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[Ottawa – January 4, 2013] As we have already recently developed this theme, we will not review it in depth but we will comment more on its implications and connections to some of the other forces. We believe that this force merits discussion for two reasons. First, values are the crucial normative goalposts which define a society and should shape its direction. They reflect what citizens see as right and wrong and what kind of society they would like to hand off to the next generation, how they would like their society to be seen by the external world. When values do shift – and they move at a glacial pace – it is very important. Unlike more mercurial opinions and attitudes, values constitute a moral charter which underpins a society’s trajectory. Their importance to national governments is obvious.

Secondly, we believe that there are some huge gaps and distortions in our understanding of national values and how these have been changing. In particular, the claim that Canada is blueing or shifting to the right has been offered as both a genuine measure of value change and as legitimization for further movements in national policy in that direction.

The idea that there can be a consensual, consistent set of values framing a pluralistic society such as Canada is a chimera. Many contradictory values are held tenaciously which leave little room for central terrain (e.g. right to life, right to choose, capital punishment/abolition, gun control, right to bear arms). It is also the case that many core values are not divisive ideologically (e.g. freedom, respect) and most Canadians hold positive views of both small-c conservative values and small-l liberal values.

With these important caveats in mind, let me state clearly that there is virtually no plausible evidence in place to suggest that Canada is shifting to the right on social values. The success of parties of the right is not a product of a rightward shift nor is the presence of a right of centre party in Ottawa moving the public to the right. In reality, the factors that are moving values are far deeper and transnational than those within the purview of national governments. The values shifts that we see continuing in Canada are part of broader rhythms of post-materialism which are evident throughout the advanced western world (and which may be becoming more global in nature).

While explicitly excluding fiscal conservatism from this claim, we can say without hesitation that the evidence is clear that Canadians are significantly less connected to socially conservative values than they were twenty years ago. This includes values such as respect for authority, traditional family values and minimal government (which may stray into the realm of fiscal conservatism).

Even more important, these values are much less relevant in certain portions of Canadian society such as younger Canada, metropolitan Canada, and university-educated Canada. In short, these socially conservative values have little relevance to the emerging, next Canada. While those values are highly motivating to the older core Conservative vote they are next to meaningless to the groups mentioned above.

A similar analysis of shifts in values and demographics in the United States has led Stanley Greenberg (former Clinton pollster) to refer to Republicanism as a “dying cult”. While the political success of the Conservative Party in Canada would belie such a glib depiction here, those value gaps are even more pronounced in Canada and may soon cause issues of basic legitimacy. This may also be linked to a deepening generational divide that we discussed in an earlier article.

Are these value shifts weakening Canadians’ attachment to country or undermining a sense of belonging to Canada? The answer, evident in Figure 4-2, is no, or perhaps not yet. Just as values are not shaped by activities of the state, it appears that national attachment is quite robust in spite of these newer normative tensions.

Canadians’ sense of belonging to the nation has remained very strong but the locus of national identity has shifted somewhat. Where in the past it was more connected to small-l liberalism, it is now more connected to small c-conservatism. The frustrated Canadian nationalism that Roger Gibbins noted simmering in Alberta in the nineties has now largely evaporated and Alberta is now the province most connected to Canada.

There are new fault lines around values and some of these are quite worrisome. But so far, national attachment has remained robust and some of the frustrated nationalists who once were on the outside of power are feeling very happy about the new order.

A final important note on the issue of ethnic identities. Like provincial identities, ethnic identities are exerting a weakening attraction for Canadians. This is important and interesting for two reasons.

First, the visceral fears of the early 1990s about immigration and multiculturalism weakening national identity appear to have been ill-founded. Second, ethnic identification declined over a period when ethnic heterogeneity increased quite dramatically.

All of this is good news. Canada appears to be a singular success story in managing the “clash of civilizations” problems which are plaguing Europe and the United States.

Click here for the full report: Looking Backward – Part 4 (January 4, 2013)

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