Trump’s divisive win on Nov. 8 brought a flurry of emotions from people around me and on my social media. I saw disappointment, sadness, and fear for many Americans who now feel unsafe, but also cheering, celebration, and above all, shock. I also saw the whispered pride of Canadians for being so much more inclusive.
Look at how the immigration site crashed when Trump won, we tell ourselves. Everyone wants to be Canadian because we’re so great!
Some things, like the absence of extreme polarization in our political system, are cause for thanks. In the current Conservative Party of Canada (CPC) leadership race to replace former Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Canadian Conservatives are fortunate to have a wealth of options, policy stances, and directions in which to go for the party.
But we must never think of ourselves as better than Americans, that there is some magical quality to being Canadian that makes us more inclusive and better. There are real, tangible factors that have led to our greater perceived inclusivity. Some purely out of dumb luck, some of our design, like the privileges of our geography (being surrounded by water, snow, and the U.S. ensures that we would never have illegal immigration like certain European countries or the U.S. — it’s easier to remain pleasant about policy issues that we have much control over — and how Canada continues to have one of the highest percentages of post-secondary education attainment in the world (these high education levels correlate to higher levels of social mobility, critical thinking, and social acceptance).
But let’s bring it back to the CPC leadership race — one of the perceived frontrunners is Kellie Leitch, an orthopedic pediatrician and a minister for the status of women in the Harper government. During the first leadership debate, she applauded Trump’s win, and paraded her idea of screening every visitor, immigrant, and refugee for “Canadian values.” Leitch was the MP during the 2015 election who unveiled the Conservative proposal for a “barbaric cultural practices” hotline with Chris Alexander (another CPC leadership candidate), an inflammatory way of reporting crimes that would not otherwise be considered crimes, if not for the fact that they are being committed by specific “barbaric” cultures.
We think that we’re safe in Canada, but it’s not difficult to see clear echoes of Trump’s bigoted rhetoric in Leitch’s leadership campaign. The dangers of her rhetoric are reflected in how Trump’s most dangerous actions have been to mobilize the quiet racists, the silent homophobes, the whispering bigots whose beliefs, previously thought of as unwelcome in society, are normalized.
Passionate, driven citizens have been mobilizing themselves to fight, getting ready to act for their rights and the rights of their loved ones for the next four years. Learning, too, is action, and in Canada, we are equally bound by this duty and responsibility. To keep hatred at bay, we must learn. We must learn about the Canadian political system, about the policies, about the candidates, the power that you have as a citizen to affect change and all of its possible avenues. Learn enough that you can make informed decisions and educated suggestions and proposals. Learn about other cultures, learn about the LGTBQ+ community, listen, empathize, and learn from their lived experiences.
It’s through learning and putting that learning to use that we’ll be able show that segment of the Canadian population who will be electrified by Leitch’s divisive rhetoric the inefficiencies, the abhorrent inhumanity of her desire to screen newcomers for their “Canadian values.”
We can never let ourselves fall into the trap of “Canadian exceptionalism.” Trump didn’t plant the seeds of hate into an entire country — he simply helped them bloom. Never forget that the seeds are already here, planted, waiting.
4A English Rhetoric and Economics, Arts and Business