The rise in right-winged populism recently in a number of Western societies has brought the topic to many peoples mind. Generally, though, the conversation surrounding modern populism is centred around the United States and Europe. Considering the extremely close cultural link between the United States and Canada, it would make sense that a rise in populism in the United States would result in a similar rise in Canada. That being said, political ideologies often differ between the two nations, create distinct version, such as the differences between Canadian and American conservatism. So, does populism exist in Canada and, if so, for how long and to what extent?
For starters, yes, populism exists in Canada, and has done so for a long time. Many parties, at both federal and provincial levels, have had elements of populism throughout Canadian history.
On the left, a number of farmer’s unions that arose during the 1920s and 1930s, as well as the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation, the predecessor to the NDP, are thought to have been prime examples of populism.
On the right, the Social Credit League of Alberta, which existed from the mid-1930s until the mid-1940s, as well as the Reform Party of Canada as its successor, the Canadian Alliance, which in 2003 merged with the Progressive Conservatives into the modern Conservative Party, are seen as examples of populism in Canadian history.
Today, though, Canadian populism may have reared its head as Doug Ford.
Throughout his campaign and since his election to become the next leader of the Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario, Doug Ford has been subject to many comparisons with US President and the figurehead of modern populism, Donald Trump. Although Ford himself denies the similarities, many of them are quite clear. Both Trump and Ford are loose-lipped, unconventional politicians that hold little regard for the existing political elite, speak to the working class, and speak idealistically about the past while speaking negatively about the future. And if there were any doubt about Fords populist ideals, he recently told The Globe and Mail that he intends to introduce a populist agenda should he be elected.
While there are many politicians in Canada today that would work as examples to show the rise of populism in Canada, Ford is the most visible and perhaps the most significant, as he could be first to be elected. Partly due to the extremely negative view of the incumbent Ontario Liberals held by many, despite Fords overall negative perception, recent polls are very positive for the Progressive Conservatives. Polls taken since Fords accent to the PC helm show that the Progressive Conservatives could even potentially win a majority government, meaning Ford could implement his populist agenda at his wishes.
Canadians often hold views based in Canadian exceptionalism. Many often see Canada as the anti-US and believe that issues such as, say, racism and violence, either don’t exist in Canada or are far worse in the United States, despite this being misleading and largely untrue. I would suggest this is similarly true with populism in Canada. The conversation surrounding populism in Canada should not be entirely focused on the US and Europe, but on Canada as well. The recent rise of right-winged populism is not just a foreign phenomenon, but exists very much in Canada, and this will have a very real impact of the future of Canadian politics.