Election 2020

Canadians, Whether Left or Right, Are Glad to See Trump Go

Trump’s brand of populist conservatism had little appeal north of the border, but leaves a legacy of U.S.-style race politics.

U.S. President Donald Trump and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau at the NATO summit in Watford, England, on Dec. 4, 2019.
U.S. President Donald Trump and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau at the NATO summit in Watford, England, on Dec. 4, 2019. Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

TORONTO—I am guessing that few readers of Foreign Policy need me to tell them that Canadians reacted positively to the election of Joe Biden as the next president of the United States. Those who quickly congratulated Biden include not only Canadian Prime Minister and Liberal Party leader Justin Trudeau but also conservative politicians such as Alberta Premier Jason Kenney and national opposition leader Erin O’Toole. Outgoing U.S. President Donald Trump’s brand of populist conservatism has had little resonance in Canada and produced few cross-border coattail benefits for right-of-center Canadian politicians.

Just the opposite, in fact: During both Ontario’s 2018 provincial election and the national 2019 vote, Conservative Party politicians (including current Ontario Premier Doug Ford and former national Tory leader Andrew Scheer) had to fend off accusations that they were Trump’s northern imitators. Left-of-center Canadian politicians such as Trudeau, meanwhile, eagerly presented themselves as guardians of tolerant Canadian values, which many progressives here believe to be under siege from Trump-inspired xenophobia, racism, or even white supremacism.

In fact, one of the main effects of the Trump presidency here in Canada has been an increased fixation on race in all aspects of politics and policymaking—especially in regard to Black Canadians, despite the fact that only about 4 percent of Canadians are Black and that most of those Black Canadians are first-generation immigrants, not descendants of enslaved or otherwise mistreated Canadian forebears. And following the election, it’s notable that many Canadian journalists and politicians seem more interested in the ascendancy of Vice President-elect Kamala Harris than Biden.

TORONTO—I am guessing that few readers of Foreign Policy need me to tell them that Canadians reacted positively to the election of Joe Biden as the next president of the United States. Those who quickly congratulated Biden include not only Canadian Prime Minister and Liberal Party leader Justin Trudeau but also conservative politicians such as Alberta Premier Jason Kenney and national opposition leader Erin O’Toole. Outgoing U.S. President Donald Trump’s brand of populist conservatism has had little resonance in Canada and produced few cross-border coattail benefits for right-of-center Canadian politicians.

Just the opposite, in fact: During both Ontario’s 2018 provincial election and the national 2019 vote, Conservative Party politicians (including current Ontario Premier Doug Ford and former national Tory leader Andrew Scheer) had to fend off accusations that they were Trump’s northern imitators. Left-of-center Canadian politicians such as Trudeau, meanwhile, eagerly presented themselves as guardians of tolerant Canadian values, which many progressives here believe to be under siege from Trump-inspired xenophobia, racism, or even white supremacism.

In fact, one of the main effects of the Trump presidency here in Canada has been an increased fixation on race in all aspects of politics and policymaking—especially in regard to Black Canadians, despite the fact that only about 4 percent of Canadians are Black and that most of those Black Canadians are first-generation immigrants, not descendants of enslaved or otherwise mistreated Canadian forebears. And following the election, it’s notable that many Canadian journalists and politicians seem more interested in the ascendancy of Vice President-elect Kamala Harris than Biden.

These have been politically unusual times in Canada, a country whose political tribes have traditionally been defined by region, not skin color. And it will be interesting to see whether Canada reverts to that historical dynamic now that Trump is on his way out of office—or whether this new kind of U.S.-style race politics is here to stay and will continue to overshadow Canada’s traditional domestic debates over the economic underdevelopment of Canada’s Atlantic provinces, Quebec separatism, and the Western provinces’ alienation from the rest of the country.

Jonathan Kay is an editor at Quillette, a host of the Quillette podcast, and an op-ed contributor to the National Post. Twitter: @jonkay

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