Continental divide with U.S. widens

We used to think we were becoming more like our American cousins. In 2002 58 per cent of Canadians thought we were; now it’s only 27 per cent.

    “Weirdo” image: CBC

There’s more to the shift than the election of President Trump. We are maturing and are more confident. And it has to do with the realization that we are fundamentally different.

Those differences are revealed in response to a relatively simple statement: “The father of the family must be master in his own house.”

Because values are clustered together, response to that statement reveals other values says pollster Michael Adams: “Patriarchy is only one of more than 50 values we track, but it is clearly among the most meaningful. It is also a value that is highly correlated with other values such as religiosity, parochialism and xenophobia, and views on issues such as abortion, guns and the death penalty.”

American response to the statement cycles up and down. When asked in 1992, 42 per cent agreed. Support for patriarchy went up during the Bush presidencies and back down to 1992 levels during the Obama years. The election of President Trump has restored patriarchy to record highs.

Canadian response has been relatively constant for decades -in the low twenties.

It’s a versatile analysis. It also reveals the degree that immigrants adopt Canadian values. Thirty-five per cent of Canadian immigrants agreed with statement; not surprising when most immigrants come from male-dominated countries. In the U.S., substantially more immigrants agree with patriarchy at 56 per cent, even though they are from the same countries as in Canada.

I’m impressed with the way that Adams has of cutting through the clutter of public opinion. I wrote about his research in 2004 in my column for the Kamloops Daily News . Back then he was examining the connection between patriarchy and religiosity. “Canadians have more confidence in their ability to make moral decisions without deferring to religious authority,” said Adams.  As a percentage, twice as many Americans go to church weekly as Canadians, twice as many believe the Bible is literally true, and twice as many say religion is important to them.

In the same column, I argued that the continental divide is marked by something other than just the U.S./Canada border. Progressives on both sides of the border share the same “country.” I find that when I talk to people in the U.S. states of the Pacific Rim, they sound remarkably Canadian. Adams recent research confirms that progressive/populist divide in the U.S. Support for patriarchy is less strong in the coastal states than the Deep South.

Swings in U.S. support for patriarchy reveal a national insecurity. Psychoanalyst Robert Young has studied the psychology of populist movements. “When people feel under threat,” says Young, “they simplify; in a reduced state people cannot bear uncertainty.”

This siege mentality that currently grips the U.S. under Trump indicates just how insecure some Americans feel. Before 9/11, fundamentalist saw modernity and pop culture as a threat to core values. After September 11, the threat became global with the loss of jobs overseas.

The reasons why Canadians don’t want to become more like Americans is becoming ever clearer, as are the reasons why some Americans appreciate Canadian values.


Even without the details, one thing about the TPP remains constant

We don’t know much about the Trans-Pacific Partnership that the Conservatives recently signed except that it will replace North American Free Trade Agreement.


As a trading nation, Canadians generally favour trade agreements. Last year, an Angus Reid poll showed 68 per cent in favour of a trade deal with Europe.

We favour of trade deals while being woefully ignorant of the details; sometimes in the dark about their very existence. In the case of the TPP, Environics showed that 75 per cent didn’t even know what the TPP was; let alone that the Conservatives were negotiating it on our behalf.

This blind faith in the concept of trade agreements often leads us into a blissful unawareness. One principle about the TPP will likely remain constant: private tribunals will replace our courts when it comes to disagreements.

That’s what the Investor–State Dispute Settlement provision does under NAFTA. I would hazard a guess that few Canadians are even aware of the ISDS provision under Chapter 11.

ISDS allows foreign investors to settle disputes with governments through binding private arbitration instead of Canadian courts. Yes, governments can be dictated to by arbitrators. Why would governments give up such a mandate of their power? The Monitor magazine explains:

“The dubious rationale for granting this extraordinarily sweeping right to foreign investors was that the Mexican courts of the day were prone to corruption and political interference.”

If that were a valid justification, Mexico should be on the receiving end of corporate claims. In fact, Mexico has only had a few while Canada has had the most.

“Canada has faced 36 ISDS claims, more than any other developed country in the world, and since 2005 we’ve been hit by 70% of all NAFTA investor lawsuits.”

One of those claims against Canada came in March this year after ExxonMobil’s Canadian subsidiary won $17.3 million in damages after challenging requirements that they dedicate a tiny percentage (0.33%) of their revenues to research and development, education and training in Newfoundland and Labrador.

“But what is especially galling about this case is that Exxon, along with every other company active in the offshore oil sector, had explicitly agreed to abide by provincial R&D commitments.”

In 2010, the federal government had to pay AbitibiBowater $130-million to settle an ISDS complaint after former premier Danny Williams’ expropriation of the company’s mill. Williams said that the owners had broken the lease agreement by walking away from mill, leaving 800 unemployed.

The Harper government tried to weasel out of paying the settlement claiming that the province had caused the problem. More likely, it was an attempt to punish William’s for his lack of Tory support. The last time I looked, Newfoundland is still part of Canada and since NAFTA applies to Canada, it applies to Newfoundland. If the offending province were Alberta, Harper probably would not have complained.

Most of the talk around the TPP has been whether car parts will hurt and beef parts will prosper. Don’t hold your breath waiting to hear how Canada will be dictated to by corporations through private tribunals held in secret.

NDP support for proportional representation is clever politics

There are some clever politics at play in the NDP support for proportional representation. After all, who wouldn’t want a voting system in which our government reflects the popular vote?


In fact, what’s remarkable about our antiquated system is that it’s the exception. All of the world’s major democracies use proportional representation but three: Canada, U.S., Ghana.

On December 3, the NDP introduced a motion in Parliament calling for proportional representation. But before looking at the results let’s look at the politics.

“Let’s make 2015 the last unfair election,” is the NDP slogan. That slogan reminds voters of two things. If they don’t vote NDP in 2015, they can expect more unfair elections in the future. Also, they can expect more of the shenanigans perpetrated by the Conservatives in 2011: voters directed to nonexistent polls on election day, suppression of non-Conservative voters.

It’s clever politics too, because it’s a kind of motherhood issue: a policy that other politicians would have trouble opposing. Framed as an issue of fairness, if an opposing party were to reject proportional representation, it would be equivalent to rejecting fair elections.

As for the results of the vote on the NDP motion on December 3, all NDP favoured it and some Liberals but no Conservatives. Politics aside, the lack of Conservative support is surprising when you consider that Conservative voters actually support proportional representation. Not just Conservatives but Canadians from all parties support proportional representation. An Evironics poll from last year found that on average 70 per cent of Canadians strongly support or somewhat support it. Green, NDP, and Liberal voters support it most but so do 62 per cent of Conservatives.

So how did Cathy McLeod, Conservative MP for Kamloops-Thompson-Cariboo, explain the divergence of the wishes of her voters and the lack of support of her party in Parliament? She could only refer to failed referenda in B.C., Ontario and PEI. “I don’t think there’s an appetite for it,” McLeod said. “We’ve watched what’s happened provincially. We have other areas we’re interested in focusing on.”

NDP candidate, Bill Sundu, was more buoyant. “You sense, and polls reflect, a general cynicism and disinterest with the political system we have,” he said. The political system we have yields false majorities. In the last election, the Conservatives won 54 per cent of the seats with only 40 per cent of the vote.

With six out of ten Conservative voters supporting  proportional representation the Minister of State, Pierre Poilievre, had some explaining to do. It’s all about commons and colours, he explained:

“With a proportional system, that direct connection between a member of Parliament and citizens is obscured at best, and broken at worst. In fact, this place is called the ‘Commons’ because it represents the common people. Its colour is green because the early commoners actually met in fields.”

The only thing the current system has going for it is that it’s simple. Fair voting is a little more complicated and there are different types. The NDP explains theirs as “one ballot, two votes.” Some candidates are voted in the usual way and some according to the popular vote. That’s why it’s called mixed-member proportional representation.