How did America become the new Canada?

You know things have gone bad for the left in Canada when even Conrad Black starts saying nice things about the place.


How did America become the new Canada?In a remarkable reversal of political directions, America has been transformed into a hothouse of liberal and—shhh—even socialist experimentation, while Canada seems a hotbed of reactionary conservatism. Yes, America is the new us, we’re the new America, and the Canadian left has to be wondering just where it all went wrong.

The eight years of the Bush presidency allowed progressive-minded Canadians to indulge in an orgy of moral superiority vis-à-vis the United States, but in three short months that country has almost completely changed course. Acting on the premise that it would be a shame to let a good crisis go to waste, Barack Obama has put his ship of state in a hard left turn, and his countrymen have dutifully gone along with it. Huge tracts of the economy have submitted to massive state intervention even as the President pushes full-steam ahead on school reform, a national health care program, and a new energy- and climate-change initiative.

On virtually all of the defining issues of America’s relentless culture war—drugs, stem cell research, gay rights—it is clear Obama is trying to push the U.S. away from the tightly ideological positions of the Republicans while adopting a looser and far more pragmatic approach. One of his first moves as President was to make more embryonic stem cell lines available for research, which sent scientists into raptures, and left the public shrugging in quiet approval. The U.S. has joined the UN’s Human Rights Council, reversing a decision by the Bush administration, and will back a UN resolution supporting the decriminalization of homosexuality worldwide. (Bush had refused to do so, making the U.S. the only Western country not to sign on.)

Weirdest of all, ratings for National Public Radio—an institution so liberal even liberals make fun of it—have skyrocketed this year, with listenership for its flagship news and current affairs programs growing by nine per cent over the last year.

Meanwhile, up in Canada, the CBC is laying off 800 employees after the Conservatives refused to float it a bridge loan during the recession. And why would they? The Tories are too busy chumming their home waters, introducing measures aimed at starting a feeding frenzy over non-existent threats such as polygamy, illegal immigration, violent crime, and Islamic fundamentalism.

To boot, we’ve gone and got ourselves our very own culture war. In all of the excitement surrounding the 200th anniversary of Darwin’s birthday, a reporter had the cheek to ask Science Minister Gary Goodyear if he believed in evolution. His bizarre reply (“I am a Christian, and I don’t think anybody asking a question about my religion is appropriate”) was followed by some predictable and worn-out back-and-forths over the place of religion in the public sphere.

Wasn’t it just a few years ago that The Economist celebrated Canada’s embrace of gay marriage, pot decriminalization, and anti-Iraq pacifism by putting a moose in sunglasses on the cover? Or recall Michael Adams’ book Fire and Ice, which argued that while Canadians were moving toward liberal values associated with idealism and personal self-fulfillment, Americans were moving away en masse from civic engagement and social and ecological concern. As Adams noted (with smug satisfaction), Americans were becoming reactionary, paranoid and isolated, more likely to see society as a war of all against all.

For a while there, it seemed that the obvious social and political differences between Canada and the U.S. underscored distinctive and immutable aspects of our respective national characters. So, what happened?

The lesson for the left here is that politics matters, and—more importantly—elections matter. That may seem obvious, but it is something that large segments of the left have been resisting for years. Ralph Nader based his entire campaign for president in 2000 on the premise that there was no essential difference between Democrats and Republicans, a preposterous conceit that cost Al Gore the election and gave the world the disaster that was the Bush administration. Noam Chomsky made the same point last fall, telling a CBC Radio audience it didn’t matter who won because Obama and John McCain were just leaders of two factions of “the business party.”

The Canadian left is far from immune to this sort of idiocy. Keep in mind Stephen Harper only got his shot at power in 2006 after Jack Layton pulled the plug on Paul Martin’s minority. It wasn’t enough for Layton that Martin was more than willing to be a lapdog to the NDP—he wanted Martin to fetch and play dead as well. If Martin’s government had lasted another couple of years, Harper might well have gone sulking back to Alberta, and the federal Conservatives would be a shell of a party led by a cream puff like Peter MacKay or Jean Charest. Instead, the Tories are in power while the Liberals are led by a man whose views on the economy, federalism, Iraq, and Afghanistan are virtually identical to Harper’s.

Obama’s success is that he has persuaded the harder edges of the American left that ideological grandstanding is a poor substitute for big-tent retail politics. And until it comes to the same conclusion, the Canadian left is going to have to get used to Canada’s status as moral inferiors in the new North America. But there’s also a lesson for the rest of the country: the moral high horse might be fun to ride, but it is always an uncertain and unpredictable beast.


How did America become the new Canada?

  1. Mostly a good post. Have to disagree with statements like “gave the world the disaster that was the Bush administration”, a phrase which is wrong on many levels simultaneously. History will be far kinder to Bush than to Obama.

    • You’re judging Obama’s historical record already? May I borrow your crystal ball?

      • Well, he was a senator and he does have a platform.

        He is creating the largest deficit in American history, he has decided to take ownership of GM and he has been a foreign policy disaster so far, embarrassing himself with a letter to Russia, presiding over yet another North Korean incident, failing to make any headway on Iran, and failing to get any backing for his economic ideas from Europe. Additionally, the so-called great unifier has completely failed to get any support from a single Republican on any issue whatsoever, and has many Democrats worried about his policy initiatives.

        That’s enough for me to judge.

        • “failing to make any headway on Iran, “


        • sf – You’ve got to be kidding me. I was skeptical about Barack Obama and will continue to reassess my opinion of his performance, but objectively speaking, he’s only been in office for a little over 2 months and you’re blaming him for not solving the iran/north korea/russia crisis??? really? these situations have been an issue for decades and you are calling his presidency a failure after a few months. furthermore, the bailouts and deficit spending were initiated under the Bush administration (an administration that turned a surplus into a deficit in fairly short order). Obama did not create this mess but he is certainly seeking a way to resolve it. Whether it will work or not will be for history to judge but to blame him for the worlds ills is a bit of a stretch.
          So far, I’ve seen a president who is actually doing what he told the American People (and the world) he would do.
          He has tried to come up with a bipartisan solution to the financial crisis (not easy to do in American crisis where people would rather destroy the country than work with the other side).
          He has drafted a stimulus package which he said he would do before he was elected President.
          He has sought to engage Iran and Russia. These problems will take years to sort out. Not months.
          He is seeking to rebuild ties with Europe – after relations deteriorated under Bush.
          He will be closing Guantanomo Bay – as he said he would. Granted, it will be a year or so but at least he is doing what he said he would.

          No matter what you think of Barack Obama, you can’t deny he inherited a country and world which is in disaster right now. And I am actually impressed at what he has managed to do in a short period of time. These problems will take years to even begin to fix. Mistakes will no doubt be made (as they already have been – especially with the terrible PR surrounding the AIG mess) but I like what I see so far in his policies and efforts. As I said, history will be the ultimate judge.

  2. Your statement that Jack Layton pulled the plug on Martin’s government is quite wrong when looking at the facts. The results below are the makeup of the House of Commons at dissolution. It clearly didnt matter how the NDP voted, and so there wasn’t any plug for Layton to pull.

    Lib 133
    Con 98
    BQ 53
    NDP 18
    IND 4

    Lib + NDP = 133 + 18 = 151
    Con + BQ +IND = 98 + 53 + 4 = 155

    155 > 151 QED

    • Moreover, if you recall, Mr. Martin had already promised to ask for dissolution upon receipt of the Gomery report, part II. So, Layton pulled the plug a few weeks early. Saying that Layton caused the end of what would otherwise have been a long minority stint for Martin is a Griit trope.

    • Give it a rest we all know where the independents voted and they were not with cons-bloq – it was in fact the used car salesman layton who pulled the plug.. Canadian’s should wish Paul Martin was PM now and thank him for securing our banks…. we are in a better place then the rest of the world because of Paul Martin

    • John makes a good point. While it’s true that Layton pulled the plug on Martin’s government, the numbers show that Martin’s government would have had a very limited shelf life even if the NDP had opted to keep the government alive. At least two of the four independents would have voted to kill the government, making a Con/BQ confidence vote a legitimate threat.

  3. “How did America become the new Canada?”

    Well it was hardly by stealth; after five minutes spent at Obama’s website perusing his policies it was impossible not to recall the Liberal Red Book and more recent Liberal initiatives. “He wants to turn America into Canada” was my first impression upon reviewing his policy.

    I think I have found my niche: giving seminars to deer-in-headlight Americans shocked to learn they are now living in an illiberal liberal Liberal dystopia, and how to prosper, profit, and have fun.

    “but in three short months that country has almost completely changed course.”

    Superficially if at all…

    “Barack Obama has put his ship of state in a hard left turn, and his countrymen have dutifully gone along with it.”

    Yikes, you’ve lost me here.

    “non-existent threats such as polygamy, illegal immigration, violent crime, and Islamic fundamentalism.”

    Treasonous; quantifiably false, barking mad treasonous agitprop. Please sir, two hits of that pure DMT you took before you wrote this column, I have to try this stuff.

    • Heritage Moment: Dimethyltryptamine (DMT) was first synthesized by Canadian chemist Richard Manske in 1931.

      • Salvia is way better!

  4. Haven’t seen the introduced measures over illegal immigration, but from the very last question on the transcript of the interview of Harper and the Financial Times that was posted on Macleans a while ago, he mentioned that the government, unlike the governments during the last recessions, would not be limiting immigration.

    • Ok, I think I know where you are coming from.

  5. I agree with you that the ideologue Noam Chomsky, oracle of the left, is an idiot. His idiocy stems from his ideology. The problem with ideologues like Chomsky is that they ignore facts that don’t fit their skewed world-views… and hence the nonsensical statements like the one Chomsky made during the CBC interview.

    • So how come or why does the media keep mentioning Noam Chomsky? Just to get a rise out of the extreme wings? I watch very little CBC so didn’t see the actual interview but his books are a good laugh, something light and escapist.

      • I love Chomsky for a light and escapist read.

        My favourite is “Morphophonemics of modern Hebrew”. Not much plot though.

    • Agreed about Chomsky. I read about a year ago that he said the Hugo Chavez was taking Venezuela out of the "sphere of American influence" and thus was making Venezuela more "democratic." This is the same Hugo Chavez who wanted to suspend his country's constitution and make himself dictator for life. Deluded liberal or complete moron? You decide.

  6. Wow, just what we needed, another Liberal whine about mean old Jack Layton and the destruction of Paul Martin’s Camelot. May I add that your ignorance of the “American left” is just breathtaking. I would just direct you to two voices on the left in the U.S., Paul Krugman and Glen Greenwald. Read a few of their columns and you will see where the real American left is right now. The left is not fooled by Obama, only liberals are and they are fooled at least twice a day, in any case. Go back to sacrificing sheep to Iggy and leave the political discussions to people who know what they are talking about.

    • Krugman is on the left? I always thought that he straddled the centre.

      • He is described as a “European social democrat” in Newsweek this week.

  7. ““non-existent threats such as polygamy, illegal immigration, violent crime, and Islamic fundamentalism.”

    Treasonous; quantifiably false, barking mad treasonous agitprop. Please sir, two hits of that pure DMT you took before you wrote this column, I have to try this stuff”

    How, if this is “quantifiably” false, did you do nothing ot offer any prrof that it is false. Other than an asserton that the writer was on drugs? And, treasonous? Treasonous? Are you serious? Is having policy oinions different from the government now treason?

    • The illegal immigrant population in the US is estimated to be between 7 and 20 million, a massive underclass of people that has not been integrated into American society.

      Violent crime is always an issue, did you notice what happened in Binghamton?

      And Islamic fundamentalism caused the destruction of the twin towers with thousands of people inside, along with many other terrorist acts around the world.

      There, now you have evidence of the existence of these threats.

  8. It only took three yrs of reform partisan politics and harper with his head up bush’s @$$ to change the political landscape, for the worse. I for one would like to see harper join his former mentor, mulroney, on the side lines. or in prison. Where ever mulroney ends up. I never doubted the intelligence of canadian voters before, but if this egomaniac stays in “power” much longer he will ruin the country.

    • Don’t you think that the Liberal Party is afraid to go any further on Mulroney now that former Liberal cabinet Ministers are appearing on the stand? And the long standing understanding between the two parties “I won’t investigate your years in power if you don’t investigate my years in power” may have been laid to rest. Will Chretien be next? Maybe he can share a cell!

      He’ll have to sell his PetroCan’t shares (from the Petro Fina days) to pay his lawyers.

  9. I can’t believe there are still people out there blaming Ralph Nader for the 2000 election. Ralph Nader never stopped the recount in Florida. Ralph Nader didn’t cause Al Gore to lose both his own home state of Tennessee and Clinton’s home state of Arkansas. Nader has, in fact, campaigned for instant runoff voting, an option which would eliminate the possibility of third party spoilers. Interesting that the Democratic party hasn’t picked up on this. They also haven’t moved to abolish the electoral college and move toward electing the president by direct popular vote. This would also have given Gore the presidency. It’s also an idea that Nader supports. Why don’t the Democrats support this? Probably for the same reason that they never call Ross Perot a “spoiler” from the 1992 election. They want to be able to exploit these loopholes in order to expand their own power base. Just like the Republicans that they refused to stand up to from 2001-2006.

  10. shucks Potts, I didn’t make it through the column before you forced me to correct your tarty propoganda. Loose claims about the ideological tightness of the right seem to reflect either loose screws or ideological projection by the truly tight. Ok, I couldn’t help myself there… as a matter of fact I consider you the most interesting columnist… anywhere. Anyhow…

    “it is clear Obama is trying to push the U.S. away from the tightly ideological positions of the Republicans while adopting a looser and far more pragmatic approach.”

    There are two coherent (if that’s what you meant by “tight”) ideological positions on stem cells. One is based on the belief or judgement that human life and rights begins at conception and that the destruction of embryos for their stem cells is immoral. The other would be that human life and rights begin at a later date, presumbably after whatever stage of development is ideal for the use of the stem cells.

    If Obama’s position is defined by the second, he is the one following a coherent ideological position. Ok, so was Bush’s position defined by the first position? Not at all. He banned federal funding only, and did not include research lines already in progress in the ban. State funding was not banned, and private funding was not banned. And he ramped up funding for adult stem cell research. In response to people who believed their tax money was being used for the destruction of human individuals Bush staked out an eminently pragmatic middle ground whereby individual states could choose and private funding was also free to go to what I would guess Bush also considered to be immoral. That’s where you lose me on the praise for looseness and pragmatism. Abraham Lincoln was not those things, for instance, and I don’t think it was a discredit to him. The Hippocratic Oath isn’t pragmatic or loose, but it seems to have passed out of fasion these days, in favour of approving shrugs.

  11. The scholarship in this article is awe inspiring.

  12. Blah. Blah. Take a close look at the bank bail-out and tell me the Dems aren’t a “business” party.

    A health care plan that will operate through the insurance companies.

    An education plan that has a focus on charter schools.

    There is more but why bother.

    All those initiatives are worthy of debate but none of them can be regarded as “left”.

    • You’ll get a good pat on the head at next Tuesday’s Chomsky reading night for your defence of The Master. Well done good disciple.

      • Hey, I get to call him Mr. Noam, Sir.

  13. Dear Mr. Potter…

    Nailed it dead centre.
    Don’t let the little boys with the talking points faze you.
    What you did miss though is – Obama read the electorate correctly – and knew exactly where and how far – he could take them.
    Our tim’rous cow’rin beasties of the politcal class are sadly – out of step with what is happening up here – and will be overtaken and left behind by their grassroots – if they don’t wake up soon!

    • Shhhhh! Don’t wake them.

  14. “Instead, the Tories are in power while the Liberals are led by a man whose views on the economy, federalism, Iraq, and Afghanistan are virtually identical to Harper’s.”

    The Liberal Party of Canada did right to anoint Mr. Ignatieff, if for nothing else than to excise the ghost of Pierre Trudeau and his wrong-headed and noxious views of Canadian federalism.

  15. Our country economic crisis did not happen overnight, so why are your so quick to discredit President Obama, in his first days of office. Where were you when former President George W. Bush sent our troops to Iraq to looking for weapon.

  16. How cynical do you have to be to rejoice that America is now more left-leaning than we are, not because you favour America’s approach but simply because you get off on sticking it to the Canadian left?

    • Mr. Potter doesn’t care what anyone else thinks. On the basis of no evidence whatsoever, he concludes that the USA has become a socialist utopia in the space of three months and our drab, uninteresting little backwater, with its various safety nets, serviceable public education, well-regulated banking system and its absence of substantive social conflict has become a Hobbesian dystopia.

      • “Mr. Potter doesn’t care what anyone else thinks.”
        Which is one of the things that makes him a good writer and thinker.
        On the other hand, most of the people here seem to care terribly about what Mr. Potter thinks.

        And, I believe Potter has a Ph.D in philosophy from McGill – so technically he’s Dr. Potter.

        • Which is one of the things that makes him a good writer and thinker.

          Scholarship is also key, especially for the credentialed.

          I just find the conclusion that radical change has now taken place in the USA patently absurd. It’s like 1993 all over again, this time, mercifully, without Fleetwood Mac.

          • Those who do not see the radical change here in the States either do not care or are not paying attention! Small business here understand, people on fixed income understand and people who cherish the Constitution as a divinely inspired document understand. Oh, one last thing regarding the importance of those Ph.D. initials after the name. Steve Jobs did not have any and was a drop out without a degree. Point is, those who can do something with their talents do it and earn their reward for doing so in the real world. Those who can’t make it in the real world teach others how to do it. Is there any wonder why so many college graduates can’t get a job in their chosen field?

        • huh, I guess really anyone can get a Ph.D.

  17. Obama is using the financial crisis as efficiently as Bush used 9/11. It doesn’t mean much more than that, and Bush’s legacy (outside of Iraq) is now being swept away as rapidly as Obama’s will.

    Unhappily, the extended power of the state that both Bush and Obama have ushered in will be harder to push back. One used this power to further a corporatist agenda, the other is using to for all kinds of nanny state madness.

    • Quite accurate Bill, but there is far more corruption in the Obama administration than meets the eye. Easily as much as in the Bush era, but a lot more shenanigans with soverein rights than Bush got around to. Obama is a jackal in lambs clothing!

  18. It’s rare to find a Potter column that I agree with almost entirely, but here it is.

    • fuck u

    • “But by 1980 their wish was fulfilled. They managed to replace New Deal orthodoxy that prevailed since 1930s with a philosophy of “You’re on your own.” And we’ve been living with the consequences ever since”

      From the link. Not saying you’re wrong, just that I think saying it’s less cliche ridden isn’t saying much :

  19. If people live long enough certain patterns become very discernible – one of the main ones is that invariably canada forges it’s own way and rarely follow the Yanks. Now I know that there are a lot of those out there that don’t seem to get this – more than likely from spending all their time watching Amercian TV and the CBC only before a hockey game and a quick base touching when the weather lady comes on. If you look back at our history you can plainly see that when the Yanks turn left we are either already turning Right or will soon be doing so. I remember when we became intioxicated with Trudeau and the Nanny State started to happen full force – strangely enough the yanks -> sharp turn Right! … Then again when Mulroney started to clean up the mess left by the Lib’s an anomaly happened for awhile as Reagan and Mulroney seemed to be long lost clones (on the surface anyways) but before you know it we went back to a left turn in canada and off to the right in the USA .. in a weird way I think the pendulum is about 3/4 ‘s of the way through a swing right now and maybe in a few years the Lib’s will have chance to see if they can move the goalposts but in the meantime same o same on in Canada.

  20. The political mood of countries is like a giant pendulum. Canada has not always been social leaning only for the past 45 years or so. Remember key components of our social safety net, Canada Pension Plan and health insurance came about in the 1960’s. Right now we are going through a transition, there are issues where we feel our compassion has been abused and those will be ajusted. Not to worry the pendulum will swing back.

    As for Americans, when they look outward they see what they are missing. Change is very slow because the lobbyists are more powerful than the electorate. Changes are coming but not at the expense of their identity or what makes Americans unique. The Country is too polarized for the pendulum not to swing back.

    • Intelligent insight Derek! Thanks for injection reason into the discussion.

  21. America will never be Canada, and Canada will never be the States. There is always a dramatic change in power when you go from the Republicans to the Democrats. Because they have a different way of governing. And when, or if, the Republicans get back into office you will see another turn of events. Bush fudged things up so bad for every one, that any change is a good one. Just as long as we are going in the right direction. SO STOP COMPARING!

    • “Bush fudged things up so bad for every one” ??? Well, not really and another irrational leftist attempts to muddy the waters of reason and common sense, while 8 of every 10 small business owners in America would gladly trade Obama for Bush or anyone else for that matter. Fact is, Obama does not understand that when he runs out of hard working American’s money to expand his administration and government, he will have killed the goose that layed the golden eggs. The majority of Obama supporters are celebs from Hollywood and people the government now supports. Obama touts GM as a model of success for example and the Chairman of GM in a recent speech in China related interesting statistics. 7 out of every 10 GM cars now built are built in China by Chinese workers! Can’t see how this helps American workers even if the UAW is 1/3 owner of GM as a result of Obama’s nationalizing the company at the expense of bond holders who had life savings invested.

  22. I thought we were the 52nd state, especially with Conservative Prime Ministers in Ottawa. The downward spiral in the US won't stop until the distastrous momentum of the Bush years comes to an end, if it ever does. Blair and Bush did the same to their respective countries – took them to the point of no return and maybe even past it. Right wing history will automatically sanctify George W and damn Obama. Objective history will accurately condemn Bush as a puppet of big business, extremist lobby groups, his cabinet, and the Pentagon; it will mourn the loss of momentum under Obama, and the disappointment he has become. George couldn't talk, but he could walk the walk, evil though it was; Obama can talk the talk better than anyone since WW2 but he can't walk the walk.

    • Actually, since Obama has “been to all 56 states”, we assumed he had annexed Canada to be one of the 56! One of his most egregious and under reported errors has left most Americans, who truly pay attention, wondering where in heaven’s name this guy really did come from? He is not what most supporters think and he is bad for America. Bush was not the greatest, but history will place Obama below not only Bush, but below Carter as well!!!

  23. this article is a gigantic load. yet another example of the media creating an nonexistent issue out of thin air because they need something to print.

  24. I have never read a larger piece of crap in all my years. America is not becoming more “liberal”, are you kidding? The people have always been, at a great majority, liberal in both countries. The problem is how those people are represented in their democracies. The only reason Canada seems to be more liberal is because the government is more for the people here than in the US. The government here is slightly more open, more understanding, the government in Canada listens to its people more than the US government. Now we are seeing a US government SLIGHTY more open to its people, and we are seeing a conservative Canadian government becoming less open to its people, less representative of its country. The reality in America is that the corporations own everything, neither the conservatives nor the liberals are properly represented in America, and the same trend is starting to pick up in Canada (with the current Harper disaster we’re in). Neither country is becoming more liberal or conservative.

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