News / Vancouver

After Trump, Canada needs to guard against fear-fuelled politics: expert

B.C.’s high level of inequality could help a populist gain traction here, says political scientist

A man dressed in red-white-and-blue sits on the curb during a protest against President-elect Donald Trump, Wednesday, Nov. 9, 2016, in Seattle's Capitol Hill neighborhood.

AP

A man dressed in red-white-and-blue sits on the curb during a protest against President-elect Donald Trump, Wednesday, Nov. 9, 2016, in Seattle's Capitol Hill neighborhood.

Think Trump could never happen in British Columbia? Think again.

While Alberta is Canada’s traditional home of the far right, conditions in B.C. could help a populist gain traction here, said David Moscrop, a political scientist currently studying at the University of British Columbia.

“I think we need to assume that it could happen here and adjust accordingly,” Moscrop said.

“We have this Canadian smugness that it couldn’t possible happen here, our people don’t think like that, we’re not xenophobic, we’re not racist, but that population exists.”

While many Canadians reacted with horror to Donald Trump’s presidential win, it’s not difficult to find people in this country who find him appealing. At an election party the evening of Nov. 8, one Vancouver resident explained why he supports Trump.

“He says, ‘You’ve got undocumented workers and people living in the country with no papers, get them out of here,’” the supporter said. “He’s also saying race relations are bad between black people and white people and the police, he’s saying that’s got to stop.

“When he says jobs have left America, he’s not making that up.”

Moscrop noted that Kellie Leitch, a contender for leader of the Conservative Party, eagerly seized on Trump’s win in a message to supporters.

“Tonight, our American cousins threw out the elite and elected Donald J. Trump as their next president,” wrote Leach, a former Conservative minister who controversially launched a “Barbaric Cultural Practices” tip line in the lead-up to the 2015 election.

“It’s an exciting message and one that we need delivered in Canada as well. It’s the message I’m bringing with my campaign to be the next Prime Minister of Canada.”

Far-right supporters in B.C. have found a home in the B.C. Conservative Party, which has had very little success in recent provincial elections, and to some extent as part of the broader BC Liberal coalition, Moscrop said.

But Metro Vancouver’s high level of wealth inequality and widespread public concern that wealthy foreigners are pushing up the price of real estate have the potential to be woven into a powerful populist message.

“One of the most important messages we can take away from the American election is that inequality is absolutely corrosive to democracy,” Moscrop said. “Inequality breeds resentment, it breeds distrust, it breeds hatred, and this is what we’re seeing in part in the housing debate in Metro Vancouver.

Donald Trump in Vancouver in 2013 to promote the Trump Hotel

Emily Jackson/Metro Files

Donald Trump in Vancouver in 2013 to promote the Trump Hotel

“Everyone looks to foreign buyers, everybody looks to Chinese nationals, and they want to blame someone and they want to punish someone.”

With support growing for the far right in Europe and now in the United States, the danger for Canada is real, Moscrop said. Politicians, the media and ordinary people all need to stand up and call out xenophobia, racism and sexism.

“On the other hand, you have to try to understand where it’s coming from,” he added.

“(In the United States) working class folks have been exploited for far too long and they don’t trust the system any more, and that exists in Canada too.”

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