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Pandemic polarizes U.S., while Canadians generally trust government: expert

Last Updated Apr 22, 2020 at 7:02 am PDT

A woman holds a sign as she attends a rally outside the Missouri Capitol to protests stay-at-home orders put into place due to the COVID-19 outbreak Tuesday, April 21, 2020, in Jefferson City, Mo. Several hundred people attended the rally to protest the restrictions and urge the reopening of businesses closed in an effort to slow the spread of the coronavirus . (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – The divide between left and right is deepening in the United States amid the pandemic but the situation in Canada is not mirroring that of the south.

According to political scientist Hamish Telford with the University of the Fraser Valley, the key difference between “us” and “them,” is our history.

“This is a really interesting phenomenon,” Telford says of recent protests on both sides of the border.He notes in the U.S., politics have been shaped by the country’s past.

“The U.S.’ constitution and system of government was framed more than 200 years ago, on the idea of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness and government was always seen as the enemy of freedom.

“It’s the licence plate motto in New Hampshire — ‘Live Free or Die,’ and a lot of Americans are following that,” adds Telford.

As time passes, partisanship has only worsened in the U.S., with right-wing groups and individuals continuing to push anti-COVID-lockdown messages during protests that have drawn thousands of people across the States.

So firm is the belief in liberty, a small number of Americans are willing to risk their lives for it, Telford says.

“Even though we’re in the middle of a global health pandemic, which may cost their lives, they want their freedom,” he tells NEWS 1130.

While protests appear to be ongoing in the U.S., we’ve only seen small and isolated demonstrations north of the 49th Parallel.

Telford says Canada was founded on a different principle, one of peace, order, and good governance, adding Canadians “by and large want governments to keep us safe.”

He does admit, however, that as restrictions go on, there may be a small increase in these kinds of protests in Canada.

“Perhaps with some greater numbers, but I don’t think we will see them emerge to the scale that we see in the United States,” he explains. “The political cultures of the countries and attitudes towards government are just so different in the two countries, even though, in many other respects, you can’t find two countries that are more alike.”

At the government level, Telford says we have seen a bit of a showdown in Parliament as Andrew Scheer pushed for MP’s to return to the house.

“There are Conservatives looking a little petulant at the moment, so they’ve got a fine line to walk,” he says.

But it’s nothing compared to the  show down we’re witnessing between President Donald Trump (who has even tweeted in support of far-right protesters) and Democrats, public health officials, state legislators, even frontline healthcare workers.

“Democrats by and large concerned about the pandemic, supportive of government restrictions, and Republican supporters going in the other direction.”

More than 820,000 cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed across the U.S. and the country is counting more than 45,000 deaths.

-With files from Mike Lloyd