Frank Graves

Policy - - In This Issue - Frank Graves

Canada 150: Our Na­tional Mood in Four Easy Charts

The ques­tion, “what is our na­tional mood?”, is more than an anec­do­tal cu­rios­ity. Mood, or per­haps the na­tional zeit­geist, re­veals the col­lec­tive ex­pres­sion of some of the most im­por­tant forces at play in our so­ci­ety.

In 1967, Canada was a much younger, much smaller, and much more eth­ni­cally ho­moge­nous so­ci­ety. Our me­dian age of around 26 con­trasted sharply with our much older me­dian age of 42 to­day. Vis­i­ble mi­nori­ties ac­counted for two or three per cent of our pop­u­la­tion; they’re ap­proach­ing 20 per cent to­day.

Our ap­proach will be to look at the evolution of the na­tional mood as we be­lieve that the time se­ries is more re­veal­ing than just look­ing at cur­rent opin­ion. We will try to un­der­stand the cur­rent mood in con­trast to where we were at two pre­vi­ous points in Cana­dian his­tory; our cen­ten­nial and the open­ing of the new mil­len­nium. Think back 50 years, for those of us old enough to re­call, how Canada looked at our cen­ten­nial. In 1967, Canada was a much younger, much smaller, and much more eth­ni­cally ho­moge­nous so­ci­ety. Our me­dian age of around 26 con­trasted sharply with our much older me­dian age of 42 to­day. Vis­i­ble mi­nori­ties ac­counted for two or three per cent of our pop­u­la­tion; they’re ap­proach­ing 20 per cent to­day. In ad­di­tion to be­ing older and much more di­verse, we are vastly more ed­u­cated than we were at our cen­ten­nial.

Fast for­ward to the open­ing of this cen­tury and Cana­di­ans were re­mark-

ably ebul­lient and con­fi­dent. The world was our oys­ter; we were the new Phoeni­cians and we be­lieved that the econ­omy would be pro­pelled for­ward on an in­fi­nite cloud of pros­per­ity fu­elled by in­for­ma­tion tech­nol­ogy and glob­al­iza­tion. The “end of his­tory” had seen the tri­umph of lib­eral cap­i­tal­ism; the world was now flat and we would no longer have to deal with the mis­ery of busi­ness cy­cles. So how do we look at 150?

First of all, while we now have more peo­ple feel­ing con­fi­dent about the di­rec­tion of the coun­try than we did, say, 10 years ago, the num­bers are still less pos­i­tive than they were at the be­gin­ning of the cen­tury. The num­bers on di­rec­tion of the fed­eral gov­ern­ment have dropped even fur­ther in that time.

Of great sig­nif­i­cance is that while there are many Canadas, there are in­creas­ingly two salient Canadas which are mu­tu­ally ir­rec­on­cil­able in their out­look. For ex­am­ple, those in­di­vid­u­als sup­port­ing the con­ser­va­tive vi­sion of Canada are much more neg­a­tive about na­tional di­rec­tion and di­rec­tion of the fed­eral gov­ern­ment. A re­veal­ing piece of ev­i­dence of these new soli­tudes is the dif­fer­ence be­tween who Lib­eral and Con­ser­va­tive sup­port­ers wanted to win the re­cent French elec­tion. By a mar­gin of 58 to 42, Con­ser­va­tive sup­port­ers pre­ferred Le Pen, ver­sus only three per cent of Lib­eral sup­port­ers.

The sym­bol sys­tems that re­main most re­silient are those that have to do with the role of gov­ern­ment and pub­lic in­sti­tu­tions. Medi­care, na­tional parks, and the Char­ter of Rights and Free­doms re­main the dom­i­nant sources of na­tional iden­ti­fi­ca­tion.

One of the most im­por­tant in­di­ca­tors of na­tional mood would be how peo­ple rate their qual­ity of life (com­pared to the past and fu­ture). Chart 2 com­pares changes in an­swers to

the ques­tion of how we com­pare our qual­ity of life to pre­vi­ous gen­er­a­tions and how do we think qual­ity of life will be for the next gen­er­a­tion. As one can see, the in­ci­dence of peo­ple who feel that they are do­ing bet­ter than pre­vi­ous gen­er­a­tions has been drop­ping steadily from close to 45 per cent to 35 per cent. Much more dis­turbingly, the in­ci­dence of peo­ple who think the next gen­er­a­tion will be do­ing bet­ter has dropped from a mea­gre 20 per cent to an even scanter 10 per cent. It used to be that the whole idea of shared progress and mid­dle class pros­per­ity was that the next gen­er­a­tion would do bet­ter than the pre­vi­ous one. Clearly, that mid­dle class dream is in dis­ar­ray and this has had a cor­ro­sive im­pact on our na­tional mood. It is dif­fi­cult to find any eco­nomic at­ti­tudes that show any­thing other than a much

The con­cept of a post-na­tional Canada does not re­ally seem ev­i­dent in these data. Some note that be­cause younger Cana­di­ans are less at­tached to coun­try than other Cana­di­ans, this may augur for a di­min­ished attachment to coun­try and ris­ing attachment to world.

darker mood than we saw in the past and, what­ever the grey out­look of the re­cent past, it turns to a nearly black out­look on the fu­ture.

How about the realm of cul­ture? We look at two crit­i­cal in­di­ca­tors of shifts in our sym­bol sys­tems and our sources of be­long­ing.

Com­par­ing the sym­bols that con­trib­ute most to Cana­dian iden­tity from 1995 to to­day shows a coun­try with a gen­er­ally lower sense of sym­bolic iden­ti­fi­ca­tion than what we saw in 1995. It is also the case that the sym­bol sys­tems that re­main most re­silient are those that have to do with the role of gov­ern­ment and pub­lic in­sti­tu­tions. Medi­care, na­tional parks, and the Char­ter of Rights and Free­doms re­main the dom­i­nant sources of na­tional iden­ti­fi­ca­tion. No­tably, the pre­vi­ous Stephen Harper gov­ern­ment at­tempted to shift the rel­a­tive em­pha­sis of dif­fer­ent icons of na­tional iden­tity. He would not be amused to note that Medi­care and the Char­ter, hardly cen­tral in his icono­gra-

phy, are once again top-of-the-charts. On the other hand, some of our most cher­ished tra­di­tional icons like the an­them, the flag, the Moun­ties, bilin­gual­ism, and even the beaver, have all dropped pre­cip­i­tously as sym­bols of Canada. In fact, there ap­pears to be less pow­er­ful sym­bolic glue hold­ing the coun­try to­gether to­day than in the past.

The fi­nal chart tracks Cana­di­ans’ sense of be­long­ing to var­i­ous en­ti­ties such as Canada, prov­ince, city, and eth­nic group. One of the strik­ing find­ings in this chart is that over­all, just as in the case of sym­bols, col­lec­tively, all sources of be­long­ing are con­sid­er­ably lower than in 1995. Does this mean that our sense of mo­ral com­mu­nity or sense of Canada is ac­tu­ally a lit­tle more muted, a lit­tle less clear than it was in 1995? That’s dif­fi­cult to say, as it may also be the case that na­tional iden­tity is more ma­ture and less de­pen­dent on ‘props’ to con­vey a sense of Canada.

What is clear, how­ever, is that be­long­ing to Canada has re­mained re­mark­ably high. The con­cept of a post-na­tional Canada does not re­ally seem ev­i­dent in these data. Some note that be­cause younger Cana­di­ans are less at­tached to coun­try than other Cana­di­ans, this may augur for a di­min­ished attachment to coun­try and ris­ing attachment to world. On the other hand, we have the virtue of be­ing able to com­pare to 1995 and we find that the dif­fer­ence be­tween young peo­ple and older Cana­di­ans on attachment to coun­tries pre­cisely the same as it is to­day. What is re­ally dif­fer­ent, how­ever, is the de­cline in attachment to prov­ince, to city, and most strik­ingly, eth­nic group. Eth­nic attachment has plum­meted from 55 per cent to 25 per cent and this has oc­curred over a pe­riod where we had the great­est in­flux of im­mi­gra­tion and ab­so­lute num­bers in our his­tory. So, con­trary to the no­tion of mul­ti­cul­tur­al­ism as ‘Sell­ing Il­lu­sions’, which sug­gested that im­mi­gra­tion and mul­ti­cul­tur­al­ism would pro­duce a diminu­tion in na­tional attachment and the rise of eth­nic en­claves, we’ve seen ex­actly the op­po­site oc­cur­ring.

All in all, the out­look on the coun­try is rel­a­tively pos­i­tive (and bet­ter than it was 10 years ago). What is bad is the un­remit­tingly neg­a­tive out­look on the econ­omy. Canada 150 is much more anx­ious and fear­ful that it was at the be­gin­ning of the cen­tury; un­doubt­edly a legacy of the ag­ing of the pop­u­la­tion and the im­pacts of 9/11 and sub­se­quent events. It’s no­table that only three per cent of Cana­di­ans think that the world is less dan­ger­ous

to­day than it was 10 years ago de­spite the fact that, ob­jec­tively, that might be the right an­swer.

An age of rel­a­tive eco­nomic stag­na­tion and ris­ing in­equal­ity has had a cor­ro­sive im­pact on eco­nomic con­fi­dence and per­haps pro­duced fur­ther mu­tat­ing of na­tional mood. The divi­sion into those seek­ing a more open ap­proach to the fu­ture and those seek­ing a more ‘or­dered’ ap­proach is now the defin­ing fault line in our na­tional mood.

In the United States, there has been work show­ing that Trump sup­port is strongly con­nected to au­thor­i­tar­i­an­ism and the same con­nec­tions have been re­vealed in the Brexit analysis (see Thoughts on the so­ci­ol­ogy of Brexit by Will Davies). A Bri­tish analysis for the Lon­don School of Eco­nom­ics by Eric Kauf­man, It’s NOT the econ­omy stupid: Brexit as a story of per­sonal val­ues prefers to talk about an “or­dered” ver­sus “open’ ori­en­ta­tion. There is lit­tle ques­tion that this more or­dered or closed world

A clear ma­jor­ity of Cana­di­ans lean to open­ness (54 per cent) ver­sus the not in­signif­i­cant mi­nor­ity who favour or­der (33 per cent). These num­bers, while rough, sug­gest that an au­thor­i­tar­ian or or­dered out­look is less com­mon in Canada than the United States, where some stud­ies have shown 44 per cent of white Amer­i­cans dis­play­ing au­thor­i­tar­ian ten­den­cies.

view is ac­tu­ally a ris­ing force in the ad­vanced Western democ­ra­cies.

Last year, we cre­ated our own ‘or­dered’ ver­sus ‘open’ scale based loosely on some of this other work. We found that, over­all, a clear ma­jor­ity of Cana­di­ans lean to open­ness (54 per cent) ver­sus the not in­signif­i­cant mi­nor­ity who favour or­der (33 per cent). These num­bers, while rough, sug­gest that an au­thor­i­tar­ian or or­dered out­look is less com­mon in Canada than the United States, where some stud­ies have shown 44 per cent of white Amer­i­cans dis­play­ing au­thor­i­tar­ian ten­den­cies.

It is, how­ever, en­cour­ag­ing to note that Canada seems to be less cap­tured by the cur­rent wave of pop­ulism and so far, the forces of open­ness seem to be win­ning this strug­gle for the fu­ture. Per­haps Canada could join Ger­many and France as the new “Axis of Open­ness”.

Chart 1: Di­rec­tion of coun­try*

Chart 2: Changes in Qual­ity of Life

Chart 3: Shift­ing Sym­bol Sys­tems

Chart 4: Sense of Be­long­ing

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