J.J. McCullough, a political commentator and cartoonist from Vancouver, is a columnist at Loonie Politics and a contributing writer for Global Opinions.
Looking for a fresh Trump-basher to fill your Twitter feed? Why not try the former prime minister of Canada?
Kim Campbell ran Canada only briefly (specifically, four months in 1993) and has retained some credibility as a senior stateswoman despite it. Last summer, the current prime minister, Justin Trudeau, tapped her to oversee his Supreme Court appointment process, for instance.
Yet Campbell’s most active interest in politics has little to do with the country she once ruled. Browse Campbell’s Twitter timeline and you’ll find posts almost exclusively about the doings of the Trump administration, shared with all the incredulous horror of Rosie O’Donnell or Michael Moore. Campbell raised some eyebrows last fall when, upon hearing gossip that then-candidate Donald Trump might withdraw from the presidential race, she tweeted (and quickly deleted) “too bad his father didn’t withdraw.”
But Campbell is hardly atypical. Canada’s current foreign minister spent years working as an American political commentator for U.S. media (making her most recent appearance on a November 2015 episode of “Real Time With Bill Maher”). On Tuesday, parliamentarian Niki Ashton announced her bid for the leadership of the New Democratic Party of Canada in a speech that echoed Bernie Sanders — which only made sense, given she had door-knocked for him in North Dakota.
Browse the social media feed of any Canadian who lists politics as a top interest, and chances are you’ll read far more about Jeff Sessions and Elizabeth Warren than Maxime Bernier or Jody Wilson-Raybould. Hundreds of Canadians traveled across the border to participate in post-inauguration women’s marches. One of the alt-right’s biggest YouTube stars — Stefan Molyneux — is Canadian, but you’d never know it, because he talks almost exclusively about U.S. issues. Vox recently revealed that the downfall of Milo Yiannopoulos was partially instigated by a Canadian teen with a “deep interest in American politics.”
Canada’s literate engagement in American issues reflects neither defeat nor colonization, but is an inescapable byproduct of two side-by-side peoples who are very nearly identical in every way that matters. The great debates of American politics do not read as foreign to a Canadian, and remain easily understood, enjoyed and, most of all, appreciated as relevant to their lives.
This is the great dark existential danger bubbling just below the surface of Canada’s Gothic drama about the looming collapse of Canadian journalism: The people of Canada don’t care. The stories of Canada simply interest them less than the stories of the United States do, and not because they are culturally enslaved by a foreign empire, but because the stories of Canada that do interest them — stories involving the great cultural, ideological, technological cleavages of our time — are being told already, and indeed told much better, by the American political process.
Canada’s official narrative, repeated loudly and often by Canadian authority figures, is that Canada is superior to the United States, in part because Canada has solved its most pressing problems — economic inequality, racial tension, etc. — while the United States has not. Maclean’s magazine published a typically tendentious story last month about how “The American Dream Has Moved to Canada,” to cite a recent example.
When you are subject to an endless diet of this sort of thing, you eventually respond in one of two ways. You either declare victory, confident that the nation is in safe hands, and seek intellectual challenges elsewhere, or you lash out in angry frustration at the smugness of it all and seek forums where you can hear and share problems you experience but are not being acknowledged. In both cases, the path leads to the United States. It’s why Toronto-born Samantha Bee harangues liberal Americans about gun control while the University of Toronto’s Jordan Peterson pursues his free-speech crusade on American podcasts.
Canada obviously has problems that are distinctly its own, but if the choice is between a stifling debate on the sort of niche issues Canadian politicians and journalists seem disproportionately obsessed with (aboriginal reconciliation, carbon taxes, Quebec) or a conversation about the broader challenges of North American life (the big questions of philosophy, sex, race, religion, freedom, technology or economics), then it’s understandable why Canadians are, say, flocking to something like “The Joe Rogan Experience” (175 weeks on the Canadian top podcasts chart) faster than to the new CBC editorial page. American democracy can appear frighteningly chaotic, or it can be an inviting space where everything is still open for argument and change in any direction seems equally conceivable.
To be a Canadian in 2017 is to live a life that is mentally compartmentalized in a curious way, to find more truth and importance in stories and debates that are ostensibly foreign, while dismissing that which is most aggressively domestic as irrelevant and marginal.
To many Canadians, this way of thinking is not only natural but also very much what they prefer.