Friday, October 10, 2008

Politics: In Thinking-World Canada

TORONTO, ONTARIO - In a previous post, the impact of the "emotional" world culture of the United States on its politics was discussed, creating an atmosphere in which feelings and image matter more than facts or logic. Canada, while of course still showing great regional variation, has on average a "thinking" world perspective, and thus ideas and debate tend to be more important in political campaigns.

As the moniker implies, the "thinking" world operates mostly in the realm of ideas. Various specific types within the world like to combine ideas, debate them, become experts in them, and expand them. The debating strain is strongest in Canada--culturally, the tendency here is to get all the ideas out on the table here, whether appropriate or not, thoroughly understand them and discuss their merits, and then make a decision on how to proceed.

Note that this is not the same thing as applying logic. The "thinking" world likes to jump from one idea to another, seeing connections that may or may not actually exist. There's no need to go from "A" to "B" to "C" to "D"; the "thinking" world can jump from "A" to "D". It takes an analytical approach, as opposed to a logical approach.

The idea focus shows itself in the focus on party platforms. Whereas in the US, the charisma of the Party Leaders would likely be most important, here the focus of the campaigns tends to be on the party platforms, whether involving big ideas like the Liberals' "Green Shift" or NDP calls to ban private health care, or comparatively small ideas like arts budgets. The initial part of the campaign saw a lot of focus on gaffes by the candidates, but this did not attract much attention. Instead, it was arts funding in Quebec and the economy that started to get "thinking culture" people interested.

One of the defining characteristics of the "thinking" world is that it looks to the future (as opposed to the present or the past), generally with a vision. It's not a coincidence that Canada achieved universal health care in 1966, while the United States still hasn't achieved that. In the last half-century or so in Canada, the vision has been a multi-cultural one that has been solidified with immigration policy and cultural funding. The downside of all the forward-looking is that long-outstanding issues tend to be ignored. Quebec separatism is powerful enough that it periodically rises to be noticed, but it took until the current Harper government for even an apology to be issued for Indian Residential Schools and the Chinese Head Tax. The forward-looking even appears in the Liberal Green Shift proposal in the present campaign--it's more about long-term climate change and creating a long-term healthier economy, and does not address (in any direct way) the present economic crisis.

All this is not to say that image and feelings are unimportant in a Canadian campaign. The "thinking" world is attracted to the "emotional" world, so emotional trappings can garner attention and bring out the subconscious of the voters. But, they are also a foreign language of sorts, especially to the current crop of party leaders. In the current electoral environment, which pundits claim as being characterized by a desire for empathy, none of the candidates manage to do it. Andrew Coyne, on CBC Television's "The National", pointed out that Jack Layton's NDP message may resonate with the desire for empathy, but not because of any feeling or image created by Layton, but by the inherent platform of the party which has been in place for years.

So what does all this mean to Tuesday's election? All four parties have plenty of contrasting ideas. Despite nearly two years of a Conservative government and the current perceived economic crisis (perhaps tempered by news that Canadian banks have been listed as the most stable in the world and job numbers in September showing substantial part-time job growth), the polls would seem to indicate that Canadians pretty much identify with the same ideas they did in early 2006. It will be interesting to see if they vote that way on Tuesday.

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