(Black Press Media files)

(Black Press Media files)

In Canada, the term ‘nationalism’ doesn’t seem to have a bad rap. Here’s why

Data suggest that Canadians don’t see the concept of nationalism the way people do in the United States

On a historic Remembrance Day, a century after the end of the First World War, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told a Paris crowd that decaying trust in public institutions will lead citizens to look for easy answers “in populism, in nationalism, in closing borders, in shutting down trade, in xenophobia.”

The implication was clear: if nations turn in on themselves and treat outsiders as threats, we might again find ourselves in a bloody conflict with fronts all over the world.

But a series of surveys suggest the idea of being a nationalist, and nationalism in general, are viewed fairly positively by most Canadians.

What the data suggest is that Canadians don’t see the concept of nationalism the way people do in the United States, where the term is often linked with white-nationalist groups, and then with white supremacy and racism.

READ MORE: 3 dead in violent white nationalist rally in Charlottesville

Rather, Canadians appear to have constructed their view of nationalism on the idea of feeling connected to our country and ensuring that others feel connected as well — even as we watch the term pilloried globally.

“It is used in different ways — when people are talking about the Trump nationalism, they would say (it’s) bad. But in Canada, they accept it because it is equated with certain communities and they see it as a way it’s helping vulnerable populations find their place in Canada,” said Kathy Brock, a political-studies professor at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ont.

“Canadians have just acclimatized to this dual view of nationalism.”

In the 1950s and 1960s, Canadians often reported feeling greater attachments to their particular communities or ethnic groups than they did to the country. In the intervening years, connection to country has strengthened while connection to community has faded, said Frank Graves, president of EKOS Research Associates, a polling and market-research firm. The opposite has happened in Europe, he said.

READ MORE: Trudeau warns of dangers of nationalist leaders at historic armistice

Research also suggests Canadians’ attachments to their ethnic groups have weakened over the last 20 years in favour of an attachment to country, Graves said, even as census data shows the country’s population is becoming ever more diverse.

“We don’t have a common ethno-linguistic homogeneity that produces a definition of ‘the people.’ It’s more civic nationalism,” Graves said.

“In Canada, national identity has been created through a dialogue between citizens and the state and the public institutions — medicare, the Mounties, Parliament Hill. It isn’t as much steeped in history or common race and identity, which probably inoculates it from some of the more disturbing expressions of nationalism.”

Newly released survey data from the Association of Canadian Studies says that 60 per cent of respondents hold a somewhat or very positive view of nationalism, compared with about 45 per cent in the United States. The results were similar in both English and French Canada.

There also appears to be an association between Canadians’ views on nationalism and their views on multiculturalism.

“In contrast to the European idea of nationalism, having that ethnic component to it, most Canadians don’t see nationalism as ethnically driven. They see it more as a form of patriotism,” said Jack Jedwab, the association’s president. “It doesn’t intersect as much as it does in the European context with anti-immigrant sentiment, or a sentiment against diversity.”

READ MORE: White nationalist flyer spotted in Burnaby

The Leger Marketing survey of 1,519 Canadians on a web panel was conducted for the association the week of Nov. 12. Online surveys traditionally are not given a margin of error because they are not random and therefore are not necessarily representative of the whole population.

A day after his Nov. 11 comments, Trudeau was asked how he defined nationalism and where he saw it in Canada.

“In Canada, we’ve demonstrated many times that identities are complimentary,” he said. “I’m an extremely proud Quebecer, I’m an extremely proud Canadian and like most Canadians, they don’t see a contradiction in that.”

Experts say the more negative forms of nationalism are nevertheless simmering in Canada. Jedwab’s survey data suggest that respondents who have positive views of nationalism are somewhat more worried about immigration and security along the U.S. border than those who have negative views of nationalism.

Part of what fuelled U.S. President Donald Trump’s political rise, and his populist rhetoric, was financial worry — or what Graves described as the idea of the everyman versus the corrupt elites. Brock said Canada has thus far avoided similar concerns about class and finances, particularly coming out of the recession a decade ago, and a similar rise of nationalist rhetoric.

“Now, we’re facing some really serious economic challenges and if they come to pass, then we could see a different manifestation of this,” she said. “So I don’t think those (polling) figures are necessarily set in stone.”

Jordan Press, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Pharmacist Barbara Violo arranges empty vials of the Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine that she has provided to customers at the Junction Chemist, an independent pharmacy in Toronto, Monday, April 19, 2021. Younger Canadians in several provinces are now able to get the AstraZeneca vaccine. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
AstraZeneca vaccine appointments fill up fast on Vancouver Island

More pharmacies expected to be added as supply increases

More sleeping cabins for the homeless in the Cowichan Valley could soon be put in place if a $2.5-million grant application to the UBCM Strengthening Communities’ Services funding program is successful. (File photo)
Funding sought to expand homeless initiatives in Cowichan Valley

$2.5-million grant would see more sleeping cabins and outreach projects

The old Stanley Gordon school in Lake Cowichan. (Lexi Bainas/Gazette file)
Editorial: Old school properties represent potential for our areas

There are opportunities, often sitting right in the middle of our small communities.

Sweet gum trees like this one in City Square will be replaced over the next three years. (Kevin Rothbauer/Citizen)
Duncan plans big tree replacement project for downtown

Sweet gums in City Square and along Station Street will go over the next three years

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and United States President Joe Biden smile as they say farewell following a virtual joint statement in Ottawa, Tuesday, February 23, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Trudeau pledges to cut emissions by 40% to 45% by 2030, short of U.S. goal

Trudeau announced target during a virtual climate summit convened by U.S. President Joe Biden

Nanaimo RCMP say a man was injured while pouring gunpowder on a backyard fire in Harewood on Wednesday, April 21. (File photo)
Nanaimo man hospitalized after pouring gunpowder onto backyard fire

RCMP, investigating explosion in Harewood, also came across an alcohol still on the property

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry arrives for briefing on the COVID-19 situation, B.C. legislature, Oct. 26, 2020 (B.C. government)
B.C. sees 1,006 COVID-19 cases Thursday, ‘alarming’ 502 in hospital

Vaccine bookings for people aged 60 and older set to start

Shannon Zirnhelt, from left, her son Lockie, 3, Julia Zirnhelt, 13, and Ella Krus, 13, co-founders of Third Planet Crusade are featured in a music video set to air on Earth Day, April 22, 2021. (Monica Lamb-Yorski photo - Williams Lake Tribune)
VIDEO: B.C.-made music video launched in time for Earth Day 2021

Singer songwriter Shannon Zirnhelt worked with Third Planet Crusade on the project in the Cariboo

Ambulance crews have been busy with a record number of emergency overdose calls this Wednesday, April 21. (BC Emergency Health Services)
B.C. paramedics responded to a record 138 overdose calls in a single day

Wednesday’s calls included 48 in the Vancouver Coastal Health region and 51 in Fraser Health

B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix and Premier John Horgan describe vaccine rollout at the legislature, March 29, 2021. (B.C. government)
B.C. COVID-19 hotspots targeted as AstraZeneca vaccine runs low

17,000 appointments booked the first day for people aged 40 and up

B.C. Ferries’ sixth Island-class vessel launches at Damen Shipyards Galati in Romania. The ship is the second of two that will service the Nanaimo-Gabriola Island route starting in 2022. (Photo submitted)
Second hybrid ferry for Nanaimo-Gabriola route launched overseas

Island-class vessel will enter service in 2022

Dresses hang outside Nelson city hall as part of the REDress Project by Métis artist Jaime Black. Photo: Bill Metcalfe
B.C. red dresses symbolizing missing, murdered Indigenous women vandalized a 2nd time

Nelson’s REDress Project was vandalized along with an outdoor installation on Vancouver Island

Most Read