Amazon’s annual list: Canada’s 20 most romantic cities, or its dullest ones?

To garner some publicity ahead of Valentine’s Day, Amazon produced last week its annual list of Canada’s 20 most romantic cities. As in past years, it included some odd picks. Cities like Montreal and Quebec City, known for their character and nightlife, were completely excluded from the list. Yet cities like Grande Prairie, Alta. and Burlington, Ont. — cities which even some locals might hesitate to describe as “romantic” — made the cut.

What gives? There’s a good chance that Amazon’s own methodology inadvertently results in a list of Canada’s dullest cities instead of its most romantic ones. As the online retailer described in its news release, the rankings are based on Amazon’s per capita “sales of romance novels (both print and Kindle editions), romantic comedies, relationship books, jewelry and sexual wellness products.”

Naturally, this would tend to produce a skew toward places where these things are not easily available in the community and must instead be shipped in.

So, if Abbotsford and Grande Prairie aren’t exactly Paris in the Spring, where might love be in the air in Canada? “Romance” is difficult to quantify, and a city’s romance factor can vary greatly between the inner city and the suburbs, so just for fun, let’s have a look at one basic metric: the percentage of the population age 15 and over who are available — that is, single (and not living common-law), separated, divorced or widowed.

Since 43 percent of Canadians aged 15 or older are “available”, one would expect that the areas where this percentage is far higher must have some sort of special appeal — to be the places where love, or at least sex, are in the air.

Fortunately, Statistics Canada allows us to focus on specific neighbourhoods now that they provide demographic statistics by Forward Sortation Area (FSA) — better known to most Canadians as the first three characters of our postal codes.

With that data available, which of Canada’s urban neighbourhoods have the highest concentrations of available people? A Top 10 list, with a few hard-to-explain surprises of its own:

1. Montreal, Que. H2X (Place-des-Arts/Ville Marie): This neighbourhood on the northeast side of downtown Montreal can claim to be the Singles Capital of Canada. Not only are 70 percent of its residents neither married nor in a common-law relationship, it’s one of those rare neighbourhoods in which the majority — 57 percent — are single. Credit at least in part a large university population, with McGill University and UQAM being in close proximity.

2. Vancouver, B.C. V6A (Downtown Eastside [!]/Strathcona): A questionable #2, admittedly. While Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside (often abbreviated “DTES”) is somewhat notorious for being one of Canada’s most troubled neighbourhoods, at least the area can claim to have lots of available people, as 70 percent of residents were neither married nor living common-law as of the 2011 census.  Perhaps there’s a Skid Row effect at play here? Nevertheless, between the mountains and the sea, the City of Vancouver is at least a stronger contender than some of Amazon’s picks for “most romantic” status.

3. Saint John, N.B. E2L (City Centre): I’m not too familiar with foggy Saint John, N.B., but for whatever reason, the inner city has a disproportionately high concentration of available people, given that 68 percent are neither married nor living common-law, and nearly one-half are single. The city has become a popular cruise ship stop, so it must have something going for it.

4. Ottawa, Ont. K2P (Centretown/Golden Triangle): The nation’s capital attracts a lot of young people who work long hours for low pay as political staff. So, perhaps it should be no surprise that inner-city Ottawa, within walking distance of Parliament, has one of the nation’s highest densities of available people. Not only are two-thirds (68%) neither married nor in a common-law relationship, but the majority (53%) are single.

5. London, Ont. N6B (City Centre-Woodfield, south/east of Downtown): Another surprise. Unlike its British namesake, London, Ont. has a reputation for being rather dull. But it’s a university town, and that’s perhaps why its inner city has a disproportionately high number of available people (68%) and particularly of singles (48%). This particular area also has a number of high-rises, which in themselves tend to have higher concentrations of single, separated, divorced or widowed households than do neighbourhoods full of detached homes.

6. Toronto, Ont. M5B (Garden District): If you’re looking for nightlife, you can’t go wrong living in Toronto’s highrise-intensive Garden District, which includes Toronto’s busy Yonge St., Massey Hall, the Ed Mirvish Theatre and Ryerson University. That might explain why two-thirds of the area’s residents (67%) are neither married nor common-law, and 55 percent are single.

7. Ottawa, Ont. K1N (Byward Market/Lower Town/Sandy Hill): With the University of Ottawa within its boundaries and Parliament Hill being just a 25-minute walk away, this area of Ottawa, heavy with apartments and condos, can’t help but to have its share of available people. Sixty-one percent are neither married nor common-law, and 51 percent are single.

8. Toronto, Ont. M5T (Chinatown/Kensington Market): Located west of downtown Toronto and made famous by the ‘70s TV show King of Kensington, this area of the country’s biggest city adjacent to Queen’s Park and the University of Toronto is not a bad place to look for love: 66 percent are neither married nor common-law, and 50 percent are single.

9. Halifax, N.S. B3J (City Centre): If you’ve ever been to Halifax, it’s not hard to see how its city centre could be conducive to a bit of romance, with the harbour on one side and the Citadel on the other. A large university population — Dalhousie and Saint Mary’s universities being nearby — help account for the fact that fully 58 percent of the area’s residents are single. Add in the divorced, separated and widowed, and the availability rate rises to 66 percent.

10. Montreal, Que. H2L (Gay Village): Perhaps it should be no surprise that a neighbourhood simply known as the Gay Village has a population that is 66 percent available, including 52 percent single. Located northeast of downtown Montreal, the neighbourhood is close to both UQAM (ostensibly boosting the student population) and to the nightlife, for which Montreal is famous, along Rue Saint-Denis and in the Quartier des Spectacles.

Winnipeg falls just short of the Top 10 list, with R3B — north of Portage from the University of Winnipeg to the Exchange District — being good for a #11 finish, as 65 percent of residents aged 15-plus were neither married nor living common law in 2011, including 45 percent who were single. While this includes some sketchy areas — a moonlight walk along Cumberland Ave. is perhaps not the safest thing to do — the presence of the university and the development of the Exchange District quite likely helps.

At the extreme opposite end of the list, the hunt for love is not likely to be harder than in Ingolf, Ont. P0Y. Not only is the population small — just 63 people — but only 17 percent of residents aged 15 or older are neither married nor living common-law. But if we once again exclude the most thinly populated areas, Canada’s most “settled” neighbourhoods — the bottom five — include:

5. Calgary, Alta. T3L (Tuscany/Scenic Acres): These two outer suburbs in northwest Calgary start off this list, with just 29 percent of those aged 15 or over being single, separated, divorced or widowed. Not much to do for fun out that way, except perhaps to go for a coffee at the Starbucks in the strip mall parking lot.

4. Winnipeg, Man. R3X (Island Lakes/Royalwood): Way out on the edge of town, with virtually nowhere to go for fun locally, this suburban area is Married-With-Children country. Seventy-one percent of the area’s age-15-plus population is either married or living common-law, leaving just 29 percent available.

3. Bedford, N.S. B4B (Bedford/Hammonds Plains): This deeply suburban area on the western outskirts of Halifax offers little to see or do, except perhaps a walk in the woods. Not surprisingly, this has one of the country’s lowest proportions of single, separated, divorced or widowed people — just 28 percent.

2. Whitby, Ont. L1M (Brooklin): Brooklyn, New York might offer a lot for the single, separated, divorced or widowed to do; but Brooklin, Ont. — politically part of the city of Whitby, but physically separated from it by a freeway and open land — certainly does not. Strictly suburban Brooklin doesn’t even have a town centre; just a mall called the Brooklin Towne Centre where you could look for love at the Tim Horton’s, or perhaps at Dollarama. For more excitement, downtown Toronto is just 45 minutes away — by freeway.

1. Calgary, Alta. T3M (Cranston/Auburn Bay): What could be more romantic that the cul-de-sacs of the most far-flung subdivisions of a city defined by sprawl? Just about any other neighbourhood in Canada, really. The Cranston and Auburn Bay neighbourhoods, on Calgary’s southeastern edge, are the most settled of Canada’s urban neighbourhoods: three-quarters of its residents aged 15-plus are married or living common-law, leaving just 26 percent up for grabs.

Sex and the American Voter

Academic writing has a long and proud tradition of being painfully dull and slow to get to the point, but perhaps that’s simply because no one was able to research whether there was a link between how people vote and their sex lives. Until now.

Finally, three researchers from three U.S. universities have successfully navigated the academic minefields of obtaining time and money and overcoming ethical objections to answer such questions we’ve all been dying to know the answer to, such as whether U.S. conservatives or liberals are more likely to make love in the missionary position.

The answer to that question, according to these researchers is: conservatives are more likely to prefer the missionary position. Their article, which appeared online in full-text earlier this week before being pulled behind a paywall, also found that social conservatives tend to have sex for the first time at a later age and to have fewer partners, yet are also more likely to be satisfied with the state of their sex lives.

U.S. liberals, meanwhile are said to be more likely to take part in “adventurous sexual behaviors (e.g., sex toys)”, and in risky behaviours, such as sex with a total stranger.

Fortunately, I was able to screenshot a particularly colourful paragraph from their findings this past week and post it to Twitter for a laugh before the paywall was imposed. Among the more salient bits:

“Those who gave more oral sex or received more oral sex are more conservative on out-group/punishment attitudes (anti-immigration, pro-death penalty, etc.), but more socially liberal (support gay rights, pro-choice, etc.)”


“Those who have more sex with a woman on top are also more conservative on out-group/punishment attitudes, more likely to [have voted] for Romney, but more socially liberal. Those who have more ‘doggy style’ sex are more conservative on out-group/punishment attitudes, but more socially liberal.”


“People who masturbate more are more liberal on all attitude dimension, self-report as liberal, Democrats and [as having voted for] Obama.”


“Those who engage in more S & M [were] more likely to vote for Obama, self-report as liberal and have more liberal social attitudes. People who engage in more hand-to-breast contact [were] more likely to vote for Romney, self-report as conservative, and be more conservative on out-group/punishment and economic attitudes.”


“People who kiss on the mouth more [were] more likely to vote for Romney, self-report as conservative and Republican, and be more conservative on out-group/punishment and economic attitudes.”

After Americans go to the polls Nov. 8 to elect a new president, after what has undeniably been the most wretched and embarrassing presidential race in modern history, a desire to have less politics and more cuddling would be entirely understandable. But let’s just hope those couples where one voted for Trump and the other voted for Clinton can patch up their differences.

“The relationship between sexual preferences and political orientations: Do positions in the bedroom affect positions in the ballot box?” by Peter Hatemi, Charles Crabtree and Rose McDermott will be published in the Personality and Individual Differences journal in Jan. 2017.



The importance of alcohol in community-building

On Dec. 23, Statistics Canada released its latest monthly estimates on how much business the nation’s drinking places were doing. A “drinking place”, as defined by Industry Canada, includes “bars, taverns or drinking places, primarily engaged in preparing and serving alcoholic beverages for immediate consumption”.

Out of pure curiosity, I used Statistics Canada’s CANSIM data portal to calculate each province’s per capita drinking-place receipts for the year from November 2014 through October 2015.

What I found was quite surprising: not only were Manitoba’s drinking-place sales of $24 per capita well below the national $61 average, but we were way down at the bottom of the nine provinces for which data are available. (British Columbia had the nation’s highest per-capita bar spending at $119, followed by Saskatchewan at $106 and Newfoundland and Labrador at $93.)


Per capita receipts reported by "Drinking Places", as defined by Industry Canada, Nov. 2014-Oct. 2015. Statistics Canada data excludes P.E.I. and the northern territories due to small sample sizes.

Per capita receipts reported by “Drinking Places”, as defined by Industry Canada, Nov. 2014-Oct. 2015. Statistics Canada data excludes P.E.I. and the northern territories due to small sample sizes.

Perhaps this should be no surprise. Manitoba started out in the 19th century as a chaotic frontier society, and over-compensated for the problems caused by drunkenness by establishing a liquor bureaucracy that even now retains rather restrictive liquor laws. Add to that a culture that still frowns upon alcohol consumption in the rural south; and the typically North American urban sprawl and car dependency, which necessarily puts limits on the ability of a group of friends to gather for a pint or two of beer on their way home — a limitation that those who can walk or take public transport home need not be so concerned with.

While all this might save Manitobans the inconvenience of loutish after-bar behaviour or of needing to step over vomit on the morning streets that go with the territory in more urban environments, it also raises the question of whether Manitoba’s weak bar and pub culture makes the province socially too closed for its own good.

This possibility goes back to a discussion I had a year or two ago with a Czech expatriate now living here who shared with me the one thing he disliked about life in Manitoba: that it was “a very lonely place”.

He had grown up and lived in a society where the local pub and pizzeria were not just places to eat or drink: they played a critical role in building and maintaining a sense of community — places where the locals gathered to share news, stay connected to old friends, and meet new ones.

Here in Winnipeg, he found that there was a huge void. The neighbourhoods had no natural gathering places, and were dull and lifeless — a collection of commuters who went straight home after work, closed and locked the door, and stayed there until the morning — with no real sense of community. “Nothing but houses,” he lamented.

As unfashionable as it might be to say this in our culture, alcohol has an important role to play in the building of a sense of community.

In her book Watching the English, British social anthropologist Kate Fox highlighted the importance of shared alcohol consumption to linking people together. The better any particular venue fared in what she referred to as “The SAS Test”, the more amenable it was to bringing people together:

“SAS stands for Sociability (by which I mean specifically the acceptability and ease of initiating conversation with strangers), Alcohol (an essential flirting aid among the inhibited English) and Shared-interest (environments in which people have interests in common, or a shared focus – settings likely to have the kinds of props and facilitators that help the English to overcome their social dis-ease).”

At the top of Fox’s list: the pubs for which British communities are famous. Though they only pass two-thirds of the SAS Test for lack of a shared interest, Fox noted that they do allow for informal introductions that make shared-interest finding possible.

Parties and nightclubs – two other areas in which alcohol consumption within moderation is encouraged – also ranked high on Fox’s list. At the bottom of the list: trains, supermarkets and galleries, which Fox described as “no-go areas” for making social connections.

In 2012, University of Pittsburgh researchers also found that moderate alcohol consumption played an important role in widening peoples’ social networks:

“[The researchers] concluded that alcohol stimulates social bonding, increases the amount of time people spend talking to one another, and reduces displays of negative emotions . . . Results showed that alcohol not only increased the frequency of ‘true’ smiles, but also enhanced the coordination of these smiles. In other words, alcohol enhanced the likelihood of ‘golden moments,’ with groups provided alcohol being more likely than those offered nonalcoholic beverages to have all three group members smile simultaneously. Participants in alcohol-drinking groups also likely reported greater social bonding than did the nonalcohol-drinking groups and were more likely to have all three members stay involved in the discussion.”

Such bridge-building between people matters. In 2010, this blog discussed the possibility that, in spite of the famous “Friendly Manitoba” slogan, our community is actually a bit hesitant to let newcomers into our existing, long-established and somewhat closed social circles. But the newcomers keep coming: in 2014, we welcomed more than 16,000 foreign newcomers to our province, and more are on the way.

This vastly increases the number of people living here who are in search of new social contacts to relieve the isolation of starting a new life in a place where, prior to arrival, they knew almost no one – or even no one at all. The constraints that restrict the number of places in Manitoba that pass “the SAS Test” serve to isolate newcomers and long-established residents alike.

In April 2016, Manitobans will venture to the polls to choose the government that will guide the province through the final years of the 2010s. In that election, further reforms to our traditionally strict liquor laws in such a way that will give our communities more places that pass “the SAS test” should be on the agenda. So too should be a discussion about the other choices that keep us atomized and prevent the development of a more meaningful sense of community by inhibiting even moderate alcohol consumption, such as the state of our semi-reliable public transit systems, the difficulties in obtaining taxis and/or shared-ride services, and the community-deadening effects of urban sprawl.

Baby-Face Blues

Departing Ontario PC leader Tim Hudak: In addition to campaign gaffes, did having a "baby face" create doubts about competence, as some academic research suggests?

Departing Ontario PC leader Tim Hudak: In addition to campaign gaffes, did having a “baby face” create doubts about competence, as some academic research suggests?

Whether we the public like it or not, imagery can make or break a political career. The image of U.S. vice-president Richard Nixon sweating during the 1960 presidential debate helped seal his fate in one of the closest campaigns in that country’s history. Twenty-eight years later, the somewhat absurd image of another presidential candidate, Michael Dukakis, grinning while riding around in a tank similarly sank his presidential campaign.

Others were helped by their cultivated images: Canada’s Brian Mulroney and Australia’s Bob Hawke rapidly ascended to the prime ministership of their respective countries, despite neither having had any prior cabinet experience, in no small part because they both fit the image of a prime minister.

In addition to a lacklustre campaign that bounced from controversy to controversy, could Ontario Progressive Conservative leader Tim Hudak’s campaign to become Premier of Ontario — which ended in defeat Thursday as Kathleen Wynne’s Liberals were re-elected to a fourth term with an unexpectedly large majority — been hindered by Hudak’s image?

While Hudak made no visual gaffes akin to federal Tory leader Bob Stanfield fumbling a football during the 1974 campaign or Canadian Alliance leader Stockwell Day’s ill-advised decision to arrive at a news conference by jet-ski during the 2000 campaign, the 46-year-old Hudak (pictured above) was one of the most noticeably “baby-faced” Canadian politicians to lead a high-profile campaign in recent times.

As three Duke University academics noted in a 2010 U.S. National Bureau of Economic Research working paper, having a “baby face” — characterized by a high forehead, relatively large eyes and small nose and a round face and chin — is not always an asset for someone trying to reach the top:

“…[The perception of a person being competent] is negatively and significantly correlated with baby-facedness, with a correlation of 25.3%, which is significant at a 1% level. Essentially, the subjects are classifying CEOs with mature-faced attributes as competent . . . Our results are concerning particularly in the light of our findings that there is no relationship between competent looks of the CEO and firm performance.”

This finding came five years after an article by Leslie Zebrowitz of Brandeis University and Joann Montepare of Emerson College was published in Science magazine, with very similar conclusions:

“Babyfaced individuals within various demographic groups are perceived as less competent, whether by their own or another group. Its impact can be seen even for famous politicians: When images of former U.S. presidents Reagan and Kennedy were morphed to increase babyfacedness, their perceived dominance, strength and cunning decreased significantly.”

There is, alas, good news for the baby-faced people of the world: although often associated at first glance with the baby-like qualities of being “submissive, naive and weak”, as Zebrowitz and Montepare note, having a baby-face can be an asset when the ability to convey warmth and honesty is critical. They also draw attention to other research by Princeton University’s Alexander Todorov, showing that “more babyfaced men tend to be slightly more intelligent . . . more highly educated, contrary to impressions of their naïveté, and more assertive and more likely to earn military awards, contrary to impressions of their submissiveness and weakness.”

When things go from bad to worse, there are even indications that baby-faced defendants in court are better at defending themselves against charges of intentional wrongdoing — but more likely to suffer a judge’s wrath when accused of negligence.

None of this is a defence of or an excuse for a lousy campaign; but the tendency for a more mature face to be favoured when competence is a campaign issue is something to be kept in mind by all political observers and news junkies.

A short history of the Moral Menace

Normally one thinks of coffee shops as places where mild-mannered people, male and female alike, gather to chat or to stare at their Macs over coffee and perhaps a pastry; not as hotbeds of sex and immorality.

That, at least, tends to be the reality in Canada, which is why a recent article in the Kuwait Times might strike many of us here in North America as being inadvertently hilarious:

Three Kuwaiti ministers could be interrogated by parliament if mixed coffee shops are not closed within one month, a lawmaker has warned. Reports in Kuwait City pointed to the presence of young women and men in these coffee shops to smoke shisha.

“We will not hesitate to grill the competent ministers if these immoral coffee shops are not shut down within one month,” MP Askar Al- Enezi said, quoted by local media.

“We urge the ministers of interior, commerce and municipality to take action against these cafes all over Kuwait, but particularly in the Jahra area,” he said, referring to his constituency north east of the capital Kuwait City.

The lawmaker issued his warning as he took part in a rally on Saturday alongside other MPs, religious figures and residents in Jahra to push for action against the coffee shops accused of promoting vice and depravation.

“Such coffee shops have no room in our society as they violate our very traditions and customs as well as the spirit of the Constitution which stipulates the state’s responsibility in maintaining the values of the family considered as the core of the community and in protecting the youth,” the lawmaker said.

MP Sultan Al Laghisem and Mohammad Tana said that they would use all parliamentary means to ensure the end to the “moral menace” to Jahra by the coffee shops. “There is a deep corruption of morals at these suspicious places and we will do our utmost, including quizzing, to fight it,” Mohammad Tana said, quoted by Al-Jareeda daily on Sunday.

On my next visit to a local Starbucks after reading this article, I scanned the scene carefully for any sign of vice, depravation or corruption of morals.

Other than a woman in a blue coat who looked suspiciously like a cheating dieter by becoming suddenly shifty-eyed when ordering her pumpkin scone, there were no signs that that particular Starbucks was in any way a “suspicious place”.

But that’s not to say that North America has always been free of relatively innocuous behaviours being treated as moral menaces. Some of these menaces include:

  • Children’s stories and nursery rhymes. The Mar. 14, 1925 Reading Eagle reported on public comments made in New York by Dr. Winifred Sackville Stoner, the president of the National Education Forum, accusing Mother Goose of promoting “cruelty, rudeness, selfishness, murder, immorality, cowardice, bad grammar” and a variety of other evils “with the possible exception of arson”. Stoner also criticized Little Jack Horner for promoting bad manners, Rock-a-By-Baby for terrifying children, and Old King Cole for promoting an anti-Prohibition message.
  • Tinky Winky the Teletubby. Televangelist Rev. Jerry Falwell raised a few eyebrows in 1999 when he accused Tinky Winky, a character on Teletubbies, a U.K.-produced children’s program syndicated to the U.S., of promoting homosexuality. ”He is purple — the gay-pride color; and his antenna is shaped like a triangle — the gay-pride symbol,” Falwell wrote in his organization’s National Liberty Journal magazine. The company distributing the show to American audiences denied the accusations.
  • Watching movies on a Sunday. The audience at a showing of Cranes are Flying at Winnipeg’s Uptown Theatre received an unwelcome surprise one Sunday in November, 1959 as the Winnipeg Police morality squad raided the premises to investigate “possible violations of the Lord’s Day Act”, the Saskatoon Star-Phoenix reported on Nov. 23, 1959. The newspaper reported that Winnipeg Police chief Robert Taft was considering whether a report should be sent to provincial attorney-general Sterling Lyon for further action; and noted that several other sports teams in Winnipeg had been given warnings by police for playing sports on a Sunday. Movies could at that time be shown for a voluntary contribution on a Sunday, but not for a set admission price.
  • Dancing. In 1917, Toronto police cracked down on the perceived problem of — wait for it — young people going to dances to look for a partner. Thus, as the Jan. 31, 1917 edition of the Toronto World reported, “In future, the young women of Toronto who wish to go to a dance hall will have to be escorted there by a young man. Vice versa, the young man will not be admitted without a fair partner.” The crackdown by the Toronto Police morality division came after “complaints of indecorous conduct”, and came with a promise to station police officers at the front doors of Toronto’s dance halls, with orders to arrest “any woman who accosts a man with a view to entering the place.”

Anglosphere’s conservatives march on without the GOP

A mock-up of an "Anglosphere" flag, still in need of a more modern Irish reference. (Click for source.)

A mock-up of an “Anglosphere” flag, still in need of a more modern Irish reference. (Click for source.)

It is perhaps apt that Wikipedia’s map of the Anglosphere makes generous use of the colour blue. Of its six core members, five are or imminently will be governed by right-of-centre administrations: Canada and Britain under their respective Conservative Parties, New Zealand under the National Party, Australia under its incoming (and curiously named) Liberal-National Coalition government, and Ireland under the Fine Gael (“Tribe of the Irish”) party.

The sixth country, the United States, is partially governed by the Democrats who dominate the White House and Senate, and the Republicans who dominate the House of Representatives.

The election of the newest of these governments, Tony Abbott’s Liberal-National coalition in Australia this past Saturday, was observed with keen interest in Canada, despite the precisely 10,008 miles (16,107 kilometres) that separate Ottawa and Canberra, the two countries’ capitals.

During their long spell in opposition from 1993 to 2006, Canadian conservatives turned to their more successful Australian and New Zealander counterparts for advice, especially as the Internet and the falling cost of long-haul travel eliminated the tyranny of distance. The relationship has remained fairly close, as Simon Kent noted today in a Sun Media op-ed:

Abbott and Harper can both claim former Australian Prime Minister John Howard as a mentor, friend and political guide. They are both published authors, with Abbott’s works set on political philosophy whereas Harper’s book on the early history of hockey is set to hit store shelves Nov. 5.

[ . . . ]

With Tony Abbott’s ascent to power there is now a quartet of socially and politically conservative leaders in four of the major English-speaking members of the Commonwealth. Abbott joins U.K. premier David Cameron, Canada’s Stephen Harper and New Zealand’s John Key at the helm of their respective countries at a time when conservative politics seems to be on the rise.

It is a bit of a stretch, however, to describe the four as being of like mind. Kent correctly notes that Abbott, who once trained to become a Catholic priest, is socially conservative, at least at a personal level. Abbott, however, is akin to Harper in his tendency (so far) to focus on economics and to throw his fellow social conservatives no more red meat than absolutely necessary.

Perhaps taking advice from former Australian prime minister Bob Hawke, who once attributed his popularity to the fact that “I don’t exude morality”, Abbott’s party painstakingly avoided topics other than the economy, education, health care, infrastructure and security in its 2013 election platform.

The U.K.’s David Cameron and New Zealand’s John Key, meanwhile, might be typically conservative on economic and security issues, but are less so on social issues. Both of their governments legalized same-sex marriage this year — Britain in July, New Zealand in August — and Key’s government in New Zealand recently passed legislation aiming to regulate rather than prohibit certain drugs.

The policies of “the quartet”, as Kent calls them, stand in sharp contrast to those of the Republican Party in the United States, illustrating a growing separation of mind between American conservatives and their erstwhile Anglosphere allies.

Normally, one would expect the Americans to play a leading role in generating and exporting ideas, given that the Republican Party is by far the Anglosphere’s largest conservative party.

Instead, the Republican Party — long called the Grand Old Party, or GOP for short — has become an absurdly insular and provincial party, almost completely disengaged from the outside world of conservative politics.

Can anyone seriously imagine Stephen Harper, who has a Master’s degree in Economics, suggesting, as one Oklahoma congressman did, that a $9 minimum wage would cause the price of a hamburger to rise to $20?

Or David Cameron calling for a law that would make oral sex illegal, as a Republican candidate for Governor of Virginia has done?

Or John Key, a former U.S.- and Singapore-based Merrill Lynch executive, mulling the idea of putting the New Zealand dollar on the Gold Standard, as the 2012 Republican Party presidential platform suggested for the U.S. dollar — an idea that a writer for The Economist described as “ridiculous, antediluvian, superstitious nonsense“.

In all three cases, such moves would be unthinkable, as their respective parties, whatever their shortcomings, are cognizant like all other parties of the importance of keeping the proponents of flakier ideas, such as those that have emanated from the less-disciplined GOP, in a state of containment.

Thus the small-c conservative parties of the Anglosphere are divided between five smaller ones that periodically play to their base, as all parties do, but are still largely pragmatic in practice, and one big one that seems to eschew reality, risking the future of a country whose successes and failures have impacts that can be felt far beyond its borders.

A global learning tour for U.S. Republican leaders, with stops in Dublin, London, Canberra, Wellington and Ottawa, might well be in order given the success of the smaller parties. But don’t count on it happening soon.

Defending Oz

“Compared to any other English-speaking people, Australians (or a great many of them) are openly, astoundingly racist,” writes Gwynne Dyer, a Canadian newspaper columnist based out of London, in his latest commentary. “You’d have to go somewhere like Russia or China to find people expressing their racial prejudices in such an unselfconscious, almost naive way.”

“And here’s a clue: New Zealanders, similar to Australians in so many other ways, don’t talk like that at all.”

That last sentence might not sound so bad to Canadians, who rarely give much thought to either country. But in the context of the traditional (but generally good-natured) rivalry between Australia and New Zealand, neither side appreciating being unfavourably compared to the other, those are fighting words.

Yet the comparison to Russia and China is perhaps the more unfair one.  The following table shows the results from the most recent wave of the World Values Survey on a question which asked people around the world who they would not want to have as neighbours.

Who people of various countries would not as neighbours. (Source: World Values Survey)

Who people of various countries would not want as neighbours. (Source: World Values Survey. Click to enlarge.)


Only five percent of Australians — who do tend to be fairly direct in saying what they think — said they would not want people of a different race as neighbours. This is comparable to other English-speaking democracies.

By contrast, Russians were significantly more likely to say that they would not want a neighbour of a different race (17%), though even then this seemed to be a less common sentiment there than it was in France (27%) or South Korea (36%).

Likewise, on having immigrants or foreign workers as neighbours, Australians (6% of whom would consider this undesirable) were on par with their Canadian and New Zealand peers. Furthermore, Australians were slightly more accepting of immigrants next door than the survey’s British or American respondents, and considerably more charitable once again than the French and the South Koreans.

Immigration does occasionally come up as an issue in Australian politics, and even prompted a soul-searching documentary series on race relations on Australian television, called Drunk, Dumb and Racist. But immigration also comes up as an issue in Canada sometimes, just as it did 20 years ago when the Reform Party campaigned vigorously on a less-immigration platform, and more recently when academic-turned-broadcaster-turned-activist David Suzuki called Canada’s immigration policies “disgusting” and “crazy”, declaring that “Canada is full” in the process.

Contrary to Dr. Suzuki’s opinion, there is a more convincing case to be made that immigration makes countries like Canada and Australia better places to live, and benefits the originating countries as well. Good thing then that, despite the occasional intemperate remarks, citizens of both countries are relatively comfortable having people from different backgrounds as neighbours.