental differences in how a Conservative government would approach monetary policy.

Where the two sides differ, the question is often one of degree. The Conservatives believe the Liberals have moved too aggressively in banning certain types of weapons, and they may be right, since the Liberals appear to be backtracking in the face of opposition from hunters and farmers, Indigenous groups and NDP MPs from rural ridings.

A Poilievre government would reduce both program spending and taxes. But any changes would likely be modest. Conservative governments generally don’t roll back social programs launched by Liberal governments, just as Liberal governments generally don’t raise taxes lowered by Conservative governments.

Mr. Poilievre would cancel the federal carbon tax. But he does accept the reality of global warming and the need to lower emissions. He has promised to release an environmental platform “well before the next election.”

Republicans and Democrats profoundly disagree on the right to an abortion, on the rights of sexual and gender minorities, on gun rights, on voting rights, on global warming. They disagree so strongly that it’s a wonder the country holds itself together. Britain and many other European countries also struggle with sharp ideological divides.

But the social and economic consensus in Canada is broad and deep. Which makes it all the more dismaying that the leaders of the two largest national parties talk about each other the way they do. We are just not that polarized, though we could become so if our political leaders don’t tone things down.

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