Michael Adams on Trump, Brexit and Canada

Michael Adams (on right) at May 2019 Ottawa book event.
Michael Adams (on right) at May 2019 Ottawa book event.

My Facebook site has been inundated recently by people sickened by the latest mass shootings in the US and outraged that an American president is acting as an enabler to fellow white supremacists. When we Canadians look at the racism and misogyny being perpetrated by people like Donald Trump, Juan Bolsinaro in Brazil, Rodrigo Dueterte in the Philippines (to name just a few), we are tempted to ask ourselves if it could happen here. The “it,” no matter where the debate begins, always ends up in the crude scapegoating of immigrants and refugees fleeing wars, oppression and, increasingly, climate-ravaged societies.

There is an added edge to our apprehension in Canada because there is a federal election coming up this fall and a concern that the debate may turn ugly. I must say, however, that my spirits were lifted when I went to hear Canadian pollster Michael Adams talk about his new book – and it is actually called Could It Happen Here? Adams is the founding president of the Environics group of research and consulting companies and the author of seven books. He has been polling for many years and his books take a long range view of public opinion, reaching back to the 1970s in Canada and including American surveys.

Canadians positive on immigration

Adams acknowledged that Canada has its own history of racism and xenophobia, including Indian residential schools, and the internment of Japanese Canadians in the Second World War, to take just two examples. But he said something began to change in about the 1960s. Multiculturalism is actually working in our country, and immigrants and refugees who arrive here overwhelmingly fit in. Adams said that Canadians generally feel far more positively about immigration than is the case in any other country. This view has held even as immigrants in 2016 accounted for 22 per cent of the Canadian population.

To answer his own question — Adams said that of course “it” could happen here, but that likely it won’t. He writes: “Countries that have managed — either by intention or good fortune – to foster social resilience, reduce inequality and provide collective tax-supported government insurance against ill health or unemployment are likely to be able to withstand the clarion calls from the Trumps of this world. Canada, as it turns out, is one such nation, although not the only one.”

Xenophobia won’t fly

Adams predicted at his book event, that xenophobia will not be a successful platform in the federal election later this year. He pointed to how the Harper government lost the 2015 election after attempting to inflame sentiment against newcomers by introducing a “Barbaric Cultural Practices” hotline. Then in the 1917 Conservative leadership race which followed the election, candidate Kellie Leitch attempted to introduce anti-immigrant and refugee invective into the campaign. She received only eight per cent of the leadership votes and had to drop out. She has since announced that she will not run for re-election in 2019.

Adams said that we do have one “xenophobic party” contesting the election. That would be the People’s Party of Canada led by Maxime Bernier.  He came within a whisker of winning the 2017 Conservative leadership race, which he lost to Andrew Scheer. In the past, Bernier has portrayed himself as a libertarian who would dismantle marketing boards for farm products and slash taxes and government spending, including subsidies to business. But in his new role as a party leader, Bernier has rebranded himself as anti-immigrant and refugee and an opponent of what he calls “extreme multiculturalism.” He had also appeared in photos with white supremacists.

Scheer, who defeated Bernier, is a far more conservative individual than his amiable image as a former speaker of the House of Commons would indicate. He has played the anti-immigrant card as well, although not as brazenly as Bernier.

Electoral unease

The coming election campaign does provide the basis for some unease. How vulnerable are some of our fellow Canadians to the toxic discourse being pursued by leaders in other countries and amplified by social media? After Alexandre Bissonnette gunned down six people who were praying in a mosque in Quebec City in 2017, he indicated that he was influenced by Donald Trump’s frequent claims that Latino immigrants are thieves and rapists and that Muslims are terrorists.

Another, related, question is this: To what extent is white supremacy a latent sentiment in our country, one which could be emboldened by certain unscrupulous leaders?

Michael Adams acknowledges that a “backlash constituency” exists and that it provides an opportunity for those leaders willing “to channel the feelings of those who feel angry and dismissed.” But he believes the “appetite for that form of politics is limited.” I hope that he is right and actually I believe that he is.

5 thoughts on “Michael Adams on Trump, Brexit and Canada

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  1. I did a preliminary search of the Hebrew Scriptures looking for what was prescribed about “aliens” among the resident population. Following is what I found so far. Wonder how much of this is known in Jewish Synagogues and Christian Churches?

    Exodus 22:21: You shall not wrong or oppress a resident alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt.
    Exodus 23:9: You shall not oppress a resident alien; you know the heart of an alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt.
    Leviticus 19: 33-34: When an alien resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the alien. The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself,…
    Deuteronomy 10:18-19: The Lord your God, who executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and who loves the strangers, providing them food and clothing. You shall also love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.
    Deuteronomy 23:15-16: Slaves who have escaped to you from their owners shall not be given back to them. They shall reside with you, in your midst, in any place they choose in any one of your towns, wherever they please; you shall not oppress them.
    Deuteronomy 27:19: Cursed be anyone who deprives the alien, the orphan, and the widow of justice.
    Psalm 146:7, 9:: [The Lord] executes justice for the oppressed;
    who gives food to the hungry.
    The Lord watches over the strangers;
    he upholds the orphan and the widow,
    but the way of the wicked he brings to ruin.

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    1. Thanks for your detailed and informative comment. We are, indeed, called upon to welcome the stranger, a concept which appears to be “alien” to many leaders and their followers.

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  2. Thanks for this hopeful piece, Dennis. It’s an inspiring antidote to Michael Fraiman’s article in the September 2019 MacLeans mag, which reminds us that Canadian history is full of examples of Canada as a “Send ‘Em Back Nation.”

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  3. A great article, Dennis. But we must not rest on our laurels. We need only remember our government refusing entry of about 750 Jewish people to Canada in 1939. What was wrong with those Jewish people? They were our fellow human beings just like the rest of us. True, such events have taught a majority of us lessons. But the Maxime Berniers of this world are still here and we must still be aware of that and we must be ever ready to deal with those who would claim to be superior to us and so many of our neighbours. And that includes defending people like the LGBTQ community and many others who often still feel the slings and arrows of ignorance.

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    1. Thanks for your comment Randy. It is always good to hear from you. And I agree: we can’t relax and say that everything is fine. But I am confident that most Canadians will not fall for those who peddle intolerance.

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