Advertisement

Canada far from immune to populism despite Justin Trudeau’s progressive rhetoric: experts

Click to play video: 'Trudeau touts trade at French National Assembly' Trudeau touts trade at French National Assembly
WATCH ABOVE: Trudeau touts trade at French National Assembly – Apr 17, 2018

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau might see his country as a beacon of hope in a roiling sea of polarization and angry nationalist sentiment, but Canada is far from immune, experts warn.

Just as he did Tuesday at the French National Assembly, Trudeau likes to portray Canada as a place where progressive values flourish – free trade, ethic diversity, immigration, environmental protection and gender equality.

ANALYSIS:  In France, Trudeau makes history, mostly to cheers but also to some jeers

“At a time when the political movements exploit the real anxiety of their citizens, Canada has chosen to be against cynicism and embrace audacity and ambition,” he said.

A sizable proportion of the Canadian public believes otherwise, research suggests.

WATCH: Trudeau says ‘nature of peacekeeping has changed’, promises to commit troops

Click to play video: 'Trudeau says ‘nature of peacekeeping has changed’, promises to commit troops' Trudeau says ‘nature of peacekeeping has changed’, promises to commit troops
Trudeau says ‘nature of peacekeeping has changed’, promises to commit troops – Apr 16, 2018

Ekos Research and The Canadian Press teamed up earlier this year to gauge populist sentiment in Canada. Fewer than half of respondents – 46 per cent – expressed views that reflected an open-minded perspective of the world and each other, while 30 per cent landed in the “ordered” category, which means feeling economically and culturally insecure. 25 per cent expressed “mixed” views.

Story continues below advertisement

The survey, an aggregation of polls conducted with more than 12,000 Canadians, carried a margin of error of plus or minus 0.9 percentage points, 19 times out of 20. Its results suggested there is indeed fertile ground in Canada for a populist movement to take hold.

READ MORE: Justin Trudeau arrives in Paris, discusses Mali peacekeeping mission with Michaelle Jean

Canada has largely staved off the negative politics of pessimism and xenophobia that are major areas of concern in the U.S. and parts of Europe, said Ekos president Frank Graves. But that doesn’t mean populist sentiment isn’t brewing north of the border.

“Those forces are very much at work,” Graves said, noting the icy reaction to Trudeau’s remarks from right-wing National Front leader Marine Le Pen.

“Those forces are by no means extinguished in France and we see them definitely evident in Canada as well.”

Graves cited Ontario Conservative Leader Doug Ford as an example of a political leader who speaks the language of the ordered, populist view, with campaign rhetoric that blames his Liberal rivals for the economic insecurity plaguing those who are struggling.

Graves also mentioned recent electoral victories in Hungary and Italy by polarizing populist parties that show populism is on the march.

Story continues below advertisement

ANALYSIS: Trudeau believes he can build that pipeline — and make everyone love it

Click to play video: 'Did the face-to-face meeting with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau help the ongoing pipeline feud between B.C and Alberta?' Did the face-to-face meeting with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau help the ongoing pipeline feud between B.C and Alberta?
Did the face-to-face meeting with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau help the ongoing pipeline feud between B.C and Alberta? – Apr 16, 2018

“Canada did seem to be picking a different path on things like xenophobia and trade and immigration,” he said of his findings.

“However, there was still a very sizable, very engaged portion of the public that were not buying into this at all… this is by no means a settled issue yet.”

WATCH: Trudeau confident Canada, Britain will be able to quickly pursue new trade deal after Brexit

Click to play video: 'Trudeau confident Canada, Britain will be able to quickly pursue new trade deal after Brexit' Trudeau confident Canada, Britain will be able to quickly pursue new trade deal after Brexit
Trudeau confident Canada, Britain will be able to quickly pursue new trade deal after Brexit – Apr 19, 2018

University of Amsterdam researcher Mike Medeiros, who specializes in ethnopolitics, political behaviour and political psychology, pointed to immigration as an issue that could become a flashpoint in Canada.

Story continues below advertisement

Spurred in part by fear of a crackdown from U.S. President Donald Trump, illegal migrants have been streaming over the border into Ontario and Quebec in hopes of seeking asylum in Canada.

All it would take is a charismatic leader to come along and exploit such issues to bring nativist sentiment in Canada to a boil, he said.

“If (Trudeau) is expressing simply that Canada is different, fine, that’s fair, because Canada is different – or at least it has been so far,” Medeiros said.

“But if he is expressing that, ‘We do not have these concerns,’ that is not accurate.”

Sponsored content