An­drew Stark

The New York Review of Books - - Contents - An­drew Stark

Com­mon Ground by Justin Trudeau

Canada’s Odyssey: A Coun­try Based on In­com­plete Con­quests by Peter H. Rus­sell

Could It Hap­pen Here?: Canada in the Age of Trump and Brexit by Michael Adams

Max­i­mum Canada: Why 35 Mil­lion Cana­di­ans Are Not Enough by Doug Saun­ders

Com­mon Ground by Justin Trudeau. HarperCollins, 343 pp., CAN$19.99 (pa­per, 2014) Canada’s Odyssey: A Coun­try Based on In­com­plete Con­quests by Peter H. Rus­sell. Univer­sity of Toronto Press, 535 pp., $39.95 Could It Hap­pen Here?: Canada in the Age of Trump and Brexit by Michael Adams. Si­mon and Schus­ter, 178 pp., $24.00 Max­i­mum Canada: Why 35 Mil­lion Cana­di­ans Are Not Enough by Doug Saun­ders. Knopf Canada, 249 pp., $20.95

A cover of The Econ­o­mist in 2003 fea­tured a moose—that uni­ver­sally rec­og­nized sym­bol of Canada—wear­ing sun­glasses. In­side, the mag­a­zine ex­tolled Canada’s new so­phis­ti­ca­tion: its open­ness, even then, to le­gal­iz­ing gay mar­riage and de­crim­i­nal­iz­ing mar­i­juana; its cos­mopoli­tan cities (Toronto would soon be­come the most di­verse me­trop­o­lis in the world, with over half of its res­i­dents for­eign-born); and its grow­ing in­ter­na­tional cul­tural clout. It was an­other thir­teen years be­fore Canada re­ceived such cov­er­age again. In Oc­to­ber 2016, shortly be­fore Don­ald Trump’s elec­tion, the iconog­ra­phy was re­versed. In­stead of a sym­bol of Canada wear­ing an ac­ces­sory iden­ti­fied with Amer­ica, the cover fea­tured a quin­tes­sen­tial sym­bol of Amer­ica— the Statue of Lib­erty—bran­dish­ing a hockey stick. The ac­com­pa­ny­ing head­line read “Lib­erty Moves North: Canada’s Ex­am­ple to the World.”

The sun­glasses-be­decked moose sug­gests that Canada had, in 2003, fi­nally shed its fa­bled stodgi­ness—V. S. Pritch­ett once jibed that Cana­di­ans drink tea as a stim­u­lant, while the English con­sume it as a seda­tive. Thir­teen years later, Canada, with its whole­hearted em­brace of mul­ti­cul­tur­al­ism and mul­ti­lat­er­al­ism, seemed to have be­come the des­ti­na­tion for those seek­ing bet­ter op­por­tu­ni­ties.

There is much talk these days about the “Cana­dian ex­am­ple,” at least in cer­tain quar­ters: Barack Obama hailed the coun­try as a polestar for the demo­cratic world. (Trump might loath it for the same rea­son.) How is it that Canada has avoided the xeno­pho­bia and iso­la­tion­ism that now trou­ble the US and Euro­pean democ­ra­cies? It’s not that Canada has no tra­di­tion of ro­bust right-wing pop­ulist move­ments. The gun-sup­port­ing, sci­ence-ques­tion­ing Re­form Party be­came the of­fi­cial op­po­si­tion to the gov­ern­ing Lib­er­als in the 1990s. Af­ter it merged with the old Pro­gres­sive Con­ser­va­tives to form the Con­ser­va­tive Party, it held power un­der Prime Min­is­ter Stephen Harper from 2006 to 2015. The white work­ing­class vot­ers who form a large part of Trump’s base also form a con­sid­er­able part of the Cana­dian elec­torate. Yet polls show that 80 per­cent of Cana­di­ans value im­mi­gra­tion. In fact, those Cana­di­ans who most strongly de­scribe them­selves as pa­tri­otic are also the most sup­port­ive of im­mi­gra­tion and mul­ti­cul­tur­al­ism; in Amer­ica the op­po­site is true. And ap­proval of mul­ti­cul­tur­al­ism at home is matched by sup­port for mul­ti­lat­er­al­ism abroad: a 2014 public-opin­ion anal­y­sis con­cluded that Cana­di­ans re­main res­o­lute “lib­eral in­ter­na­tion­al­ists”: believ­ers in strong in­ter­na­tional in­sti­tu­tions, es­pe­cially the UN, and ro­bust global gov­er­nance regimes, par­tic­u­larly trade and en­vi­ron­men­tal treaties.1

No won­der that Bono, for in­stance, in­sists that “the world needs more Canada.” But does Canada, in its open­ness to mul­ti­cul­tur­al­ism and mul­ti­lat­er­al­ism, im­mi­gra­tion and glob­al­iza­tion, have any­thing to teach the world? It might seem just lucky to be shielded by its ge­o­graph­i­cal lo­ca­tion from the flows of mi­grants that roil Amer­i­can and Euro­pean pol­i­tics. “We have the luxury,” Canada’s im­mi­gra­tion min­is­ter Ahmed Hussen ad­mits, “of be­ing sur­rounded by oceans on three sides, and then by the US bor­der.” Its suc­cess, though, has a deeper ba­sis as well: Canada’s long­stand­ing re­gional ri­val­ries and eco­nomic his­tory have helped en­cour­age sup­port of im­mi­gra­tion and global trade to a de­gree not seen in much of the de­vel­oped world.

In the fall of 2014, as he was pre­par­ing to top­ple Stephen Harper and bring his Lib­er­als to power, Justin Trudeau pub­lished Com­mon Ground to give Cana­di­ans a sense of his life and think­ing. The world knows Canada’s prime min­is­ter—the son of Pierre Trudeau, prime min­is­ter nearly un­in­ter­rupt­edly from 1968 to 1984—as a man who per­son­ally wel­comed Syr­ian refugees with free win­ter coats at the Toronto air­port while Trump was turn­ing them away, and who charmed the Davos crowd that Trump left cold. He has boosted im­mi­gra­tion lev­els and fought hard to pre­serve NAFTA. A charis­matic fortysix-year-old snow­boarder and boxer, Trudeau win­somely cud­dles pan­das and bal­ances ba­bies in the palm of his hand; he has ap­peared on the cov­ers of Rolling Stone as well as a Marvel su­per­hero comic book. He is the coolest of Cana­di­ans, he is the moose sport­ing sun­glasses. But what, ex­actly, is Trudeau’s con­nec­tion with the hockey stick in the crook of Lib­erty’s arm— with the idea of Canada as a port in the storm of in­ter­na­tional right-wing pop­ulism?

Com­mon Ground, like most cam­paign man­i­festos, refers re­peat­edly to its au­thor’s “vi­sion” con­cern­ing his coun­try. Yet as one reads the book, the word “vi­sion” comes to re­sem­ble the har­mon­ica in a Robert Klein com­edy rou­tine, which Klein re­peat­edly raises to his lips and then—just as you think he’s about to play a few bars and show us what it sounds like—low­ers again to start tap­ping his toes or snap­ping his fin­gers.

“My vi­sion for this coun­try,” Trudeau writes, “is very much shaped by my ex­pe­ri­ences and the in­flu­ences upon me.” And what might that vi­sion be? He doesn’t say, mov­ing on im­me­di­ately to a med­i­ta­tion on his child­hood. Or: “The au­di­ence . . . en­gaged . . . in a great dis­cus­sion about our shared vi­sion for our kids and our coun­try.” Ter­rific—could he say a lit­tle more about that vi­sion? But no, he’s now on to a de­scrip­tion of the im­mi­grant com­mu­nity in his par­lia­men­tary con­stituency.

Trudeau’s vi­sion, one starts to re­al­ize, is not for the coun­try, but of it. It’s the vi­sion not of a leader, but of a lover. Noth­ing else can quite com­pare with what ex­cites his ar­dor. Canada is “per­haps the only coun­try on earth that is strong be­cause of our dif­fer­ences, not de­spite them,” he gushes. It’s the world’s “first post-na­tional state.” There is “no main­stream in Canada.” These starry-eyed ut­ter­ances di­min­ish the way in which cul­tural dif­fer­ences strengthen many other coun­tries. They also ig­nore the fact that Cana­dian em­ploy­ers of­ten fa­vor job ap­pli­cants with Cana­dian work ex­pe­ri­ence, ed­u­ca­tional cre­den­tials, and lan­guage skills over can­di­dates with abun­dant skills and ex­pe­ri­ence ac­quired in other coun­tries, thus help­ing to per­pet­u­ate an eco­nomic, if not a cul­tural, main­stream that can be dif­fi­cult for some im­mi­grants to break into.

So it’s not sur­pris­ing that Trudeau be­lieves, as he said in 2017, that “my role . . . is to . . . gov­ern in such a way that [Canada would be] a pos­i­tive ex­am­ple in the world.” And yet in the same breath, he qui­etly cau­tions that it’s not his place to “lec­ture an­other coun­try on how they choose to gov­ern them­selves.” We Cana­di­ans, the Van­cou­ver writer Ge­orge Wood­cock once said, “pride our­selves on our ironic mod­esty.” Trudeau clearly takes pride in Canada’s shin­ing bea­con, and the fact that he holds it. But how, specif­i­cally, can other na­tions fol­low and per­haps join him? Mod­esty pre­vents him from say­ing.

And so we must look else­where. The po­lit­i­cal sci­en­tist Peter Rus­sell, au­thor of Canada’s Odyssey: A Coun­try Based on In­com­plete Con­quests, is known for his sen­si­tive and search­ing work on Canada’s in­dige­nous com­mu­ni­ties, whom he aptly de­scribes as pos­sess­ing the joint sta­tus of colonies and na­tions. Euro­pean set­tlers, Rus­sell writes, col­o­nized Canada’s na­tive peo­ples in ev­ery sense of that word. They stole their wealth, at­tempted to as­sim­i­late them, and broke down their so­cial struc­tures. They left a hor­ren­dous legacy that, to this day, in­cludes In­dian re­serves with­out potable wa­ter and, since 1980, at least 1,100 mur­dered or miss­ing Abo­rig­i­nal women. Yet de­spite that long ex­pe­ri­ence of col­o­niza­tion, Canada’s in­dige­nous peo­ples also re­main “na­tions” in ev­ery sense of the word: lin­guis­ti­cally, eth­ni­cally, cul­tur­ally, and (on re­serves) ter­ri­to­ri­ally dis­tinct. Canada’s failed at­tempts to as­sim­i­late its first na­tions, Rus­sell ar­gues, left Cana­di­ans with a rue­ful les­son in the value of dif­fer­ence and the plight of the per­se­cuted: a les­son, he be­lieves, that helps ac­count for the coun­try’s cur­rent open­ness to im­mi­grants and refugees. Bru­tally col­o­nized but en­dur­ing as full-fledged na­tions, in­dige­nous Cana­di­ans are one of the two “in­com­plete con­quests” of Rus­sell’s ti­tle. The other is Que­bec, the sec­ond-largest of Canada’s ten prov­inces and the only one with a ma­jor­ity French-speak­ing pop­u­la­tion. Que­bec too, as Rus­sell says, con­sti­tutes its own lin­guis­ti­cally and ter­ri­to­ri­ally dis­tinct na­tion within Canada. Ac­cord­ingly, its gov­ern­ments have over the years de­manded spe­cial pow­ers over im­mi­gra­tion, cul­ture, the ju­di­ciary, so­cial pol­icy, and for­eign pol­icy that would be de­nied to the other nine English-speak­ing prov­inces, and even, on a cou­ple of oc­ca­sions, at­tempted to se­cede from the coun­try al­to­gether. But un­like Canada’s in­dige­nous com­mu­ni­ties, French-ma­jor­ity Que­bec—a so­ci­ety that it­self orig­i­nated in Euro­pean set­tle­ment—was never col­o­nized by Canada’s English-speak­ing ma­jor­ity. Pre­cisely be­cause it ul­ti­mately ac­cepted Que­bec’s dis­tinc­tive­ness,

Cana­dian Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau pos­ing with air­port staff as they await the first planeload of Syr­ian refugees, Toronto, De­cem­ber 11, 2015

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