On a historic Remembrance Day, a century after the end of the First World War, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told a Paris crowd that decaying trust in public institutions will lead citizens to look for easy answers “in populism, in nationalism, in closing borders, in shutting down trade, in xenophobia.”
The implication was clear: if nations turn in on themselves and treat outsiders as threats, we might again find ourselves in a bloody conflict with fronts all over the world.
But a series of surveys suggest the idea of being a nationalist, and nationalism in general, are viewed fairly positively by most Canadians.
What the data suggests is that Canadians don’t see the concept of nationalism the way people do in the United States, where the term is often linked with white-nationalist groups, and then with white supremacy and racism.
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Rather, Canadians appear to have constructed their view of nationalism on the idea of feeling connected to our country and ensuring that others feel connected as well – even as we watch the term pilloried globally.
“It is used in different ways – when people are talking about the Trump nationalism, they would say (it’s) bad. But in Canada, they accept it because it is equated with certain communities and they see it as a way it’s helping vulnerable populations find their place in Canada,” said Kathy Brock, a political-studies professor at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ont.
“Canadians have just acclimatized to this dual view of nationalism.”
In the 1950s and 1960s, Canadians often reported feeling greater attachments to their particular communities or ethnic groups than they did to the country. In the intervening years, connection to country has strengthened while connection to community has faded, said Frank Graves, president of EKOS Research Associates, a polling and market-research firm. The opposite has happened in Europe, he said.
Research also suggests Canadians’ attachments to their ethnic groups have weakened over the last 20 years in favour of an attachment to country, Graves said, even as census data shows the country’s population is becoming ever more diverse.
“We don’t have a common ethno-linguistic homogeneity that produces a definition of ‘the people.’ It’s more civic nationalism,” Graves said.
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“In Canada, national identity has been created through a dialogue between citizens and the state and the public institutions – medicare, the Mounties, Parliament Hill. It isn’t as much steeped in history or common race and identity, which probably inoculates it from some of the more disturbing expressions of nationalism.”
Newly released survey data from the Association of Canadian Studies says that 60 per cent of respondents hold a somewhat or very positive view of nationalism, compared with about 45 per cent in the United States. The results were similar in both English and French Canada.
There also appears to be an association between Canadians’ views on nationalism and their views on multiculturalism.
“In contrast to the European idea of nationalism, having that ethnic component to it, most Canadians don’t see nationalism as ethnically driven. They see it more as a form of patriotism,” said Jack Jedwab, the association’s president. “It doesn’t intersect as much as it does in the European context with anti-immigrant sentiment, or a sentiment against diversity.”
The Leger Marketing survey of 1,519 Canadians on a web panel was conducted for the association the week of Nov. 12. Online surveys traditionally are not given a margin of error because they are not random and therefore are not necessarily representative of the whole population.
A day after his Nov. 11 comments, Trudeau was asked how he defined nationalism and where he saw it in Canada.
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“In Canada, we’ve demonstrated many times that identities are complimentary,” he said. “I’m an extremely proud Quebecer, I’m an extremely proud Canadian and like most Canadians, they don’t see a contradiction in that.”
Experts say the more negative forms of nationalism are nevertheless simmering in Canada. Jedwab’s survey data suggest that respondents who have positive views of nationalism are somewhat more worried about immigration and security along the U.S. border than those who have negative views of nationalism.
Part of what fuelled U.S. President Donald Trump’s political rise, and his populist rhetoric, was financial worry – or what Graves described as the idea of the everyman versus the corrupt elites. Brock said Canada has thus far avoided similar concerns about class and finances, particularly coming out of the recession a decade ago, and a similar rise of nationalist rhetoric.
“Now, we’re facing some really serious economic challenges and if they come to pass, then we could see a different manifestation of this,” she said. “So I don’t think those (polling) figures are necessarily set in stone.”