There is a singular narrative thread running through the international media coverage of Canada in the last two years. In one way or another, it is the tale of Canadian exceptionalism.
In October 2015, Canadians elected a centrist party that won over the electorate with talk of openness, diversity and respectful partnerships. The Liberal Party’s cosmopolitanism is voiced by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who inherits a political legacy from his father and is the reverse image of the anti-establishment leaders unseating old candidates like dominoes across the West.
While other countries have closed their borders, Canadians are clamouring to open theirs to refugees. While anti-immigration parties have flattened opponents, Canada’s new majority government vowed to increase immigration and facilitate citizenship. While other leaders have disparaged the United Nations, Canada’s Prime Minister told the General Assembly, “we’re here to help.”
This tale of exceptionalism is both true and not true. What is easily missed is that Canada has long been an immigration leader, and it’s not because this is a country of saints – there are strokes of geographic and historic luck that have enabled Canadian openness. We have also turned our luck into gold through a strategy of managed migration, characterized by hand-picking immigrants and aggressively supporting integration. For many Canadians, this position of advantage carries a certain degree of responsibility to be a leader among international peers, to experiment with policy, and occasionally to take an exceptional position.