In the wake of the last election, Canadians feel more divided than unified. So, in the new year, national unity will be a theme we're going to hear a lot about. Susan Delacourt writes that, traditionally, there are three threads which bind Canadians together -- symbols, values and policies:
Of the three, values are the most knotted thread. Take, for instance, this idea that Canada is a country open to newcomers. Quebec’s new secularism law, banning outward displays of religion in public places, is a case in point. While Maxime Bernier’s People’s Party of Canada didn’t do all that well in last year’s election, there is still a considerable audience for any anti-immigration talk in Canada, [David] Coletto says. According to Abacus’s research, a full 40 per cent of Canadians have a not-quite-open view of immigration, seeing it as a drain on Canada.
Trudeau came to power in 2015 with a throne speech laden with outward-looking talk of Canada’s place in the world and welcoming messages for Syrian refugees. Liberals simply assumed four years ago that these were baseline values for Canadians. In 2019, Trudeau’s second throne speech talked more of protecting Canada from negative forces outside its borders. In 2020, Canada is not currently expected to win a seat on the United Nations Security Council.
When it comes to building national unity from the outside in, the United States — and the current president in particular — has re-emerged as a uniting force for Canada. If Canadians have historically had a hard time figuring out who they are, they have had less trouble uniting around what they’re not: Americans. So Donald Trump’s impeachment drama and his bid for re-election in 2020 could knit the country together, even as the U.S. is more deeply polarizing around those big political events.
Trump can go a long way to unify Canadians. But antipathy to Donald Trump has its limits:
Anti-Americanism, even anti-Trumpism, is not really an option for a country so economically tied to the United States and ratification of the new Canada-U.S.-Mexico free trade deal will be high on Trudeau’s agenda in the new.
In the end, we're bound together -- or divided -- by policies:
If there’s a preoccupation with health care, that’s not an accident. Coletto says that people still point to this policy as quintessentially Canadian: something that distinguishes us from Americans and makes us feel lucky to live here. It’s actually a value, a policy and a symbol all wrapped in one.
Pharmacare, now dangling as a promise from the Liberals and a deal-breaking demand from the New Democrats in Parliament, could be a route to building national unity on a policy plane. But that terrain is fraught and there’s no guarantee, as Chantal Hébert has pointed out in a recent Star column, that provinces will opt into a new program.
Policies on healthcare, pharmacare and climate change can serve as unifiers -- a long with something else:
Canada’s wealthy people won’t be happy to hear this, but Coletto says that taxing the rich is definitely a unifying policy in Canada in 2020, one of those rare policies capable of drawing support from the left and the right of the political spectrum. It is true: on any given day in question period over the past couple of years, it often seemed that all the parties were in competition to denounce millionaires and corporate giants.
This is the temper of the uncertain economic times, it seems: if you want to marshal the support of 99 per cent of Canadians, rail against the one per cent. Class warfare is not normally a unity-building exercise, but in an era of deep income inequality, anything that looks like “making the rich pay” could be a policy winner.
Of course, declaring war on the rich could backfire. In fact, missteps on healthcare, pharmacare or climate change could wind up causing Canadians to go to war with each other. Weaving this country together -- since the days of Charlottetown -- has never been easy.
Once again, our work is cut out for us.