Does Canada Lag Behind the U.S.? - The Intrepid

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Does Canada Lag Behind the U.S.?

As the final votes are tallied, it looks as if Stephen Harper won’t win the majority he wanted, but will rather have to settle for a strong minority government. The Conservatives have done significantly better than most analysts predicted. Conservative supporters are likely upset with tonight’s results, but this is a Tory win. Although, perhaps slightly peeved at just how close they came to a majority, Tory annoyance probably can’t compare to the calls in the Liberal Party for Dion’s head.

Ultimately, what does this Conservative win mean? In contrast with Obama’s rise and the resurgence of liberalism south of the border, Canada’s new found conservatism seems a little outdated. If the U.S. is trending left, why are we going right?

Historians and political scientists have frequently theorized that Canada lags behind the United States. Irving Louis Horowitz argues, “the differences between Canada and the United States, at the level of values, are better framed in terms of cultural lag than in terms of polarized or reified values differences.” What Horowitz suggests, is that Canada and the U.S. are the same. Canada just experiences certain cultural trends a little later.

The historical evidence for this thesis is iffy. While Pearson’s policies somewhat resemble the vision of FDR and Trudeau may seem like a late Canadian JFK, there is more evidence against a “lag” theory than for it. For instance, in the 60s, both countries experienced radical liberalism, the 70s, feminism, the 1980s rightwing ideology, the 90s, liberal free trade.

Politics reflect cultural values, and vice versa. Throughout most of the 20th century, Canadian and American cultural values are very similar and as Canadians consume more American media, we seem to be getting closer and closer. Although, there are a few obvious differences that are rooted in our historical development. Canadians tend to be imbued with the idea of “Peace, Order, and Good Government” and are subsequently a little more deferential to authority than their freedom loving American counterparts.

So, if we really aren’t very different, why is Canada tacking to right?

A lot of Harper’s support this election was soft. These aren’t hardcore conservatives that want to ban abortions and integrate church and state, although some of them are. These are Canadians worried about Dion’s leadership skills, but still not confident in a Harper majority.

Many core Canadian values are distinctly liberal. Canadians love socialized medicine, firmly support social safety nets, and generally feel that the evils of capitalism need to be restrained. These values are inherently anti-conservative. Could Harper be the forefront of the Canadian version of American neo-conservatism? Not likely.