Blog

Michael Adams

January 30, 2018 by Speakers' Spotlight

Having a Trump Clone Win in Canada is Harder Than It Seems

One of Canada’s leading thinkers on public opinion, demographics, and trends, and the president of the Environics group of research and communications consulting companies, Michael Adams delivers ground-breaking social research, customising his talks to make his findings relevant to whatever type of organization he is speaking to.

In a recent story for The Globe and Mail, Adams dives into the numbers behind what separates Canada from the US in terms of appeal towards a Trump-esque leader. It turns out that a lot of perceptions around the US being an urban land—LA, New York, Chicago leading the way—are less reflective than the reality. Interestingly, Canada is much more of an urban-centric land, despite stereotypes of untapped wilderness and a heavily agrarian way of life.

Some highlights from the story:

Big U.S. cities such as New York and Los Angeles – and even smaller places such as Miami and Dallas – loom large in imaginations far beyond America’s borders. As for Canada, we suspect most people around the world tend to imagine the country as defined more by wilderness than urban life.

Despite the lower profile of Canadian cities, however, they arguably exert more pull in the country’s political life than U.S. cities do south of the border. American cities are culturally potent but politically constrained.

One reason is that a greater share of Canada’s population is clustered in a smaller number of cities. America’s 10 largest cities contain just 8 per cent of the country’s population. The proportion of Canadians who live in Canada’s 10 largest: 31 per cent.

People live differently in cities; they have different experiences, different neighbours and different economic opportunities. Cities are where most trade and formal learning happen, where complex networks and institutions are created, where many cultural opportunities tend to cluster.

But it’s not just the fact of urban living that matters; it’s also the nature of the cities. Canadian cities are some of the most diverse on Earth. The populations of two of its largest, Toronto and Vancouver, are almost half foreign-born and more than two-thirds first– or second-generation Canadian. Our cities are largely products of postwar immigration. The past half-century has been especially important: Canada retired its explicitly racist immigration policies in the 1960s, moving to a points system prizing education and language proficiency, leading to huge inflows of talent, energy and youth from around the world.

Another quality that differentiates Canadian cities from American ones is that they are connected to a system – and, importantly, a culture – of economic equalization. Although provinces are responsible for health and education, the federal government redistributes resources with the aim of ensuring that all Canadians enjoy comparable levels of service. This ideology shapes the political culture of provinces and cities as well; when disparities are revealed in the levels of service available to people living in different parts of a larger jurisdiction, Canadians tend to agree – at least in principle – that this is unacceptable.

 Americans, with their greater skepticism of government and their greater attachment to local control, are less likely to believe that all Chicagoans, for instance, should enjoy the same quality of services. The fact that excellent schools funded by a strong tax base can be just a few miles away from struggling schools with crumbling infrastructure probably doesn’t thrill most Americans, but it is part of their economic and political tradition.

When all these factors are combined, they result in a Canadian political landscape where cities matter enormously and an American political landscape in which it’s possible for national political actors to work around cities.

Canada has racists and racism, and like elsewhere, some of them are feeling emboldened by recent political events. But the mechanics of our political institutions are such that, at the national level, courting the dominant-culture majority at the expense of smaller ethnic or religious groups is a dangerous game, as the Conservatives learned in 2015. In the United States, it can be a winner.

Read the full article here.