Canadians must prepare for populist surge sweeping north
The conflict between elites and ordinary people that brought us the election of Donald Trump and Brexit has roots in Canada - by Brian Lee Crowley
There is no wall protecting Canada from the populist tidal wave that washed Donald Trump to the presidency in the United States, says Brian Lee Crowley in a new Macdonald-Laurier Institute commentary.
The phenomena that delivered a stunning election result in the United States and a surprise vote to leave the European Union in Britain are despite what some observers think also happening here in Canada.
“The Brexit vote last June and the recent election of a populist and anti-establishment American president are perhaps only the opening chapters of a new era of friction and even confrontation between the opinions of the Davos-inspired elites who have been in charge for decades, and those of the man and woman on the street”, says Crowley.
Crowley’s commentary, based on a talk he delivered in Vancouver to the Commercial Real Estate Development Association, targets the growing conflict between the elites and ordinary people.
Part of the problem, says Crowley, is what he calls “cross-party arrogance”. This refers to the mistaken assumption, from both sides of the political aisle, that seismic economic shifts will have marginal impact for ordinary people.
“The feelings of the displaced and those who fear they will be next are facts that must be confronted, not airily dismissed” -Brian Lee Crowley
Balancing budgets and throwing borders open to trade may be the right policy decisions. But to pretend that people captive to the status quo will simply be re-trained or re-educated for more prosperous jobs in the new economy is foolish.
“The feelings of the displaced and those who fear they will be next are facts that must be confronted, not airily dismissed”, says Crowley.
One telling statistic, says Crowley, is the number of people who have opted out of the labour market entirely.
Nine out of 10 states with the lowest labour-force participation rates voted for Donald Trump in the recent presidential election a trend that has an equivalence in Canada. Here, Canada’s labour-force participation rate has been essentially flat for more than a decade, and has fallen consistently since 2008.
Crowley’s commentary focuses on three key areas where policy-makers need to adjust to the new political reality: free trade, immigration and urban policy.
“I no longer believe as I once did that we can just let economic change rip, with the resulting economic growth cleaning up the damage”, says Crowley.
“We must be more strategic and more focused on creating the kind of job opportunities that real people currently being left behind can seize and use to earn a living that allows them self-respect, dignity, and a place in the community”.
To read the full commentary, titled “New Rhetoric, New Realities, and the Emerging Conflict Between Elites and Ordinary People”, click here.