This article was re-posted on the DeSmog Canada site on Dec 5 2016.
Edited Nov 28 to add income inequality info.
In the days following the US election, two former Canadian ambassadors to the US had some advice for Canadians worried about the future of Canada-US relations.
“Calm down,” they said. “Change the channel and watch some hockey.”
This paternalistic statement not only played on the worn cultural stereotype that all Canadians like hockey, but it suggested that a ‘head in the sand,’ ‘everything will be fine’ mentality was a good way to deal with Trump.
In truth, Canadians have every reason to worry.
Let’s start with the ambassador’s original concern: Canada-US relations. While they argued that nothing will change, that’s highly unlikely. Trump’s policies don’t really jive with Trudeau’s. For example, if Trump goes ahead with his anti-climate change stance, Canada’s government will have to rethink their climate strategy or risk the perception of falling behind economically relative to a country with minimal climate change regulations. Other potential issues include NAFTA, our defence alliances, the Paris climate agreement, and the proposed Keystone XL pipeline.
Another consideration is whether Trump-style politics will cross the border. Well it’s clear that’s already happened. Kellie Leitch is one of the candidates running for the leadership of the Conservative Party of Canada (CPC). Shortly after Trump was declared the victor, Leitch sent out a flyer saying that Trump’s win was “an exciting message that needs to be delivered in Canada as well.”
Leitch was also a supporter of the ‘Barbaric Cultural Practices Hotline’ that popped up during our last election as a cornerstone of CPC policy. Basically a way to tattle on your neighbours for being brown. In the current CPC leadership race, Leitch has proposed screening immigrants for anti-Canadian values. What might those be? Liking soccer instead of hockey? Frequenting Starbucks instead of Tim Horton’s?
More recently, Leitch has called for dismantling the CBC to “create more competition in the media market.” Seriously? Does she not realize that the TV market has been concentrated into just a few outlets – as of 2013? Has she not followed the news about the concentration of newspaper outlets last year? Is she not aware that the CBC is one of the few remaining (sort of) independent media outlets?
In case you think her ideas are too right of mainstream, think again. Leitch leads the CPC leadership campaign in terms of total funds raised, and donations to her campaign increased following her proposal of screening for anti-Canadian values.
While the former Canadian ambassadors focused on Trump and Canada-US relations, they should have also considered the impacts of a Trump presidency on Canadian society. Racist attacks have increased in Canada since the election, including swastikas painted on Muslim and Jewish religious centres, and Muslim individuals experiencing harassment.
Following the election, some media outlets are painting Canada as the tolerant and progressive cousin to an America that’s gone off the rails. Instead of keeping calm, watching hockey, and basking in the compliments, however, we need to confront the fact that we’re not as tolerant and progressive as we like to think we are.
I’ve just finished reading Thomas King’s The Inconvenient Indian and Wab Kinew’s The Reason You Walk. Pair these with Candace Savage’s A Geography of Blood (and many, many more books on the topic), and you’ll begin to understand one aspect of the race problem in Canada. For example, it took an election to get the government to pay attention to missing and murdered indigenous women (MMIW), and the current government is stalling on adopting the UN Declaration for the Rights of Indigenous People (UNDRIP) into law.
We also seem to have a problem with women. In Alberta, Sandra Jansen, a candidate for leader of the Alberta Conservative Party, crossed the floor to the NDP, citing “bullying, extreme views, and intolerance” as her reasons for abandoning the Conservatives. The leader of Alberta’s NDP, Rachel Notley, is no stranger to these types of attacks – she (and other women in her party) has been attacked repeatedly merely for being women in politics.
Then there’s our environmental record. Trudeau has approved an LNG plant in Squamish and another in Prince Rupert. The latter is particularly contentious given the potential impacts on salmon in the region. Trudeau has also approved permits for BC’s Site C hydropower development. All of these projects negatively impact indigenous communities and have serious environmental implications, but are being approved nonetheless. It’s no surprise, then, that over 1300 early career Canadian scientists wrote a letter to Trudeau asking him to apply more transparency and rigour to the environmental assessment process. And when it comes to our progress on tackling climate change, the Dialogues on Sustainability group based out of McGill University notes that the approval of the LNG projects outlined above will make it difficult to reach our emissions targets.
Finally, there are those who think we have some wisdom to impart to Americans about how to deal with an anti-science government. While it’s true that we learned a lot about how to organize and fight for science during Harper’s War on Science, we remain far behind the US in several crucial ways. First of all, the US has the Union of Concerned Scientists, which has advocated publicly for science since 1969. Here in Canada we have Evidence For Democracy, which is doing excellent work but has only been around since 2012. In the US, scientific societies publicly advocate for science funding, as they did last year when the House Science Committee threatened earth science funding. Here in Canada, scientific societies are noticeably absent from the debate about science and science-based policy. The US also has a President’s Science Advisor, who directs the Office of Science and Technology Policy. Here in Canada, Harper abolished the office of the Science Advisor after it had only been in place for four years. We’re still waiting for word from the Trudeau government as to whom they’ll appoint as the new Chief Science Officer. The Americans have fought for science before, under the George W. Bush administration (particularly climate science). While the current fight won’t be the same – and could be a lot tougher – they’re prepared. Much more so than Canadian scientists are.
Given just these few examples of how we treat indigenous peoples, women, and the environment, and the state of science nationally, Canada can’t get too smug about being a better version of our neighbours to the south. Although we don’t have the same level of income inequality as we see in the US (thanks Alexis Morgan for pointing this out), we can’t assume that Trump-style politics won’t gain a foothold here. Instead of watching some hockey and burying our heads in the sand, we need to stay aware, and commit ourselves to ensuring that we not only fail to buy into the racist, misogynist, and anti-science politics from south of the border, but that we actually improve things here at home.
Recommended reading (thanks to John Dupuis): This is Really Happening