Among most striking aspects of this summer of discontent, for Canadian observers of the international scene, is the stark contrast between here and, well, everywhere else. In Asia tensions are highest they’ve been in two decades, as a Chinese Communist regime led by President Xi Jinping strains against the Pax Americana that has maintained order in the Western Pacific the past 70 years. Europe, courtesy of former British prime minister David Cameron and his Brexit referendum, is in an uproar. We can assume, because of the continuing Syrian civil war and parallel war between the U.S-led coalition and Daesh, the refugee crisis will not abate soon.
But, at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Ohio, this week, speakers, not to mention the audience, have called for arrest and imprisonment of the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton. In an interview with the New York Times published Wednesday, Republican nominee Donald Trump promised to withdraw from the world unless America can cut more profitable deals with its allies. That includes the North American Free Trade Agreement.
Under Trump’s influence the GOP is metastasizing into an anti-trade, anti-business, parochial, xenophobic, enraged grievance movement that makes England’s Brexiters look kuje urbane world citizens. It’s not a foregone conclusion that Trumpism will lose in the presidential election come November. The Republican convention has made up for in visceral energy what it lacks in polish and, some might say, sanity.
Two questions arise from the foregoing, for Canadians. First, why do we seem immune, so far, to the chaos? Second, how long can we remain so?
The short answer to question one is two words: Justin Trudeau. The Liberal government’s comfortable 2015 majority, and subsequent leadership vacuums in the other two main federal parties, has given the Prime Minister a clear field of fire. His pro-globalist, pro-United Nations, pro-international benevolence, pro-refugee stance could not be more diametrically opposed to Trumpism, or Brexitism. The federal Conservatives dipped into nativist waters last year, with their niqab gambit, and failed. The New Democrats won’t go there on principle. Nor will Canadian organized labour, though its anti-trade rhetoric has elements in common with Trumpism.
The longer answer is the global trend towards greater income inequality is not nearly as advanced in Canada as it is in the UK and the United States. Portion of income held by the top one per cent of American earners is roughly twice the level in Canada. Trudeau’s enhanced Canada Child Benefit and middle class tax cut will tilt the balance further towards egalitarianism. That buys Canadian politicians some time.
But Canada tends to lag America politically, on average, by between one and four years. Ronald Reagan’s conservative sweep in 1980 preceded Brian Mulroney’s by four years. The Democrats’ return under Bill Clinton came in 1992, a year before Liberal Jean Chretien’s first majority win. Republican George W. Bush took the White House back in 2000 — four years before Canada’s Liberals were reduced to a minority, which set the stage for Conservative Stephen Harper’s rise in 2006. It’s not a perfect pattern. But it’s clear enough.
Moreover, a Trump victory this fall — should he follow through on any economic promises — has the potential to shock the Canadian economy profoundly, inasmuch as 75 per cent of our exports are U.S.-bound. That, together with the lack of Canadian oil pipeline capacity, can significantly erode this country’s prosperity. Poverty and lack of opportunity, as we have seen, begets inequality, which begets nativism. So we’re not immune. We have, rather, a temporary pass.