Just how different is Canadian society from American society?

I don’t know about the validity of this argument but two sociologists argued a while back that Canada and the United States could be better understand through breaking them into four total regions:

Our research, covering almost 30 years of contemporary and historical analysis, shows the four-regions model fits the evidence much better than a simple two-nations model, in which Canada and the US in general are portrayed as very different. There certainly are other internal differences that could be considered, like those between the US west coast and New England, or between British Columbia and Canada’s Atlantic region.However, we found clear and consistent evidence that the strongest lines of demarcation separate Québec and the rest of Canada, on the one hand, and the American South and non-South, on the other, with national differences usually far less prominent.

In Regions Apart, and in other studies that we and others have conducted, Québec is clearly the most left-liberal region of North America on topics like gay rights, same-sex marriage, common-law marriage, adolescent sexuality, capital punishment, taxation, government spending, unionization, military intervention and so on. The US South is the most conservative or traditional on these same issues. The rest of Canada and the US are usually quite similar on these and other cultural, social, political and economic questions…

What Jim and I called the four “deep structural” principles of the two nations are still intact, though more as ideals to strive for, and not as perfectly achieved realities in either country. These include liberty, individual freedom to pursue one’s goals, while also accepting the rights of others to pursue their goals; equality, the same rights and opportunities for all citizens, though not necessarily the same life outcomes; popular sovereignty, government of the people, by the people and for the people, as Abraham Lincoln so eloquently put it; and pluralism, the belief that all individuals have the fundamental right to be different, even if other people don’t always like or agree with their differences.

As for divergences, I think we have long been divergent in the area of criminal justice, where we see consistently much higher US incarceration and homicide rates, for example. However, even here some differences are exaggerated, for, as shown in Regions Apart, Canada actually has somewhat higher rates for some non-violent crimes, like auto thefts and break-and-entry.

Another area of substantial difference or divergence over the years concerns our roles in the world. The US is far more powerful politically, economically and culturally than Canada, and such differences inevitably give rise to occasionally different views about how to address some of the world’s problems. But we have also been close political allies and economic partners for many decades, so even here our divergent positions can be overstated in many instances, and can regularly change toward more convergence again at a later time.

I don’t know how accurate such an analysis is without looking further at the methodology of how these regions were developed. Why four regions? How was the cluster analysis undertaken? How much variation is within these categories?

At the same time, this made me think: just how much do Americans know about Canada? Could they even identify these two broad regions or some of the key tensions in Canadian life today? On the other hand, I suspect Canadians know more about American life. This could be due to a variety of factors yet it seems odd that we wouldn’t know much about Canada given some of our overlapping background and interests as well as geographic proximity.

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