Oh, Canada!

Common Ground

by Justin Trudeau
HarperCollins, 343 pp., CAN$19.99 (paper, 2014)
Mark Blinch/Reuters
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau posing with airport staff as they await the first planeload of Syrian refugees, Toronto, December 11, 2015

A cover of The Economist in 2003 featured a moose—that universally recognized symbol of Canada—wearing sunglasses. Inside, the magazine extolled Canada’s new sophistication: its openness, even then, to legalizing gay marriage and decriminalizing marijuana; its cosmopolitan cities (Toronto would soon become the most diverse metropolis in the world, with over half of its residents foreign-born); and its growing international cultural clout.

It was another thirteen years before Canada received such coverage again. In October 2016, shortly before Donald Trump’s election, the iconography was reversed. Instead of a symbol of Canada wearing an accessory identified with America, the cover featured a quintessential symbol of America—the Statue of Liberty—brandishing a hockey stick. The accompanying headline read “Liberty Moves North: Canada’s Example to the World.”

The sunglasses-bedecked moose suggests that Canada had, in 2003, finally shed its fabled stodginess—V.S. Pritchett once jibed that Canadians drink tea as a stimulant, while the English consume it as a sedative. Thirteen years later, Canada, with its wholehearted embrace of multiculturalism and multilateralism, seemed to have become the destination for those seeking better opportunities.

There is much talk these days about the “Canadian example,” at least in certain quarters: Barack Obama hailed the country as a polestar for the democratic world. (Trump might loath it for the same reason.) How is it that Canada has avoided the xenophobia and isolationism that now trouble the US and European democracies? It’s not that Canada has no tradition of robust right-wing populist movements. The gun-supporting, science-questioning Reform Party became the official opposition to the governing Liberals in the 1990s. After it merged with the old Progressive Conservatives to form the Conservative Party, it held power under Prime Minister Stephen Harper from 2006 to 2015. The white working-class voters who form a large part of Trump’s base also form a considerable part of the Canadian electorate.

Yet polls show that 80 percent of Canadians value immigration. In fact, those Canadians who most strongly describe themselves as patriotic are also the most supportive of immigration and multiculturalism; in America the opposite is true. And approval of multiculturalism at home is matched by support for multilateralism abroad: a 2014 public-opinion analysis concluded that Canadians remain resolute “liberal internationalists”: believers in strong international institutions, especially the UN, and robust global governance regimes, particularly trade and environmental treaties.1

No wonder that Bono, for instance, insists that “the world needs more Canada.” But does Canada, in its openness to multiculturalism and multilateralism, immigration and globalization, have anything to teach the world? It might seem just lucky to be shielded by its geographical location from the flows of migrants that roil American and European politics. “We have the luxury,” Canada’s immigration minister Ahmed Hussen admits, “of being surrounded by…

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