OP-ED BY TYLER CHOI
Canadians don’t like to think of themselves as smug, but bring them into a conversation with an American, and the hidden side will flow. Some easy topics are how much better our healthcare is, how our multicultural mosaic is successful (unlike their boiling pot), and how we are a country that exports peace, unlike those barbaric neighbours to the south.
This tone has never been more apparent than in the aftermath of Donald Trump’s victory. After all, enlightened Canadians could never vote in a xenophobe populist with no political experience, who flirts with the outrageous and controversial, right? Perhaps we all blocked it out of our collective memories, but the former mayor of our largest city could have easily been following the Trump formula. Seen as the long-shot choice, Rob Ford would surprise Toronto with his election win, running off a message of respect for the taxpayer, an open ear to the unheard, and an unfettered personality that called it like it is. Some of his statements are eerily Trumpian, like, “Those Oriental people work like dogs. … They’re slowly taking over,” or referring to fellow Councillor Gloria Lindsey Luby as, “a joke. She’s a waste of time. A waste of skin.”
He even had his own moment with a certain p-word, just like Trump’s infamous “grab them by the pussy” statement. But for all of his edges, Ford commanded the respect of the inner city who felt abandoned and condescended by politicians, much like rural America rallying toward Trump. Both demonstrated contempt for the media, with Trump eagerly calling out any critical outlets as, “fake news”, or with Ford’s war against the Toronto Star. If a city billed as the most diverse in the world and a consistent Liberal stronghold could fall to the spell of Ford, why not the rest of the country?
Here we are now in 2017, as the Conservative Party of Canada debates its new leader. Kellie Leitch, the Conservative MP who proposed a Canadian values test for immigrants, congratulated Trump on his election victory and said via social media and e-mails to supporters, “It’s an exciting message and one that we need delivered in Canada as well.”
Though her calls for a Canadian values test was met with outrage, and drew comparisons between Trump’s proposed ban on Muslims entering the United States, her time in the limelight was quickly upstaged by a TV star. Kevin O’Leary, millionaire businessman and personality on shows like Dragon’s Den and Shark Tank, echoes the path Trump took on his political journey. Despite having no time whatsoever in a political office, O’Leary has taken the lead in the leadership race, with 27 per cent of those polled in a survey choosing him, 16 per cent more than the next candidate, Maxime Bernier. Driven primarily by the media attention, O’Leary is a popular pick because of his large-scale television profile. He has had his string of stumbles; most notoriously on The Lang and O’Leary Exchange, calling an Oxfam report on global inequality as, “a great thing because it inspires everybody, and gets them the motivation to look up to the 1 per cent and say, I want to become one of those people. I’m going to fight hard and get up to the top.”
O’Leary passes it off as a television personality, and a poor reflection of who he is in person, but where have we heard this as an excuse for a certain presidential candidate?
While admittedly O’Leary is no Trump in many policy regards, the air of populism rings strong in Canada. It would be a mistake to ignore the wave of anger and pass it off as the grumblings of people who don’t know any better.
While Trudeau enjoys a lead in polls, his failures to follow up on promises like electoral reform only reinforces the idea that there needs to be a shake up in Parliament Hill, and that the elites need deposing. We can pretend we are not like Americans and their politics, but if the past and present have any indication, we may be alike in more ways than we think. After the unthinkable two-punch of Brexit and Trump, Prime Minister Kevin O’Leary is no longer a fantasy, but a very real possibility. We can pretend we exist in a sphere of political maturity, but when 2019 comes by, we may eat our words.