Political Stereotypes in Canada and the U.S.
by Jared Milne
Right-wing Conservatives and Republicans are hardworking entrepreneurs who stop at Tim Horton’s for a double-double on their way to work, get up early on Saturday to take their kids to hockey practice, and maintain their homes and their cars themselves. Either that, or they’re greedy corporate monsters who cheerfully destroy the planet and oppress the poor in order to line their own pockets.
Left-wing Liberals, NDPers, Greens and Democrats are compassionate and interested only in helping the poor and caring for the environment and fighting for social justice. Either that, or they’re snobby elitists and civil servants who look down on honest, hardworking citizens, think they know what’s best for everyone, and love nothing more than spending other peoples’ money on their pet projects.
Those are the stereotypes Canadians and Americans alike hear on a regular basis, but just how true are they? In my experience, right-wing Conservatives and Republicans are just as apt to show concern for the environment, compassion for the poor and support for social justice as any left-wing.
On the other hand, Liberals, NDPers, Greens and Democrats are just as apt to be the hardworking hockey parents who drink Tim Horton’s coffee and show entrepreneurial spirit in owning their own businesses. Some people might adhere to the negative stereotypes that I previously mentioned, but applying them to every single person that happens to vote for a particular political party or hold a particular set of beliefs is just plain stupid.
Take former Reform Party leader Preston Manning, for example. He’s one of the most prominent conservatives in Canada, and yet he’s gone on record as saying that there should be a “price on carbon”, and bluntly stating that Albertans need a “wake up call” on the environment. In my own hometown of St. Albert, city councillor Cam MacKay is a card-carrying federal Conservative who spearheaded the move to give severely disabled residents a major discount on public transit.
Such actions don’t exactly mesh with the negative stereotypes that Conservatives don’t care about the environment or people in need. Nor do the civil servants I know who can be counted on to vote Conservative come election time-they don’t exactly live up to the stereotype of public servants being snobs who only listen to CBC and love spending other peoples’ money.
On the other side of the fence, take Susan Thompson, founder of the Canadian nationalist site Vive Le Canada, at www.vivelecanada.ca. She’s a blue-collar entrepreneur founded her own welding company in my home province of Alberta. According to the stereotypes, she should be a Conservative, but she’s a devoted NDPer who’s run for the federal party more than once.
Another example is farmer David Orchard, who’s online at www.davidorchard.com. He’s a rural Saskatchewanian who puts a lot of work into maintaining his farm. According to the stereotypes, he should be a Conservative, but in fact he’s a Liberal who’s known for actively criticizing the North American Free Trade Agreement. And this doesn’t even take into account all the other various small business owners who’ve run for the Liberals, the NDP or the Greens at the federal or provincial levels. These people risk their own capital and own their own businesses, and yet they support parties that are generally viewed as left-wing.
Different parts of Canada also break with these stereotypes.
Alberta is often seen as the right-wing and business-oriented province, yet we have prominent Alberta conservatives like Preston Manning and Peter Lougheed (who called for a slowdown in the development of the oilsands) taking stances that, according to the stereotypes, would only be associated with left-wingers. Conversely, Ontario and Quebec are said to be more left-wing and government-heavy, and yet those provinces have noted high-tech industries. A company like Research In Motion might be in trouble now, but how could a company like that have ever gotten so big in the first place if Central Canada didn’t have an entrepreneurial spirit of its own?
Do some people live up to the stereotypes described? Of course they do. The problem, though, is that the positive stereotypes are often used to make one’s own political group look good, and make the other political group look bad.
This is one of the biggest, albeit overlooked, problems in Canadian politics today-the tendency among some pundits and bloggers to demonize other Canadians for their political beliefs, to the point of making it seem as though other people are less Canadian, less Albertan, or what have you, based on their beliefs. Many Canadians readily identify with Tim Horton’s drinkers and hockey parents, for instance, but Tim Horton’s drinkers and hockey parents can just as easily vote Liberal or NDP as they can vote Conservative. Similarly, many Canadians identify with helping the poor and caring for the environment, but Conservatives are just as apt to do this as Liberals or NDPers.
Instead of judging entire political groups or even entire regions of Canada, we’d all be much better off if we tried to actually see each others’ points of view and get to know one another as Canadians, instead of judging each other based on stereotypes that often don’t apply.
This article was originally published in a modified form in the St. Albert Gazette on January 19, 2013 at http://www.stalbertgazette.com/article/20130119/SAG0903/301199976/0/sag.
Jared Milne is a writer, researcher and public servant living in St. Albert, Alberta. His major interests include Canadian unity, nationalism and history, particularly regarding how Canada’s incredibly rich past has affected the present we live in today.