By MICHAEL ADAMS, DOUG NORRIS
Saturday, January 20, 2018
Michael Adams is president of the Environics Institute for Survey Research and author of Could It Happen Here? Canada in the Age of Trump and Brexit. Doug Norris is senior vice-president and chief demographer at Environics Analytics.
In early 2007, former New York mayor Rudolph Giuliani led the pack of wouldbe Republican nominees for president, but some worried he was "too metropolitan" for heartland voters. On Saturday, another famous New Yorker, Donald Trump, marks his first year in the White House. Paradoxically, the Manhattan magnate's supporters are overwhelmingly rural and small-town folks.
Big U.S. cities such as New York and Los Angeles - and even smaller places such as Miami and Dallas - loom large in imaginations far beyond America's borders. As for Canada, we suspect most people around the world tend to imagine the country as defined more by wilderness than urban life.
Despite the lower profile of Canadian cities, however, they arguably exert more pull in the country's political life than U.S. cities do south of the border. American cities are culturally potent but politically constrained.
One reason is that a greater share of Canada's population is clustered in a smaller number of cities. America's 10 largest cities contain just 8 per cent of the country's population.
The proportion of Canadians who live in Canada's 10 largest: 31 per cent. That clustering in a relatively small number of places is even more evident when we include the suburbs. If we look at the census metropolitan areas of the top 10 Canadian and U.S. cities, we find about a quarter of Americans (27 per cent) and more than half of Canadians (55 per cent) living there.
People live differently in cities; they have different experiences, different neighbours and different economic opportunities. Cities are where most trade and formal learning happen, where complex networks and institutions are created, where many cultural opportunities tend to cluster.
But it's not just the fact of urban living that matters; it's also the nature of the cities. Canadian cities are some of the most diverse on Earth. The populations of two of its largest, Toronto and Vancouver, are almost half foreign-born and more than two-thirds first- or second-generation Canadian. Our cities are largely products of postwar immigration.
The past half-century has been especially important: Canada retired its explicitly racist immigration policies in the 1960s, moving to a points system prizing education and language proficiency, leading to huge inflows of talent, energy and youth from around the world.
The United States also had considerable (but proportionally smaller) migration inflows over the same period, which affected cities profoundly. But U.S. cities were also being shaped by forces related to slavery and segregation. In what's called the Great Migration, millions of black Americans fleeing the violence and oppression of the Jim Crow South moved to northern cities such as New York, Milwaukee, Detroit and Chicago. In many urban neighbourhoods, as black residents moved in, whites moved out to monocultural suburbs - a pattern sometimes called "white flight." Redlining - denying services to residents of certain areas - housing discrimination and other racist practices also contributed to the de facto segregation of ostensibly integrated cities.
The effects of these policies remain to this day.
It's true that poverty is racialized in Canada and that this is reflected in some of the residential patterns we see in and around big cities.
But Canada never had a demographic upheaval on the scale of the Great Migration, which saw the internal movement of about six million Americans. The story of ethnic concentration in Canada is a nuanced one, shaped directly by discrimination in some cases - and indirectly by economic circumstances born of discrimination - but also often driven by people choosing to be close to others of their own background. Ethnic enclaves can support shops with offerings from "home," as well as community and religious gathering places. The thriving Chinese community in the affluent Toronto suburb of Markham and the South Asian community in Surrey, B.C., for instance, were formed more by affinity than discrimination (which is not to say their residents don't experience discrimination - just that it didn't compel them to live where they live).
Another quality that differentiates Canadian cities from American ones is that they are connected to a system - and, importantly, a culture - of economic equalization. Although provinces are responsible for health and education, the federal government redistributes resources with the aim of ensuring that all Canadians enjoy comparable levels of service.
This ideology shapes the political culture of provinces and cities as well; when disparities are revealed in the levels of service available to people living in different parts of a larger jurisdiction, Canadians tend to agree - at least in principle - that this is unacceptable.
Americans, with their greater skepticism of government and their greater attachment to local control, are less likely to believe that all Chicagoans, for instance, should enjoy the same quality of services. The fact that excellent schools funded by a strong tax base can be just a few miles away from struggling schools with crumbling infrastructure probably doesn't thrill most Americans, but it is part of their economic and political tradition. Politically viable responses to such inequity (school vouchers, innovative charter schools) tend to be rooted in more individual choice and more entrepreneurialism, not more redistribution of resources and greater social solidarity across social and geographic boundaries.
The composition and characteristics of each society's cities have important political implications. In Canada, it's difficult to win a federal election without winning over immigrants and their children, a powerful presence in many urban and suburban ridings. In the United States, for presidential candidates, the diverse urban vote is useful but not make-or-break. Equally important, the urban vote isn't always diverse; it can be monocultural. Redrawing electoral boundaries can allow candidates to ignore certain people and still win. North Carolina's lawmakers have twice been ordered by judicial panels to redraw that state's electoral map because of extreme gerrymandering - one according to voters' partisan affiliations, another by race.
As for the U.S. Congress, the composition of the House of Representatives, like our House of Commons, largely reflects the distribution of the population. But the U.S. Senate - much more powerful than our largely advisory upper chamber dedicated to sober second thought - gives hugely disproportionate powers to rural states: Wyoming (population: 585,501) has the same number of senators as California (population: 39.25 million).
Indeed, the 26 least populous states, whose 52 senators constitute the majority, represent less than a fifth of the country's population.
When all these factors are combined, they result in a Canadian political landscape where cities matter enormously and an American political landscape in which it's possible for national political actors to work around cities.
Canada has racists and racism, and like elsewhere, some of them are feeling emboldened by recent political events. But the mechanics of our political institutions are such that, at the national level, courting the dominant-culture majority at the expense of smaller ethnic or religious groups is a dangerous game, as the Conservatives learned in 2015. In the United States, it can be a winner.
Many factors differentiate Canada from the United States. Our history, our institutions, our values, our public policies are all distinct.
The fact that so many of us live so close together in a small number of diverse - in a few cases hyper-diverse - cities is one of the key factors that makes a politically dominant Trump-style backlash on a national scale in this country unlikely.