If Canadians are looking for a break from the seemingly perpetual flood of bad international happenings, here’s a suggestion: cheer up, we could be Sweden.
By – Kelly McParland
Poor old Sweden. Prime Minister Stefan Lofven lost a confidence vote Tuesday and will be forced to resign after four years in office, despite garnering the most support in a recent election. Lofven is a victim of a surge of support for an anti-immigrant party with roots in all the usual extremist antecedents: fascism, neo-nazism, white supremacy, you name it.
The Sweden Democrats (extremist groups love benign names, the better to disguise themselves) say they no longer abide by those beliefs, but they still garner much of their support from a policy that views immigration as a threat to peace and stability, and views integration as a dangerous watering-down of Swedish values and culture. Its growing strength stems from nervousness about the jump in immigration resulting from the crisis in Syria: in proportional terms, Sweden took more people than any other country in Europe.
What makes this intriguing is that for years Canadians treated Sweden as a country to look up to, a model of tolerance and progressivism, populated by people willing to bear swingeing tax rates and domineering government in the name of fairness, equality and respect for the greater good.
Sweden was the place that invented the Nobel Peace Prize, that always placed high in living standards and quality of life, a contented land somehow able to steer clear of the strife of less high-minded jurisdictions.
So what happened? It would take a thesis or two to capture all the reasons, but it’s interesting to note that Sweden, like other European countries that have been roiled by the immigration crisis, has the sort of electoral system that reacts to stress by breaking into ever-greater factions of competing interests, which then vie for space in whatever Frankenstein coalition can be cobbled together and called a government.
Italy, for instance, has never been famed for strong or durable governments, but emerged from its latest election fiasco with no party enjoying enough strength to claim victory, with an alliance, a movement and a coalition all struggling for bits and pieces of power in fraught negations that extended over three months, ending with a prime minister with no political experience who hadn’t even run for Parliament, and two vice-premiers, to keep everyone happy.
Like Sweden, Italy’s latest political impasse derived from the immigration issue. As the landing site for tens of thousands of migrants in recent years, Italy struggled to gain help from other European Union members to deal with the problem, often with little success. Thousands died at sea, prompting the government to close ports to new arrivals. A government minister dismissed any criticism, insisting a refusal to countenance “out-of-control” immigration was a compliment.
Germany, considered the strongest and most stable power in the EU, saw that status shaken when Chancellor Angela Merkel’s coalition fractured over immigration, producing a weakened administration and greater influence for the anti-immigrant, anti-Islam Alternative for Germany, which wants to seal the borders, impose tough identity checks and set up holding camps to ward off migrants before they arrive, while quickly deporting anyone whose application for asylum fails.
Now Germany finds itself with a shaky administration just when it needs leadership able to set out a policy and make decisions, even if they prove unpopular. It took five months just to stitch together a 177-page agreement, stuffed with compromises, outlining who gets what within the latest coalition, which could still fall apart before the next election.
Swedes can’t feel comforted knowing similar uncertainty lies ahead. The Sweden Democrats won 17.5 per cent of the vote, to 28.3 per cent for Lofven’s party. The way these proportional voting systems operate, the results mean a period of backroom negotiations, likely ending in a coalition of some sort.
Lofven declared he’d try to cling to power, while the Sweden Democrats have already exercised a bit of their new influence by joining in the selection of a new Speaker. Under Swedish rules, they all get four tries at doing some kind of deal, failing which a new election follows.
Great. Just what a country needs in time of trouble. Much as Canada’s first-past-the-post system is criticized — not least by Justin Trudeau and his Liberals — it generally ensures a government such as his own can be certain of its position while it tries to deal with difficult situations.
Minorities do happen, but no one is required to join forces with former white supremacists or jack-booters to get their foot in the door of power.
Canada is not immune to the fears that fuelled anti-immigrant emotions in Germany, Italy, Sweden and elsewhere. Trudeau hasn’t helped by grossly mishandling the rush of asylum seekers across Quebec borders, or by attempting to dismiss legitimate concerns as the ravings of hate-mongers.
He’s fortunate that Canada’s electoral rules give him the time to start getting things right, and he’d be well advised to do so. Swedes aren’t bad people, and neither are Canadians, but politicians who stubbornly stick to bad policies risk having reasonable people start looking for an alternative.
Read more: From 2018/10/02