The Great Canadian Double Cross

Review of The Big Shift: The Seismic Change in Canadian Politics, Business, and Culture and What it Means for Our Future – by Darrell Bricker and John Ibbitson

HarperCollins (2013), 294 pages

By Our Books Editor

This week’s Globe and Mail bestseller list has The Big Shift at No. 6, down from No. 5 last week – less popular than Kevin O’Leary’s (of the CBC Lang and O’Leary show) The Cold Hard Truth on Men, Women and Money. That is not entirely surprising, given that the literati set who read still books are the very people that Bricker and Ibbitson rail against – calling them out-of-touch and gone the way of the dinosaurs in New Canada’s political landscape. The fact that people are reading the book does in some way negate the writers’ core argument that the Laurentian elites (also called Central Canada powerbrokers) have become troglodytes in denial.

To their credit, the authors acknowledge right up front that they are turning against their own class: “For we are the people we are warning you about.”

Although Bricker and Ibbitson write the book in almost 300 pages, it’s mostly repetitive and often strays away from its essential argument: that recent immigrants from Asia have changed the power dynamic in Canada. It then goes on to make the rather rash forecast that this is going to be a Conservative century, just like the last one was largely Liberal. For regular readers of Ibbitson in the Globe and Mail, this thesis would not be entirely new. He is almost alone in the Ottawa Press Gallery as someone who has for many years acknowledged the growing number of Asian immigrants and how Canada must better leverage them in international relations, trade and other opportunities.

Ibbitson is currently the Globe’s chief political correspondent, while Bricker is CEO of Ipsos Global Public Affairs, a leading polling company. The book relies heavily on Ipsos’ surveys on election day May 2, 2011, and thereafter, grounding the book in at least a snapshot of reality, rather than pure speculation and mind-reading.

Here’s the crux: “Immigrant voters living in the Greater Toronto suburbs, along with their counterparts in Vancouver, had joined Prairie and rural Ontario voters to deliver a majority government to the Conservatives.” And, the common thread that runs through these three constituencies are an affinity for values-driven politics and the belief that the Tories would do a better job on the economy, border security and criminal justice.

Not all immigrants voted Conservative

However, their research also suggests that 52 per cent of Muslim immigrants voted for the Liberals and that that the Conservatives were largely favoured by newcomers who have been here for more than 10 years. Immigration also divides Old Canada from New Canada, the parts where the Conservatives hold sway. The dividing line – which the authors call the Ottawa River Curtain – runs from the James Bay to the western reaches of Montreal. East of that in Quebec and the Atlantic – with fewer immigrants and dwindling economic prospects – is in decline, as the political centre of gravity shifts West.

“With every new arrival from Mumbai, with every moving van trundling west, with every dollar generated by the emerging economies of Alberta and Saskatchewan, with every new seat that gets added to the House of Commons, they [the Laurentian elite] wane.”

However, the authors do acknowledge that the old powerbrokers did get one thing right: the open-door immigration policy and multiculturalism policy that enabled an average of about 250,000 newcomers to annually make Canada home in recent years. Given that these very same newcomers have now turned on them, the book could as well have been titled “The Great Double Cross.”

The watershed elections in 2011 and the changing political dynamic has had consequences across the board, the authors say, including changes to immigration policy, cozying up to China and India, particularly, and the implications for the business sector given the new demographic realities. They also suggest Aboriginal issues will gain little traction in Ottawa given that “The ancestors of today’s immigrants played no part in dispossessing the First Nations of their land; their ancestors were themselves dispossessed.”

There’s only one dark cloud that could ruin this otherwise Conservative compact. In the closing pages, they raise a “red flag” around surveys that show a rather narrow spread (just five points) between those who believe immigration is having a positive impact over those who think it has a negative effect. “A nativist backlash would bring about demographic shifts even as it heightened social tensions.” – New Canadian Media

{module NCM Blurb}