Canadian media continues to ignore why populism is on the rise in Canada
The CBC posted an opinion piece by Steven Zhou on what he feels is an “alarming rise in right-wing populism.” Zhou illustrates many examples of racist and xenophobic postings shared on university campuses across Canada. He equates white nationalism, populism, xenophobia, the alt-right and racism together, all while nestling these concepts on the political right, cozied up next to Conservative leadership candidates. If I had a cup of hot white chocolate, I might have been comfortable enough to doze off and simply accept the premise of his argument. Zhou’s approach though, is problematic. It is also reflective on how much of the media has approached these issues. These issues are not the same, and by equating these groups and issues we only push them further to the fringes rather than engaging people and understanding each other. A wise man once said that we need to get to the root causes of the problem, unfortunately journalists and pundits have spent time warning Canadians of populism or the alt-right, without even considering the problems which have led to their rise.
Changing Campus Life
We see literature promoting white nationalism, or protesting the rise of Islam, on campuses across the country. Yet at the same time campuses and schools freely promote socialist or communist groups, groups that vilify the Canadian Armed Forces, and anarchists ironically looking to organize. As Zhou rightly points out, campuses should be a place for the free exchange of all ideas. Developing minds should be challenged and even be exposed to challenging ideas that disagree with their outlook on the world. One does not need to agree with these messages to appreciate that their existence is not a result of exploitation, but the benefit of living in a free and fair society. Socialism and anti-capitalist groups have been the norm on campuses for decades. Over the years campus groups for ethnic and religious minorities have become a standard across the country where the exclusion white students has been entrenched. We have on our campuses a generation of students who are told they need to check their privilege, analyse gender breads, and recognize traditional lands else they risk offending someone and face public shaming. This approach leading to a rise in white nationalism or populism isn’t shocking, it was inevitable. We need to examine the root causes of this shift, and not vilify those who are feeling suddenly excluded within their campus communities. Campuses were once places for the free exchange of ideas, but many students are faced being ostracized for expressing ideas which run against well-established campus group-think. These groups are not a result of hateful people being emboldened by President Elect Trump, it is the result of people being so excluded from campus society that these groups have become their only outlet. Instead of engaging and debating with these groups and understand why they have formed, the media, and many campus organizers have abandoned an exchange of ideas an opted to use labels to dismiss these groups and push them even further to the fringes.
It is these challenges that are so pervasive throughout Canada that they extend beyond campuses. We see a rising number of Canadians turning away from the diversity of Canada in favour of a more protectionist, anti-globalist approach. Populists advocating for a drastic reduction in immigration or values tests are easily labelled as “alt-right” with the assumption that the resistance to immigration is somehow rooted in an anti-establishment white nationalist agenda. The sad reality is youths across Canada are looking at leading lives that are less prosperous than their parents. The dreams of a career, home ownership, and starting a family are being delayed because of challenging factors throughout the Canadian economy. Youth unemployment is staggeringly high, with Toronto suffering from 18% youth unemployment. Alberta’s unemployment rate of 8.5% seems insignificant when contrasted to Newfoundland and Labrador’s 14.5%. Across Canada, Canadians watched a veteran detail to the PM how his pension is not being paid, and how a single mother cannot afford to heat her home and feed herself. The Federal Government is raising taxes and the cost of energy through Carbon taxes, looking to increase taxes on employee benefits and Netflix all while homes are more expensive, household debt is rising to record levels while the growth of the Canadian economy still struggles. It is no surprise that Canadians from coast to coast to coast struggle to reconcile bringing in hundreds of thousands of new Canadians to compete against in the job
market while staying true to Canadian values we all hold dear. While immigration is critical for growth we need to appreciate that still for many in the struggling middle class, the promises of the Trudeau campaign have not translated into results.
Of course, xenophobia exists, we may never have a society free of hate, but we have to understand this is not just xenophobia at work. There is more to this challenge than just white nationalism. When we consider the root causes to these issues, we can see that there is more to the issues than simple labels, unfortunately it is easier to use a label than to try to understand why these ideas are being more prevalent. We have collectively accepted that the poorly defined “alt-right” is equal to white nationalism and that the both of these movements are the key driver behind populism. Further, the media has laid the drivers of populism on the feet of conservatism, but hate has no place on the political spectrum. Neither the right nor the left own a monopoly on hate. Hate is hate and we need to recognize it as such. While journalists and pundits continue to dismiss these “movements,” we are only reinforcing the foundations of their development. While the rise of populism may be scary to some, the drivers behind its growth are equally troubling.
Stagnation of the Canadian Middle Class
Students across Canada are bearing the burden of heavy debt to pay for an education that carries little value in today’s workforce. Students who were encouraged to pursue their passions in the liberal arts are waking up to the rude reality behind the counters of coffee shops as the struggle to find sustainable employment. Today, the average Canadian will not buy their first home until the age of 36. The real-estate prices have risen 83% in the last decade while middle class incomes have been stagnant for decades. The federal government has committed Canada to decades of deficit spending with poor forecasts in Canada’s economic growth. Many Canadians are moving towards retirement without adequate savings to support themselves. Canadians face soaring energy costs at home while the government spends an additional $2.6b on reducing carbon emissions in the developing world. Canadians across the country struggle to succeed in the middle class while the government spends $1b relocating Syrian refugees. Canadians are increasingly in a position where their livelihood and prosperity are in conflict with Canadian values. Canadians do believe in generosity, being engaged on the international stage, and leading by example, and these are widely held Canadian values that are being tested every day by the policies of our politicians.
The rise of populism shouldn’t be a shock for anyone, we have set the conditions for its success.