Daniel Hannan is an MEP for South-East England, and a journalist, author and broadcaster. His most recent book is What Next: How to Get the Best from Brexit.
Canadians are so bloody polite, even their general elections are decorous. I have spent the past week in the Big Dominion, whose fiercely contested campaign culminates on Monday. Not that you’d think it from the local hustings meetings: “Sorry to interrupt, please finish your point”, “I apologise if I misunderstood you”, etc etc.
Candidates rarely talk across each other, impute base motives or misrepresent their opponents. When I offered a very mild joke about Justin Trudeau’s blackface fetish to a Conservative MP, he goggled at me in horror: “I’m not going to go negative!”
There have, in fairness, been one or two gentle digs. Andrew Scheer, the likeable Tory leader, pokes fun at Trudeau for flying about with two jets (one, presumably, for all the blackface props). Meanwhile, in what must surely be the most Canadian scandal ever, Leftists attacks Scheer for not having been a fully qualified insurance broker.
To British or American eyes, it is extraordinarily consensual. But Canadians are shocked – shocked – at the attacks. “Didja hear that, eh, didja? Oh, ya, the gloves have come off!”
God, I love this place. Canadians understand that democracy depends on respect, on norms, on unwritten rules – and, not least, on a measure of generosity. They grasp, not as a matter of civic theory, but as a matter of practical politics, that winners need to display restraint, and losers need to display consent.
In the United States, Trumpsters demand legal action against Joe Biden, as they once did against Hillary Clinton. In Britain, MPs have passed legislation that could see Boris Johnson convicted for failing to sign a letter nullifying the promise on which he was elected. But Canada remains confident, comfortable and calm. Even the anti-establishment People’s Party of Canada, currently polling at two per cent or so, offers a strikingly Canadian shade of populism, promising to reduce immigration from its current level of 350,000 a year to 150,000.
How has Canada, along with Australia and New Zealand, avoided the authoritarian, anti-politics surge that has swept across the United States, Britain and Europe? I have various theories. For one thing, these three countries came through the credit crunch without a downturn. There were no big bailouts, no transfers of resources from ordinary taxpayers to wealthy bankers and bondholders. For another, all three have popular immigration policies, which combine relatively high levels of controlled, legal immigration with very low levels of illicit entry. It may have to do with the absence of an inherited class system. Take your pick.
Who will win? Some polls show the two main parties level-pegging, others suggest a slight Conservative lead. The trouble for the Tories is that it is hard to see them forming a government unless they win an absolute majority. Even if they win a plurality of votes and seats, the odds are on a Trudeau minority of some sort.
Yet, oddly, it is Trudeau who sounds the more rattled. He has taken to attacking Scheer for his Euro-scepticism (Scheer was a moderate Leave supporter) and for his adherence to Catholic teachings on abortion.
This week, he escalated in a remarkably un-Canadian way. At a rally in Ontario, he swapped his black greasepaint for a bulletproof vest. Asked what might have prompted a threat against him, he blamed “increased politics of fear and negativity and now, as we have seen from the Conservative Party, flatout lies”. Yep, those were his exact words: politics has turned negative, and it’s all because of those evil Tories. To complain of negativity is one thing. To accuse your opponents of inciting violence another. But to do both in the same sentence? Jeez, eh.
“My first concern was for the safety of my family and for all the Canadians in the room,” Trudeau told us – failing to explain how his jacket would make all the Canadians in the room any safer. But it was good theatre – and he was, in fairness, a drama teacher. Not that many Canadians are falling for it: no one seriously believes that the jocular, dimple-cheeked, quietly devout Scheer would provoke violence against anyone.
In a country that dislikes negative campaigning, the negatives are telling. The case against Trudeau is not that he is a racist, but that he’s a bit of a berk. Almost no one, watching his blackface antics, thinks he secretly despises black people. It is just that, as with his dressing up games in India, he looks dim and vapid.
The case against Scheer, by contrast, is that he believes in God. That’s not how his critics put it, obviously. They say he is anti-women and anti-gay. But what they really mean that he is a practising Catholic. Even in a largely post-Christian country like Canada, I am not sure that this is quite the killer blow they imagine. No one truly believes that Scheer is going to impose his religious convictions on a secular nation by, for example, seeking tighter abortion laws. The only question is whether tolerance works both ways – whether, in other words, holding religious views is a disqualification from high office. And here, I suspect, the Left is over-reaching.
As a thought experiment, try substituting “Muslim” for “Catholic”. Imagine that a Muslim political leader was declared to be a danger to the nation because he declined to go on an LGBT march and had a personal belief that abortion was wrong. I suspect that, in such a situation, even Trudeau would see that something was wrong. Canadians understand that the same applies to Scheer.
Faced with a choice between a bimbo and a believer, Canadians might just decide that, on balance, they prefer the guy who believes in something bigger than himself. If they do, they can expect lower taxes, balanced budgets and, not least, free trade with a post-EU Britain. Good, solid goals for a good, solid country.