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John Ibbitson: In Canada, the Power Centres Have Shifted. Drastically.
Demographics | July 11, 2012

John Ibbitson: In Canada, the Power Centres Have Shifted. Drastically.

In a fascinating upcoming book, The Big Shift, John Ibbitson, The Globe and Mail's Ottawa bureau chief, explains how immigration and shifting power centres within Canada have fundamentally reshaped our country. "The provinces that mattered most don’t matter as much any more," he boldly states. "The country’s centre has shifted west, and power has shifted with it. In fact power is now shared by two groups: Westerners and Ontario’s suburban middle class, especially the immigrant suburban middle class. In terms of power and priorities, nothing else and no one else really matters much any more." The big shift isn't just on the horizon, it's already here. Based on an acclaimed keynote he gave last year—called The Collapse of the Laurentian Consensus—and co-authored with Darrell Bricker, the book provides an insider view on how this new Canada really works. Ibbitson, as ever, can skilfully and engagingly take the lessons from his writings and apply them to just about any industry looking to understand these profound changes.

He sent us a fascinating synopsis of the book. Anyone doing business in Canada, and anyone interested in the country's future, will find a lot to chew on:

In university classrooms, professors are teaching their students nonsense. In newspaper columns and on television, commentators are talking rot. Authors and playwrights and poets and musicians sing of a country that doesn’t exist. Politicians offer promises that people don’t want them to keep. You need to stop listening to these people. Not because they’re left-wing or right wing, but because they’re just wrong.

We call the people we’re talking about the Laurentian elite, because they mostly live in or near Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal. They share a common set of assumptions about Canada: that it’s a fragile nation; that the federal government’s job is to bind together a country that would otherwise fall apart; that the biggest challenge is keeping Quebec inside Confederation; that the poorer regions must forever stay poor, propped up by the richer parts of the country; that the national identity—whatever it is—must be protected from the American juggernaut; that Canada is a helpful fixer in the world, a peacekeeper, a joiner of all the best clubs. We think this is an illusion. We think the country has changed. We call that change the Big Shift.

For more than 20 years, now, Canada has been importing about a quarter of a million people a year from other countries. That’s a new Toronto every ten years. If you reproduce the country’s largest city twice such a short period of time, you’re going to change things. If you bring millions of newcomers from third world countries to a first-world country such a short period of time, you’re going to change things a lot. If you keep doing it—just as Canada continues to do it—the place will soon become unrecognizable.
          
The Laurentian elites don’t get this. They don’t realize that Canada no longer belongs to them. A country that was once white is becoming brown. A country that was once part of the Atlantic world is becoming part of the Pacific world. A nervous, insecure country has become confident and even nationalist. The provinces that mattered most don’t matter as much any more. The country’s centre has shifted west, and power has shifted with it. In fact power is now shared by two groups: Westerners and Ontario’s suburban middle class, especially the immigrant suburban middle class. In terms of power and priorities, nothing else and no one else really matters much any more.

You may think that this is a conservative argument. It isn’t. Yes, the Conservatives under Stephen Harper understand better than anyone else what Canada is becoming. They have tailored their message and their priorities to fit the New Canada. They get the Big Shift.

But the values and priorities of the New Canada aren’t entirely—or even mostly—conservative. They’re realistic, pragmatic, cosmopolitan, global, forward thinking. Progressive politicians should be able to speak to them, too. Thomas Mulcair and his rapidly-evolving NDP are trying to do just that. The Liberal Party, which was always the party that most closely identified with the Laurentian Consensus, still doesn’t seem to get any of this. And so it’s dying. It is not, however, dead yet. Whether the party of Laurier and King and Trudeau and Chretien—but also of Turner and Martin and Dion and Ignatieff—recovers and thrives depends entirely on whether it wakes up to what has happened to a country that it no longer understands.

Some may consider what we’re about to say treason. Not against our country (though some may think that, too) but against our class. For we are the people we are warning you about. We’re a couple of middle-aged WASPS who live in Laurentian downtowns, who work for companies that are information leaders, who for much of our careers have shared and traded on the very assumptions we now reject.

But that’s why we’re writing this. We realize that the Canada we thought we knew has gone away. Everything has changed, and everyone must change with it, or step aside. Otherwise you won’t listen to us anymore.  

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