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Could A Donald Trump Emerge In Canada?

03/21/2016 02:56 EDT | Updated 03/22/2017 05:12 EDT

Few countries seem immune to the emergence of ambitious politicians ready to prey on people's fears and anxieties about the "other". With relatively few exceptions, Europe has seen a rise in support for nationalist political parties with leaders that regularly vilify immigrants and cast them as the principal threat to social harmony. In this regard, the example that immediately comes to mind is France's Front Nationale of Jean-Marie Le Pen (now led by his daughter Marine). But there are several anti-immigrant political parties in Europe. Of course, there is nothing particularly new about politicians exploiting xenophobia, as the twentieth century provided us several instances of such behavior and, at times, with dramatic consequences.

Over the past few decades, analysts have insisted that European style anti-immigrant politics were not easily exportable to either the United States or Canada as such ideas were unattractive to most North American voters. Anti-immigrant politicians usually appeal to a nation's ethnic majority population by insist that the dominant culture is being undermined by migrants. It's not simple to make this case in culturally pluralist democracies like the United States and Canada that lack an easily definable ethnic majority.

The absence of an anti-immigrant political party in the two countries is frequently served up as evidence of the importance of immigration to the process of nation-building. Many Americans think of their country as a nation of immigrants. But this is currently being thrown into question with the growing popularity of current Republican leadership candidate Donald Trump whose anti-immigrant rhetoric appears to be enjoying considerable success amongst many Americans. Ongoing attacks on Mexican and Muslim migrants risk transforming the Republicans if led by Trump into an anti-immigrant party regardless of how much this is denied by supporters. Undoubtedly many Trump voters will insist that it's not the stand on immigration that explains their support (that's what many supporters of anti-immigrant parties in Europe maintain).

Unlike the United States it would be difficult for a mainstream Canadian political leader to garner meaningful voter support with an anti-immigration platform. In the 2015 federal election, some Conservatives briefly tested the idea of exploit anti-Muslim sentiment. But the effort proved to no avail. Previously, in the 2014 Quebec provincial election, the Parti Quebecois was unsuccessful in an effort to appeal to anxieties about the public expression of religion by the province's minorities. That too did not create winning conditions for the Parti Quebecois. But these measures do not imply that the parties are anti-immigration. Neither party has endorsed reductions in the number of immigrants nor have their leaders engaged in public attacks on them.

This week, elected officials of all Quebec provincial political parties and their federal counterparts have said they would refuse to meet with current Front Nationale leader Marine LePen currently visiting Quebec.

As to Donald Trump, a March 2016 poll conducted by Leger Marketing for the Association for Canadian Studies reveals that the Republican leadership hopeful is especially unpopular with Canadians. Nearly three in four Canadians hold a negative view of Trump compared with one in four expressing negative feelings about Hillary Clinton. Conversely, the majority of Canadians hold a positive view of Clinton.

What are the characteristics of the nearly one in five Canadians that have a positive view of Trump? For one thing 51% of them hold a very negative view of Muslims. More than one in three holds very negative views of immigrants. Negative opinion about Canadian multiculturalism and official bilingualism are also amongst things viewed unfavorably by the majority of Canadians that apparently appreciate Trump. But, the public opinion survey does not give the impression that the Canadian political terrain is fertile for Trump's style of anti-immigrant populism. Even so, it remains necessary to be vigilant in Canada as a significant minority of Canadians is anxious about immigration and there is a continued need to address some concerns when they arise.

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