Canada’s Secret to Resisting the West’s Populist Wave

Outsiders might assume this is because Canada is simply more liberal, but they would be wrong. Rather, Canada has resisted the populist wave through a set of strategic decisions, powerful institutional incentives, strong minority coalitions and idiosyncratic circumstances.

.. In other Western countries, right-wing populism has emerged as a politics of us-versus-them. It pits members of white majorities against immigrants and minorities, driven by a sense that cohesive national identities are under threat. In France, for instance, it is common to hear that immigration dilutes French identity, and that allowing minority groups to keep their own cultures erodes vital elements of Frenchness.

Identity works differently in Canada. Both whites and nonwhites see Canadian identity as something that not only can accommodate outsiders, but is enhanced by the inclusion of many different kinds of people.

Canada is a mosaic rather than a melting pot, several people told me — a place that celebrates different backgrounds rather than demanding assimilation.

.. Around the world, people tend to identify with their race, religion or at least language. Even in the United States, an immigrant nation, politics have long clustered around demographic in-groups.

Canada’s multicultural identity is largely the resultof political maneuvering.

.. Mr. Trudeau’s solution was a policy of official multiculturalism and widespread immigration. This would resolve the conflict over whether Canadian identity was more Anglophone or Francophone — it would be neither, with a range of diversity wide enough to trivialize the old divisions.

.. It would also provide a base of immigrant voters to shore up Mr. Trudeau’s Liberal Party.

.. Then, in the early 2000s, another politician’s shrewd calculation changed the dynamics of ethnic politics, cementing multiculturalism across all parties.

Jason Kenney, then a Conservative member of Parliament, convinced Prime Minister Stephen Harper that the party should court immigrants, who — thanks to Mr. Trudeau’s efforts — had long backed the Liberal Party.

“I said the only way we’d ever build a governing coalition was with the support of new Canadians, given changing demography,” Mr. Kenney said.

He succeeded. In the 2011 and 2015 elections, the Conservatives won a higher share of the vote among immigrants than it did among native-born citizens.

The result is a broad political consensus around immigrants’ place in Canada’s national identity.

.. That creates a virtuous cycle. All parties rely on and compete for minority voters, so none has an incentive to cater to anti-immigrant backlash.

.. In Britain, among white voters who say they want less immigration, about 40 percent also say that limiting immigration is the most important issue to them. In the United States, that figure is about 20 percent. In Canada, according to a 2011 study, it was only 0.34 percent.

.. One reason may be Canada’s unusual immigration policies. A sponsorship system, in which Canadian families host newcomers, allows communities to feel they are a part of the country’s refugee resettlement program.

And a points system, which favors migrants who are thought to contribute economically, makes immigration feel like something that benefits everyone.

.. Virtually every immigrant to Canada is brought here deliberately. Research suggests that uncontrolled immigration, for example the mass arrival of refugees in Europe, can trigger a populist backlash, regardless of whether those arrivals pose a threat.

“We have the luxury of being surrounded by oceans on three sides, and then by the U.S. border,” Mr. Hussen said. “Which, relative to your southern border, doesn’t have the same amount of irregular migration.”

.. Immo Fritsche, a professor at the University of Leipzig, in Germany, has found that when people feel a loss of control, they cling more closely to racial and national identities. And they desire leaders who promise to reassert control.

.. But Canada’s points- and sponsorship-based systems, along with its geographic position, help communities feel a sense of control over immigration so that, even as new arrivals change politics and society, backlash has been minimal.