Forgotten working class could trigger populist backlash in Canada, says report by ex-Harper advisor

Jesse SnyderJesse Snyder

Canada risks a populist backlash if politicians fail to focus on the most economically vulnerable people, a new report says, as rosy economic data continues to overshadow the plight of many rural and non-educated workers.

A report by Sean Speer of the Macdonald-Laurier Institute, released Tuesday, argues that politicians across the political spectrum have broadly ignored pockets of working class Canadians who have failed to thrive in an increasingly globalized and technological economy. Resentments among those people, if left unchecked, could feed the same sort of reprisal that led to the election of U.S. President Donald Trump, Speer says.

“Over the long term, an economy that has nothing to offer people is going to create not just economic consequences, but political ones that can possibly cut much deeper,” he said in an interview with the National Post.

Speer, who previously served as senior economic advisor to Stephen Harper, stopped short of suggesting Canada was at immediate risk of encountering a towering, populist wave. But the report nonetheless emphasizes some of the current and deepening divides that are set to define the upcoming federal election: resentments in the oil-rich West toward eastern “elites”, anxieties among less educated working men who have been increasingly displaced by university-educated women, and a widening divide between urban and rural political values.

Conservative leader Andrew Scheer has centred his campaign around worries over the rising cost of living, criticizing the Liberals for their carbon tax and promising to help Canadians “get ahead,” according to the party’s official slogan. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, meanwhile, has been touting policies like a promised boost to a tax credit that will support “those hoping to join” the middle class.

Speer is among a number of conservative-minded analysts who decided, after the election of Trump, to adjust their long-held beliefs about the specific role governments should play in the economy, and the degree to which they need to consider the least advantaged voters.


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