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Alain Giguère

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Would you vote for a populist politician? 60% of Canadians say yes, they likely would (and Parsifal by Richard Wagner)

Categories: On my radar this week

Posted on 10-06-17 at 3:15 p.m.

Louis Audet, the president and CEO of Cogeco, is very committed to the country's socio-political and economic causes. He recently commissioned CROP to do a study on populism in Canada, specifically on Canadians' support for a populist politician of the ilk who have emerged in the West in recent years.

In order to present respondents with a politician having the same characteristics as the populist politicians popping up around the world, we tried to encapsulate their main features and policies. Upon reflection, we found that these politicians had the following in common, usually promising to ...

• devote themselves solely to the interests of the middle class, and not pander to the rich and powerful;

• put a stop to immigration and the influx of refugees;

• put measures in place to protect the national identity and impose economic protectionism; and

• they present themselves as having broken with the traditional ways of conducting politics.

We combined all these elements in a survey question for Canadians (except for protectionism, since we know that Canadians generally favour free trade). To our great surprise, three out of five Canadians (60%) admitted that they would likely vote for a populist politician!

It should be noted that the demographic profile of a typical supporter of this type of politician lives in a small municipality, has an average level of education and is between 35 and 54 years of age. In fact, what we get is a typically middle class profile in the regions struggling with the uncertain socio-economic realities found outside our major cities. 

A real political movement

I am fully aware that political predictions based on the results of this kind of survey question need to be considered with care. It would all depend on the candidate him/herself, the political stakes at the time, the team of candidates, and so forth. For example, when we ask people if they would like to have a Donald Trump-style politician in Canada, only 18% agree. But in this case, it is his style that puts them off. The populist policies mentioned above still garner 60% support in the country. This suggests that if a candidate were more refined and articulate, such a politician would have a chance of taking power in the country.


What attracts people to this political agenda is not uniform, and differs based on whether the support is strong or moderate. But the promise to devote him/herself to the interests of the middle class and not pander to the rich and powerful is certainly a theme that resonates with a plurality (41%) of the supporters of this type of politician. It appears as if a firm conviction has now taken root among Canadians to the effect that politicians only serve the rich and powerful, to the detriment of the middle class!

On the other hand, among those most enthusiastic about such a politician (26%), restrictions on immigration take priority. An intolerant mistrust of immigrants and refugees is fuelling support for a populist politician among the strongest supporters. These people no longer recognize themselves in today's socially diverse society, and feel that immigration is threatening the country's cultural identity. Whereas 48% of Canadians agree with the idea that "a too open immigration policy in our country carries the risk of losing our own identity," this agreement rises to 87% among the most enthusiastic supporters of a populist politician!

For these people, society is changing too fast. They feel that there is no longer room for them, and are fatalistic about the future. The immigrant becomes the symbol of a society that is excluding them.

Among more moderate supporters, cynicism is the motivating factor-a feeling that no one is doing anything for them, that no one cares about them, certainly not traditional politicians. They feel left out and vulnerable. What resonates with them is the focus on helping the middle class (to the detriment of the rich and famous).


A challenge for the political class

These results certainly highlight a deep disconnect between the political class and a large segment of the population. The fact that people feel that the political class serves only the powerful, while ignoring the middle class, should shake the confidence and question the legitimacy of our elected representatives. The amount of support for our hypothetical populist politician (60%) indicates a very negative perception of our political class and how it manages social issues. Such results certainly send a strong message to our politicians. They must rethink their communications, their connection to the people. They need to stop equivocating, put authenticity at the heart of their discourse and show they are really listening to voters. They also need to do a better job of educating people about the important issues of our times.

This education needs to be tailored to our new world order. The waves of migrants will continue. Innovation will continue to destabilize traditional businesses, in our regions and major cities. The socio-economic and political conditions that fuel populism are likely to grow. In such a context, Canadian democracy could be undermined.

It is interesting to note that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is doing a good job of deflecting this ambient populism at the moment. His emphasis on the middle class (at the cost of giving Netflix a GST holiday!) is certainly gaining the attention of Canadian voters for whom middle-class advocacy is a priority. It remains to be seen, between now and the next federal election, whether he's doing enough!

Parsifal by Richard Wagner

This opus by Wagner is the perfect accompaniment to this week's theme. The idea of a new "virgin" politician unfettered by traditional political mores recalls the Nietzschean superman embodied by some of the characters in Wagner's works (Siegfried and Parsifal, in particular). Parsifal is the hero who can free the Holy Grail's guardians from a fate of annihilation. According to the story, only an "innocent" young man completely unsullied by sin can save the community, innocence being understood here as the absence of societal acculturation.

In the selected excerpt, Parsifal resists the advances of the seductress and sinner, Kundry, while annihilating the magic and evil power of the sorcerer, Klingsor.

A superb aria sung by tenor Jonas Kaufmann, directed by François Girard for the New York Metropolitan Opera.

Wagner: Parsifal - Jonas Kaufmann (Parsifal), Katarina Dalayman (Kundry), Peter Mattei (Amfortas), René Pape (Gurnemanz), Evgeny Nikitin (Klingsor), Rúni Brattaberg (Titurel), Maria Zifchak (Stimme) Orchestra of the Metropolitan Opera, Daniele Gatti (dir.), Francois Girard (prod.)