An Open Letter to Canadians: Don't Get Cocky, It's Happening to You Too

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An Open Letter to Canadians: Don't Get Cocky, It's Happening to You Too

Dear Fellow Canadians,

Hi. How are you? Did you enjoy your breakfast? What did you get at Tim Horton’s? You should go to the Mandarin, really nice all-you-can-eat buffet.

I’m sure you’ve been shocked by the events going on in America. The rise of populism built on xenophobia and hatred in the most economically powerful country in the world is bad news for every nation, especially one with ties as close to the US as Canada. You probably understand this. But there’s also probably something you told yourself after Trump’s victory was announced and maybe still tell yourself now: “This isn’t my problem.”

There’s no way this could happen here, right? After all, we just reached the light at the end of the tunnel. Last year’s federal election was straight out of a Hollywood movie: the left-leaning provinces uniting under one leader to bring about the end of a decade-long Canadian administration run by an incompetent Islamophobe, and the beginning of what seemed like a bright new age. For the first time in ten years, Canadians felt hope for the future.

Besides, you’ve always told yourself that we’re better than America. We’ve got our problems, sure, but we’re not that bad. Why else would so many people make “well, I’m moving to Canada” jokes after the results of this month’s US election? It’s because we’re better, and everyone knows we’re better.

Well, I’m sorry to be the one to break it to you, but we’re not. If you think we’re immune to the Trump effect, you’re dead wrong.

For those unaware of the recent history of Canadian politics, we have three main parties: The Conservatives (right), the Liberals (centre-left) and the New Democratic Party (far left). After losing the election last year to new Liberal leader Justin Trudeau, our Prime Minister for the past ten years, Stephen Harper, resigned as the head of the Conservatives. The election to decide his successor will be held on May 27th of next year. Initially, the frontrunner was Peter MacKay, a Member of Parliament for 18 years who served several cabinet positions in the Harper administration. However, he announced that he would not be running in order to focus on his family, leaving the position up for grabs by pretty much anyone.

For a while, the Conservative Party leadership race was dangerously similar to the state of the Republican race a year ago: several planks and D-listers with no clear frontrunner. At least, that was the case until Trump was elected. Following Hillary Clinton’s defeat, MP and Conservative leadership hopeful Kellie Leitch, who also served several positions in the Harper cabinet, called Trump’s win “an exciting message and one that needed to be delivered in Canada as well.” Leitch’s controversial positions include opposing the legalization of marijuana and a national tax on carbon emissions, calling for the dismantling of our national news organization the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, and screening prospective immigrants using a vaguely-worded “Canadian values test.” Her populist rhetoric and xenophobic policies have made some call her “the Canadian Donald Trump”, a view that she is quick to embrace, tethering herself to Trump soon after his victory was announced.

I can hear your subconscious defensiveness: “Well, okay, that sucks, but there’s no way she’ll win, right? We Canadians are too smart for that!” Think again. Two days before Election Day in the US, her polling in the leadership race shot up from five percent the previous month to 19 percent among Conservative supporters.

In case that wasn’t enough, there’s the fact that she still isn’t the clear frontrunner. No, that honor belongs to Kevin O’Leary, a Canadian businessman who has yet to formally announce his candidacy but has stated his interest in running.

If that name sounds familiar, it’s probably because you’ve seen TV shows such as Shark Tank and Dragon’s Den. O’Leary is one of the investors on the reality program that allows potential entrepreneurs to present their ideas to panel of wealthy businessmen, who will then decide whether to invest on their idea. He has no political experience, is known solely for his television and radio appearances, and is so utterly vapid and out of touch with reality that he once claimed the widening income gap was “fantastic news” because it would inspire the poor and disenfranchised to work harder.

Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? Oh, and he’s the clear frontrunner in every poll that features him.

Again, I can hear the defensiveness: “Well, even if O’Leary or Leitch win the Conservative leadership, there’s no way they’ll get elected, right?” Americans everywhere were telling themselves the same thing last year, and here we are now.

The fact is, the geographical situation in Canada allows for arguably an even worse filter bubble than the one that led to Trump’s victory in America taking everyone by surprise. There are multicultural hubs such as Toronto and Montreal where the majority of the population lives, and then there’s everywhere else. This clear separation between urban and rural means that a lot of Canadians are completely unaware of what is going in in other parts of the country or even in their own city. How many Torontonians are aware of the fact that, according to statistics, Indigenous-Canadians receive worse treatment than African-Americans? Or that it’s completely legal for Toronto Police to stop a passerby, typically African-Canadian, on the street and document their information in a database?

Even our “sunny” Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, who has been subject to much hagiography by international media since his election, is not the untouchable progressive wunderkind that many would like him to be. Despite his commitment to environmental issues, he has been softening his view on constructing oil pipelines ever since he came to office, and his administration has been failing to back up his frequent and ardent support of feminism. Now that he’ll be forced to work with Donald Trump, a man he’s implicitly denounced in the past, the compromises are only going to get worse. But, hey, who cares about that when articles and tweets about his “bromance” with President Obama are obviously far more important, right?

Look, I get it. I was born in Canada, grew up in Canada, live in Canada, and would be happy to spend the rest of my life in Canada. I love this country, and no matter what happens in the future, I have no plans to abandon it. But we as a nation have grown complacent. We’re satisfied with pointing to America and saying “Hey, we’re better than them,” and leaving it at that. It says something incredibly sad about the state of our national political discourse when Rick Mercer is considered our equivalent of Stephen Colbert.

In my university dorm on election night, when I was sharing my uncertainty with another student, his response was “Well, if it helps, we remain the only country to defeat America in a war.” (Apparently Vietnam doesn’t exist.) The next day, in my morning lecture, the professor cracked a joke about offering space to fleeing Americans being the next big business to the laughter of the audience.

To you, my fellow Canadian, I give this message: This is not a joke. This is real, and it’s happening here.