The divide with the U.S. will widen in 2022

The gap between Canadian and American values will grow wider in 2022.

image: Globe and Mail

Once, what seems long ago, we were happy with our southerly neighbours. The mood soured with the improbable election of Donald Trump in 2017. Then the proportion of Canadians who saw the United States as “a negative force in today’s world” grew to 6 out of 10. In the eyes of Canadians, that made America the most negative country.

Canadians even saw North Korea as less negative than the U.S.  North Korea  was second at 46 per cent.

Before the election of Trump, we had an overwhelmingly positive opinion of the U.S.

And why not? We have historically had a positive opinion of the U.S. for good reason. Our friends, relatives, and business partners in the U.S. are often within driving range.

My dad was born in the U.S. and became a Canadian citizen when he married my mom. I often visited my aunt in Ventura, California when she was still alive.

Like many Canadians, I once saw the United States as a bustling place where exciting developments in technology and culture were constantly taking shape.

Today, I see a dangerously fractured society that is diminished and dangerous.

Political events in the U.S. are alarming.

One year ago the impossible happened when thousands of radicalized, ill-informed Americans stormed the Capitol building to disrupt the certification of Joe Biden as president.

It’s astonishing that 39 percent of the Republican Party refuse to accept Biden as president.

The angry mob that attacked The Capital was encouraged by the maniacal demigod Donald Trump. They included present and former members of the military.

As the anniversary of the insurrection on January 6 approaches, three retired U.S. generals have warned that another insurrection could occur after the 2024 presidential election and that the military could instigate it.

In their article in the Washington Post they said: “In short: We are chilled to our bones at the thought of a coup succeeding next time.”

One of those generals, retired General Paul Eaton, told National Public Radio in the U.S.:

“I believe that we need to war-game the possibility of a problem and what we are going to do. The fact that we were caught completely unprepared — militarily, and from a policing function — on Jan. 6 is incomprehensible to me. Civilian control of the military is sacrosanct in the U.S. and that is a position that we need to reinforce.”

Trump channels the values and attitudes of a segment of American society whose numbers and influence are in decline: generally older, white voters, disproportionately male, who are alarmed by demographic and social change.

Pollster Michael Adams finds a widening gap between U.S. Democrats and Republicans that is not evident in Canada (Globe and Mail, January 1, 2022)

Even Albertans, generally said to be the most conservative Canadians, are more likely to be aligned with Democrats in the U.S. than Republicans.

As for the Conservative Party, the social values of its supporters are much more similar to those of Liberal supporters than the values of Republicans.

The ugly wound on the American body politic will not heal in the foreseeable future.

Canadians can only look nervously to the south at the unraveling of a once proud nation.

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Pipeline approval won’t help the Liberals

If the federal Liberals were as popular as the Trans Mountain pipeline, they would win the upcoming election in a landslide.

image: City News, Edmonton

The problem for the Liberals is that the pipeline is most popular where voters are least likely to vote Liberal and least popular where voters traditionally vote Liberal.

According to an Angus Reid poll, the strongest support for the pipeline is in Alberta and Saskatchewan, 85 and 71 percent respectively (ArmchairMayor.ca, June 21, 2019). That’s where Liberal support is weak. Only a total of five seats were won by the Liberals in the combined provinces. Meanwhile in Quebec, 40 percent disapprove. That’s where the Liberals won 40 seats.

While support for the pipeline in B.C. is 54 per cent, that average doesn’t reflect the difference of opinion between the Lower Mainland and the Interior. People in the Interior generally support the pipeline because of jobs and financial incentives offered by Trans Mountain. An informal poll by Kamloops This Week showed 80 per cent approval. The Lower Mainland opposes the pipeline because of potential spills.

Conservatives are placed in the awkward position of approving of the pipeline while disapproving the Liberals. Cathy McLeod, Conservative MP for Kamloops-Thompson-Cariboo, doubted the government’s ability to finish the job:

“I’m not all that optimistic that this government can get it done,” McLeod told Kamloops This Week. Her statement aligns with the Angus Reid poll where 40 percent of respondents didn’t think the pipeline would be built.

Another perceived hurdle is Bill C-69, passed by the Senate last week, which critics say will ensure that the pipeline will never be built.

Bill C-69 imposes more requirements for consulting affected Indigenous communities, widens public participation in the review process and requires climate change to be considered in the building of any development.

The Alberta-based Pembina Institute is cautiously positive of Bill C-69:

“This bill was never about individual projects, but rather a reform of the entire decision-making and assessment process. It is about creating tools and processes to ensure natural resource development decisions, whether about a mine or a dam or a pipeline, are made in a fair way (press release, June 14, 2019) “

If pipelines don’t determine how people vote, what does? Pollster Michael Adams has noticed something new in the way people view immigrants. Twenty years ago, anti-immigrant sentiment was evenly distributed among all three major parties. That’s changed, say Michael Adams, Ron Inglehart, and David Jamison in their article:

“Conservative supporters are more likely to agree with statements strongly hostile to immigration. For example, 50 per cent of Conservatives strongly or somewhat agree that “Overall, there is too much immigration. It threatens the purity of the country.” Fewer than a third of New Democrats (31 per cent) and Liberal supporters (24 per cent) share this belief. This relative concentration of xenophobic sentiment in one party is a new phenomenon in Canada (Globe and Mail, June 14, 2019).”

The researchers are careful to point out that the Conservative Party is not anti-immigrant: they just attract people who are.

Researchers call this the “authoritarian reflex,” a reaction caused by uncertainty and characterized by increased hostility toward “the other,” regardless of whether they are “deviants” in society or foreigners.

The contagion of populism that has been animated by the authoritarian reflex in the U.S. has spilled over into Canada. It will determine the way people vote in way not seen in recent history.

 

Government powers are reduced during an election

The prime minister to likes to act prime-ministerial but his powers are reduced by a little-known convention. You won’t find the Caretaker Convention on any government website but I found a source.

caretaker-conventions

Caretaker conventions are like precedents in law: they determine how government functions.

Powers are reduced because the government has essentially lost the confidence of the house and is at the end of its term says parliamentary expert John Wilson in the Canadian Parliamentary Review.

“The fundamental significance of this observation – when it comes to the importance of maintaining responsible government in our system – is hardly removed by the distinction which is made between a government which has lost the confidence of the House of Commons and one which has merely dissolved parliament in the ordinary course of approaching the legal end of its term in office.”

Canada is in limbo during an election. Once parliament resumes, the Governor General will appoint a party leader most likely to command a majority in legislature. The rules are set down by the Library of Parliament’s instructions to parliamentarians called Constitutional Conventions.

“The Governor General may dismiss a government if (1) an opposition party has won a majority in an election and the existing government refuses to resign, or (2) a government has been defeated on a clear vote of confidence and neither calls an election nor resigns.”

Since this government seems to have a poor grip on the law, Canadians should watch for excesses. The government suspiciously keeps the convention hidden. Mark Jarvis wonders why in his National Post article: Why does Canada not disclose its rules concerning ‘caretaker’ governments (April 4)?

Other countries such as Australia, Great Britain and New Zealand make their Caretaker Conventions public. “By virtue of it not being a public document, it is impossible for the opposition, observers or the public to determine whether its rules have been followed or breached,” complains Jarvis.

Following Jarvis’ complaint, Blogger James Bowden decided to do a little digging and through a freedom-of-information request was sent an unredacted copy of Canada’s Caretaker Convention which he posted on his blog.

Looking at it, I see no reason for secrecy. It spells out the limitations established by experts and agreed to by governments. “Most of these directives serve as common-sense reminders to separate government and partisan activity,” says Bowden.

Failing to make the document publically available creates a sense that the government can do what it wants.

That seems to be the case when the Justice department warned its employees against social media: activity critical of the federal government. The department  thinks that civil servants have a duty of loyalty to the government and must refrain from criticism. That’s contrary to the Convention:

“Those who remain in their position and to become involved on a part-time basis may participate in campaign activities on their own time, outside normal working hours, while not carrying out official duties.”

Or maybe Prime Minister Harper doesn’t want us to know that his government is a caretaker only, just filling in, a nominal administration that will last only until the next government is declared.