No matter why Canadians are different, we’re just happy we are

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November 1, 2016

Whatever else one might say about the choice Americans have on Nov. 8, it is a clear, either/or decision: Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton; Democrat or Republican; good versus evil (depending on your perspective). 

A year ago, Canadians made a choice that bucked the polarizing trend that has invaded not just politics but the economy, the consumer marketplace and even the climate. In a world of widening disparity between the rich and the poor, luxury, niche markets versus deep-discount retailers, and temperature swings between very hot and very cold, Canadians chose to be ruled by a Liberal Party that has historically embraced the moderate, mass-market middle. 

And as Stephen Marche writes, it’s a happy middle. The biggest difference between Canadian and American politics at this juncture in history, as I see it, rests in this country’s hardy resistance to the forces of polarization we are seeing in other modern democracies. 

Why is that the case? It may have something to do with our multi-party system, which makes either/or choices more complicated. It may be that this is a country of many languages–two official ones, but lots of others thriving and in common use in urban pockets. Whole neighbourhoods of Punjabi, Cantonese or Italian speakers are not uncommon. Or it may be that we’ve spent so much time dwelling on vast differences in the country, whether they’re based in geography or culture, that we’ve had to work harder at finding bridges in the middle where we meet. 

Canadians have had to work harder at finding bridges in the middle.

Meeting in the middle is not in fashion in the United States at present. Startling research from the Pew Institute has shown that Americans are increasingly living in two political solitudes: Democrats and Republicans rarely live, work or even converse together, except on those scary, yelling pundits’ panels on cable TV. 

Canada, as Marche points out, is not immune to the polarizing forces trying to divide the world into “them” and “us.” But our long struggle to define our identity, once seen as a weakness, may be our strength in 2016—Canadians know that the line is always shifting between who we regard as “us” and who is the other. 

Well, one sharp distinction may be on many minds north of the 49th parallel right now. We know we are not the U.S., and most of us are happy about that. Canada is an island determinedly in the middle of an angry, polarizing world.

Susan Delacourt is a freelance columnist with iPolitics and the Toronto Star.