As the self-styled “freedom convoy” lay siege to Ottawa in February, interim Conservative leader Candice Bergen told the House of Commons that Canada was “more divided than ever before.”
It wasn’t quite a new idea. After the 2019 election, then-Conservative leader Andrew Scheer told the House that “deep cracks are showing in Confederation and the prime minister has divided this country like it has never been before.”
Many Canadians agree with Bergen — 60 per cent of respondents to a survey conducted by Abacus Data in mid-February said Canada was “more divided than usual.”
Two separate polls conducted in March found similar beliefs. According to a survey by the Angus Reid Institute, 82 per cent of respondents said the pandemic had pushed people further apart instead of bringing them closer together.
WATCH: Candice Bergen accuses Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of dividing Canadians
A poll conducted by the Canadian Hub for Applied and Social Research at the University of Saskatchewan found 72 per cent of respondents said the pandemic had divided Canadians, 73 per cent felt the same about last fall’s federal election and 75 per cent of respondents said Canada was “more polarized” than it was a year ago.
Even the prime minister acknowledged a need for healing after the convoy left Ottawa. “Look, in the heat of the moment, we can all get carried away trying to win an argument,” Justin Trudeau said, perhaps acknowledging that he had pushed some of his own rhetoric too far. “But not every single conversation has to be about winning an argument.”
Bergen’s concern didn’t disappear in the weeks after order was restored to the nation’s capital. In her statement responding to the announcement of the Liberal-NDP accord two weeks ago, Bergen said she worried about its potential impact on “political polarization” and “national unity.”
It would be a mistake to completely dismiss such concerns. The strain of the last two years shouldn’t be underestimated.
But Canadians may not be as divided as they imagine themselves to be.
It’s certainly not the case that this country has never been more divided. Canada’s most politically divisive episode likely remains the conscription crisis and the federal election of 1917. And the century since saw many deep conflicts: the October Crisis, the Quebec referendum in 1980, “let the eastern bastards freeze in the dark,” the free trade debate, the failures of the Meech Lake and Charlottetown accords, the Oka crisis, the Quebec referendum in 1995.
If nothing else, that list is a reminder that Canada has faced perilous moments in the past and somehow found a way to survive.
The pandemic, more than any recent political issue, may have caused direct and personal conflicts between friends and family members through disputes over health precautions, masking and vaccination. But we risk overstating the degree of division the pandemic triggered.
According to the latest data, 82 per cent of Canadians have received at least two doses of a COVID-19 vaccine — nine points higher than the vaccination rate in the United Kingdom and 16 points higher than the rate in the United States. When the possibility of requiring vaccination in certain settings became a political issue last summer, support for those mandates was similarly high.
Focusing on the turmoil of the pandemic also obscures a number of other things Canadians agree about — including half a dozen points of consensus that show up in polling conducted by the Environics Institute over the past two years.
Most people agree on the big things
Seventy-three per cent of Canadians, for instance, are satisfied with the way democracy works in Canada. Eighty-nine per cent strongly or somewhat agree that more should be done to promote the equality of women. Seventy-seven per cent strongly or somewhat disagree with the suggestion that discrimination against Indigenous people isn’t a problem. And 68 per cent strongly or somewhat disagree with the claim that discrimination against Black Canadians isn’t a problem.
Eighty per cent of Canadians strongly or somewhat agree that immigration has a positive impact on the economy and 65 per cent disagree with claims that immigration rates are too high. Seventy-three per cent say governments should act to reduce the gap between the rich and poor and 74 per cent strongly or somewhat support the federal equalization program (including 57 per cent in Alberta).
Andrew Parkin, executive director of the Environics Institute, notes that agreement on many of those issues has increased over time, or has at least held steady.
Though the partisan debate might suggest otherwise, there is also some broad agreement on climate and energy issues.
In 2021, for instance, Environics found that a majority of voters in every province — including Alberta — expressed at least some support for phasing out the use of fossil fuels. Last fall, Abacus Data found that 69 per cent of Canadians believe there is “solid” or “conclusive” evidence of global warming and 75 per cent believe the primary cause of climate change is human and industrial activity that consumes fossil fuels.
Sixty-six per cent said governments in Canada should put more emphasis on policies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, while just 15 per cent said governments should put less emphasis on such policies.
Where the differences are
But opinion at the national level obscures some significant differences across parties and regions. Among Liberal and NDP voters, support for more government emphasis on emissions reduction was 77 per cent and 78 per cent, respectively. Only 44 per cent of Conservative voters felt the same way. In Alberta, the figure was 48 per cent.
A similar split can be found on gun control and Conservative voters are also less enthusiastic about requiring vaccination in certain settings.
Stewart Prest, a political scientist at Simon Fraser University, pointed to such splits in November when he argued that the dividing lines in last fall’s federal election didn’t run down the middle of the political spectrum — they ran right through the Conservative Party.
In other words, if Conservative politicians seem particularly concerned about divisions in the country, it might be because they’re the ones experiencing them most directly.
That doesn’t mean these gaps aren’t worth minding. And there are other gaps worth taking note of — like the increasing divergence between the Liberal and Conservative parties along urban and rural lines or the fact that, according to Environics, 62 per cent of Albertans feel their province isn’t treated with the respect it deserves (though that’s down nine points from 2019).
Academic research suggests that the major federal parties have become more ideologically distinct and that Canadian partisans are more consistent and have self-sorted along left-right lines. Partisans on the left and right also seem to view each other more negatively than they used to — what’s known as “affective polarization.”
But Eric Merkley, a political scientist at the University of Toronto who studies polarization, points out that Canadians don’t seem to be getting more extreme in their views and their political beliefs don’t seem to be tied to social identifiers like race, religion and class, as is the case in the United States.
When the Environics Institute asked Canadians to place themselves on the political spectrum according to a scale from one to ten — with one representing the political left and ten representing the right — the results looked something like the letter V, with 32 per cent right in the middle and four per cent at each end. A survey of Americans produced something more like a flattened W, with 18 per cent in the middle and 12 per cent and 18 per cent at each end.
Being less polarized than the United States isn’t much of an achievement; the American situation is a reminder to not take democracy for granted. But the example of a truly divided nation also puts Canada’s differences in perspective.
Politicians have a responsibility
Ultimately, questions about political divisions lead back to politicians themselves.
“Politicians play a very important role in all of this. When they polarize and they send ideological signals, the mass public follows either by switching their partisanship or changing their beliefs,” said Merkley, who has written about the freedom convoy’s potential to polarize Canadian politics. “If they increasingly adopt identity signals … that will show up eventually in how the mass public views politics.”
Some amount of disagreement is inevitable and it’s not always necessary or smart to capitulate to dissenters. Promoting national harmony can’t mean curtailing action to combat climate change, for instance — along with the very real consequences, that would also anger the large majority of Canadians who want action.
It might mean trying to account for the real concerns people have about what those climate actions might mean for them, their communities or their jobs.
But politicians can decide whether they want to needlessly exacerbate or exaggerate differences. The question they should be asking themselves is whether their words and actions are aimed at minimizing those divisions — or exploiting them.
Politics Podcast: What Tuesday’s Primaries Could Mean For November – FiveThirtyEight
In this installment of the FiveThirtyEight Politics podcast, the crew reacts to the outcome of Tuesday’s primaries in Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Kentucky, Idaho and Oregon. The results were mixed in terms of which factions in both parties did well. The marquee Republican Senate race in Pennsylvania is still too close to call, and at least two Trump endorsees lost: North Carolina Rep. Madison Cawthorn and Idaho Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin.
You can listen to the episode by clicking the “play” button in the audio player above or by downloading it in iTunes, the ESPN App or your favorite podcast platform. If you are new to podcasts, learn how to listen.
The FiveThirtyEight Politics podcast is recorded Mondays and Thursdays. Help new listeners discover the show by leaving us a rating and review on iTunes. Have a comment, question or suggestion for “good polling vs. bad polling”? Get in touch by email, on Twitter or in the comments.
Politics Briefing: Jason Kenney steps down as UCP leader after receiving 51-per-cent support in leadership review – The Globe and Mail
Alberta Premier Jason Kenney is stepping down as leader of the United Conservative Party after receiving 51-per-cent support in a review of his leadership by the party he helped create.
It marks a political turning point for a leading figure in conservative circles in Canada, a former federal Conservative cabinet minister who has also been an outspoken critic of the federal Liberal government, particularly over its policies on the energy sector.
Moments after the results of the vote by members of the United Conservative Party were announced Wednesday evening, Mr. Kenney announced his plans to exit.
“The result is not what I hoped or frankly what I expected,” Mr. Kenney told supporters. “While 51 per cent of the vote passes the constitutional threshold of a majority, it clearly is not adequate support to continue on as leader.”
As a result, Mr. Kenney said he had informed the UCP president of his intention to step down as leader.
“We need to move forward united. We need to put the past behind us,” he said.
The question before the 59,000 Albertans who have UCP memberships was “Do you approve of the current leader.” A total of 34,298 votes were cast.
A total 17,638 voters – or 51. 4 per cent – said Yes, and 16,660 – or 48.6 per cent – said No.
Mr. Kenney had said that 50 per cent plus one would be a win in the outcome of the vote.
As energy reporter Emma Graney and Calgary reporter Carrie Tait reported earlier here, the vote marks the culmination of two years of open dissent within Mr. Kenney’s caucus from party members and MLAs unhappy with pandemic restrictions and Mr. Kenney’s leadership style.
After 19 years as an MP, Mr. Kenney resigned his parliamentary seat in 2016 to seek the leadership of Alberta’s Progressive Conservatives.
He won the leadership in 2017 after campaigning to merge the PCs with the Wildrose Party. Once the merger came about that year, Mr. Kenney was elected leader of the resulting United Conservative Party and led the UCP to a majority government in the province’s 2019 general election.
This is the daily Politics Briefing newsletter, written by Ian Bailey. It is available exclusively to our digital subscribers. If you’re reading this on the web, subscribers can sign up for the Politics newsletter and more than 20 others on our newsletter signup page. Have any feedback? Let us know what you think.
FAST OUT AS CONSERVATIVE FINANCE CRITIC – British Columbia MP Ed Fast is out as official opposition finance critic over his support of former Quebec premier Jean Charest in the race for the leadership of the federal Conservatives. Story here.
INFLATION HITS 31-YEAR HIGH – Canada’s inflation rate hit another record in April as groceries and other everyday items escalated in price, a troubling development for many workers who aren’t seeing their wages keep pace and for central bankers trying to bring inflation back to target levels. Story here.
ROYAL TOUR UNDER WAY, WITH OTTAWA STOP – On Wednesday, Prince Charles and Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall, embarked on the second day of a visit to Canada, with stops throughout Ottawa designed to recognize pressing issues, including the displacement of Ukrainians because of Russia’s invasion. Earlier this week, Prince Charles acknowledged that the tour has arrived at a time of historic reckoning with Indigenous people. Story here. There’s a Globe and Mail Explainer on the tour here.
RUSSIA CLOSES CBC MOSCOW BUREAU – Russia’s foreign ministry said on Wednesday that it was closing the Moscow bureau of Canada’s CBC and withdrawing visas and accreditation from the public broadcaster’s journalists after Ottawa banned Russian state TV station Russia Today. Story here.
TRUDEAU FACES SUPREME-COURT CHOICE – Globe and Mail Justice Writer Sean Fine looks here at Prime Minister’s Justin Mr. Trudeau’s options as he considers a replacement for Supreme Court Justice Michael Moldaver, who retires on Sept.1.
OTTAWA POLICE DIDN’T ASK FOR EMERGENCIES ACT – The Ottawa Police Service did not make a direct appeal for the invocation of the federal Emergencies Act, its interim chief says. Story here.
NO TIMELINE ON GENDER-VIOLENCE ACTION PLAN DESPITE GOVERNMENT COMMITMENT – Sixteen months after the federal and provincial governments issued a joint declaration that they would work toward creating “a Canada free of gender-based violence,” there is still no timeline for when the country’s first-ever national action plan to achieve that goal will actually be implemented. Story here.
UPTICK IN TRAVEL PLACES PRESSURE ON PASSPORT OFFICERS: UNION – The union representing Canada’s passport officers says its members are facing verbal abuse, stress and long hours as they continue to respond to an overwhelming surge in applications prompted by an uptake in travel after the lifting of many COVID-19 restrictions. Story here.
ONTARIO ELECTION – The first edition of Vote of Confidence, the Globe and Mail’s new guide on learning the ins and outs of the biggest issues in the Ontario election is here.
THIS AND THAT
TODAY IN THE COMMONS ‐ Projected Order of Business at the House of Commons, May 18, accessible here.
TOP POLITICAL BOOK – Toronto Star journalist Joanna Chiu has won the $25,000 Shaughnessy Cohen Prize for Political Writing for her book China Unbound: A New World Disorder, published by House of Anansi Press. She was named the winner at a gala on Tuesday night. Story here.
COMMITTEE MEETINGS – House of Commons committee meetings Wednesday include the standing committee on health holding a hearing on the Emergency Situation Facing Canadians in Light of the COVID-19 Pandemic – details here. Also, the standing committee on national defence will be looking at Rising Domestic Operational Deployments and Challenges for the Canadian Armed Forces – details here.
GOVERNOR GENERAL IN B.C. – Governor-General Mary Simon, and her husband, Whit Fraser, will be visiting British Columbia between Friday and next Tuesday, with stops that include the Governor-General delivering remarks at a memorial event commemorating one year since the confirmation of unmarked graves at a residential school in Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc. It also includes meetings with Premier John Horgan and Indigenous leaders, and a meeting with University of Victoria students.
JOLY IN NEW YORK – Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly is in New York City on Wednesday, beginning a two-day visit to attend meetings at United Nations Headquarters and with other foreign ministers to discuss a co-ordinated response to the global food-security crisis. The trip includes meetings with UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and additional senior UN officials.
FREELAND IN GERMANY – Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland, also the Finance Minister, is in Bonn to attend the G7 finance ministers and central-bank governors meeting and a working dinner,. The event is being hosted by German Finance Minister Christian Lindner and Deutsche Bundesbank President Joachim Nagel.
On Wednesday’s edition of The Globe and Mail podcast, wildlife pathologist Brian Stevens talks about this year’s deadly avian flu which has spread from poultry to wild animals, with reports of birds suffering from neurological symptoms, dropping dead from trees and twitching uncontrollably. Nearly two million birds have already died from the avian flu this year in Canada alone. Dr. Stevens talks about how this strain is different, what experts are watching out for, and how to prevent further spread. The Decibel is here.
PRIME MINISTER’S DAY
The Prime Minister held private meetings, spoke to Finland’s Prime Minister Sanna Marin, and attended the national Liberal caucus meeting. He was also scheduled to attend Question Period. As part of the royal visit, the Prime Minister was scheduled to have a private audience with The Prince of Wales., and to participate, with the prince, in a discussion on sustainable finance in combating climate change and building a net-zero economy. Also, the Prime Minister and his wife, Sophie Grégoire Trudeau, were to attend a reception at Rideau Hall, hosted by Governor-General Mary Simon to celebrate the Queen’s platinum jubilee.
Bloc Québécois Leader Yves-François Blanchet held a media scrum at the House of Commons regarding the royal visit and its costs as well as the protection of the French language. He also attended Question Period.
Interim Conservative Party Leader Candice Bergen attended Question Period.
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh attended the NDP national caucus meeting, held a news conference on the cost of living and was scheduled to participate in Question Period.
No schedules released for other party leaders
The Globe and Mail Editorial Board on whether it is time to end Canada’s last remaining COVID travel restrictions: “But we supported prudent, measured public-health restrictions. So did the majority of Canadians. In the fog of the pandemic war, mistakes were made, such as keeping schools in some provinces shuttered far too long. But many other impositions were the least bad options, under the circumstances. And they worked. Last week, the number of COVID-related deaths in Canada reached 40,000. It’s a terrible toll. But the same week, the United States reached one million, a death rate three times higher. Government and individual action made the difference – notably Canada’s vaccination rate, which is among the highest in the world. But Canadians’ acceptance of public-health restrictions was always dependent on the assumption that what would be asked of them would go on no longer than necessary, and would be based on the best science. As things change, policy would evolve.“
Andrew Coyne (The Globe and Mail) on the Canada Infrastructure Bank: good idea in principle, bad idea in practice: “That the Government of Canada abolish the Canada Infrastructure Bank.” That was the striking recommendation of the Commons Transport committee in its recent report on the CIB – striking, both because of its finality (end it, don’t mend it) and because it was the only recommendation in the report. Not that anyone should have been altogether surprised, given the predispositions of the three opposition parties in support, who together make up a majority of the committee (its Liberal members dissented).”
Colin Busby (Contributed to The Globe and Mail) on how Employment Insurance is a confusing mess in need of urgent reform: “One message came through loud and clear: the current EI system, with its many layers of complexity and glaring gaps in coverage, has become increasingly ineffective, especially when facing economic shocks. For many Canadians, EI is an extremely complex program to understand and navigate. The introduction and expansion of special benefits – such as maternity and parental benefits, sickness and caregiving leave – has created more than 200 ways in which all EI benefits can overlap with one another. This hodgepodge can confuse even the most informed citizens. And it’s one reason why simplicity should be an overarching principle to guide reforms.”
Ralph Heintzman (Contributed to The Globe and Mail) on what we ignore when we talk about abolishing the monarchy: “So, abolition of the Crown in Canada is simply not worth talking about, for least another generation, because it simply cannot be done. Efforts to generate such discussion are a waste of time – time that would be better spent examining the uses and potential of the institution we have, and will have for the foreseeable future.”
Huda Idrees (Contributed to The Globe and Mail) on how Canadians should not be smug whenever there is pain and death to our south: “Diversity is our strength” is a catchy motto that leaders across all levels of government love to quote, but they’re empty words unless we challenge and change racist laws. We have to investigate the rise in hate crimes across Canada, and we have to stop normalizing obvious white supremacist trends disguised under the banner of “freedom.” A good first step on this journey would be to stop using the pain of victims of domestic terrorism in other countries as opportunities to gloat.”
Don Braid (The Calgary Herald) on MLAs jockeying for position ahead of results of a review of Jason Kenney’s leadership of the United Conservative Party: “While Premier Jason Kenney confidently talks about a majority win for his leadership Wednesday, some people in his caucus and government have another subject entirely. They’re speculating about who will be the new premier as early as Thursday, when a full UCP caucus meeting is scheduled at McDougall Centre from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.”
Alberta premier Jason Kenney steps down as UCP leader after narrow leadership win
Alberta Premier Jason Kenney has stepped down as leader of the United Conservative Party after narrowly winning the party’s leadership vote.
Kenney received 51.4 per cent support in voting results released tonight in Calgary.
He told supporters that the number is not what he hoped for and is not enough for him to continue on as leader.
If Kenney had received less than 50 per cent plus one, he would have had to quit as per party rules and a leadership contest would have been called.
Normally, leaders consider 75 to 80 per cent — or higher — the minimum credible mandate to continue leading their party.
Kenney had earlier said he would accept a slim majority, because the voting pool was skewed by last-minute members interested only in scuttling his big-tent conservative party.
“While 51 per cent of the vote passes the constitutional threshold of a majority, it clearly is not adequate support to continue on as leader,” Kenney said.
“I’ve informed the president of the party of my intention to step down as leader of the United Conservative Party,” he said to gasps in the audience.
“We need to move forward united. We need to put the past behind us. And a large number of our members have asked for an opportunity to clear the air through a leadership election.”
The leadership review took on heightened importance over the past year as Kenney was buffeted by poor polling numbers, sluggish fundraising and open dissent from some in his party and caucus.
It was also punctuated by controversy. It had already been delayed by a year when it was set for an in-person ballot on April 9 in Red Deer, Alta.
When 15,000 members signed up — five times more than expected — the party said it couldn’t handle the logistics and moved to a mail-in ballot open to all 59,000 members.
Critics said the change was made to give Kenney the edge as it appeared he was going to lose the in-person vote.
Elections Alberta is also investigating allegations of illegal bulk buying of memberships in the review. And the party remains under investigation by the RCMP over allegations of criminal identity fraud in the 2017 contest that saw Kenney elected leader.
Kenney had made it clear that the vote and open dissent had become a “soap opera” distracting the party facing a provincial election next May.
He also said that if he got the required support, he would expect dissenters in his caucus to rally behind him or face unnamed consequences.
Two backbenchers who openly criticized Kenney last year — Todd Loewen and Drew Barnes — were voted out of caucus and sit as Independents.
Backbenchers Jason Stephan, Peter Guthrie and Brian Jean — who helped Kenney found the UCP — have been the most vocal. They openly urged the premier to resign for the good of the party.
Kenney has tried to downplay the dissent by tying it directly to unhappiness over COVID-19 restrictions his government bought in to try to stop the spread of the virus.
Opponents in caucus say the dissatisfaction is also over Kenney’s policies and management style, which they deem to be top-down, dismissive and undemocratic. They say Kenney has not done enough to gain a better deal for Alberta with the federal government on shared programs.
Conservative leaders in Alberta have not fared well after middling votes in leadership reviews.
Former Progressive Conservative premier Ralph Klein left after getting 55 per cent of the vote in 2006. Ed Stelmach and Alison Redford received 77 per cent in their reviews, but stepped down from the top job when the party pushed back.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 18, 2022.
The Canadian Press
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