A vision of what a progressive Britain could be. It’s called Canada
By Gaby Hinsliff
From West Wing to Winsome
Imagine a West Wing episode come to life, and that’s basically Justin Trudeau. Canada’s winsome prime minister blew up the internet again this week via an old photo of him larking about for the cameras, balancing his entire weight on his wrists on the edge of a desk in trademark manly-but-sensitive fashion. One more for a photo album that so far includes Trudeau cuddling pandas, Trudeau proudly proclaiming himself a feminist, Trudeau wearing a Barbie-pink sweatshirt in solidarity with kids bullied for looking different – and of course a newly elected Trudeau last autumn answering questions about why half his new cabinet was female, with the words “because it’s 2015”, and a shrug that clearly meant “so deal with it” …
The online news organisation Vox produced a version featuring cheesy pictures of the prime minister with captions such as “Hey girl, I may be dreamy but Canada has a long way to go to close the wage gap!”
And yes, pass the sickbag. But in a week during which Donald Trump casually suggested that if abortion were banned there should be “some form of punishment” for any woman seeking one, nausea is strictly relative. Even if this does turn out to be an act cynically laid on with a trowel, personally I’d take that over someone methodically fishing for the misogynist rage vote. These days it’s a relief just to know someone still thinks women’s votes are worth having.’
Trudeau has even given Canada its first federal cabinet with an equal number of men and women.
Canada…is having a moment
‘And so Canada, land of wholesome outdoor sports and apologising profusely for things that weren’t your fault, is undeniably having a moment. The rest of us are finally catching up with what keen skiers and those bearded London hipsters who spent most of last year dressing like lumberjacks must surely have known for ever: Canada is nowhere near as boring as it looks.
Like Barack Obama before him, there’s something made-for-social-media about Trudeau. And as with Obama, there is a fear that it can only end in crushing disappointment – that it’s all too good to be true, that there may be little of substance behind the slick photo opportunities, that as the son of a former prime minister himself, Justin Trudeau makes a strange kind of poster boy for a more egalitarian Canada.
But Trudeaumania isn’t just about him, it’s about the country he represents. Who else is still pulling off the whole hopey-changey thing, still surfing a wave of sunny progressive feeling when the US and much of Europe are increasingly convulsed with rage against either poor migrants or privileged elites, or both? While Britons contemplate a supposedly “kinder, gentler politics” of the left that turns out to come garnished with vicious personal attacks and repulsively antisemitic undercurrents, lucky old Canada gets a photogenic ex-snowboarding instructor calmly explaining why it’s not so mad to run a deficit.
What’s puzzling is that Canada has been through most of the same grim experiences – the banking crash, recession, a series of thwarted Islamist terrorist attacks followed by a shootout inside its parliament building – that elsewhere are blamed for feeding the politics of hate. Yet it seems to be cheerfully carrying on as if it didn’t quite get that memo, taking in 25,000 Syrian refugees with a minimum of fuss although its population is half the size of Britain’s. Naturally, Trudeau was filmed just before Christmas personally helping refugees into warm coats, while declaring, “You’re safe at home now.”
Canada … pulling off an elusive trick
Perhaps it feels different if you live there. But from the outside at least, Canada seems to be pulling off the elusive trick of remaining tolerant, relaxed and at ease with itself in challenging circumstances with more aplomb than most. You’d think all progressives would be hammering on the door to find out how they do it. But while any leftish policy wonk can give you chapter and verse on Scandinavia, few have made a life’s work of studying Canada, even though its quietly self-effacing culture seems in some ways a more realistic vision of what a future progressive Britain could be.
It’s a shame because while the US boasts of offering its citizens “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”, it’s Canada that actually delivers on all three. According to the global happiness index produced annually by three academics specialising in the study of wellbeing, Canada is the fifth happiest country in the world and beats its noisily libertarian neighbour both on healthy life expectancy and “freedom to make life choices”, the latter despite having significantly less deranged gun laws and higher taxes. And like the solid but rather earnest man you realise too late you actually should have married, it’s finally starting to get noticed.’