York University launches first-of-its-kind Observatory on Populism in Canada
New research team will examine how populism is reshaping political landscapes across the country.
TORONTO, September 26, 2023 — Today, York University researchers are launching a new Observatory of Populism in Canada, a first of its kind endeavour in Canada that will generate, support, and highlight robust empirical and theoretical research on populism’s growing role in Canadian society.
Populism can take on many meanings and align itself with different, sometimes opposing, political ideologies. Whether left- or right-wing, populist rhetoric divides the world between a moral, disadvantaged, and homogenous “people” and corrupt and self-serving “elites” deemed to undermine the general will. Politicians using populist frames present themselves as offering the only legitimate solutions to the threats posed by such “elites”. They also frequently rely on disinformation and demonization of minority “others” to gain influence.
“Comprehending populism’s influence is uniquely challenging in Canada, where, until recently, a pervasive tale of “exceptionalism” insisted that it had not arisen as a significant political force,” says the Observatory’s Director Emily Laxer, an Associate Professor of Sociology at Glendon College and the York Research Chair in Populism, Rights, and Legality. “Yet, the ascent of parties, leaders, and movements that use populist rhetoric to mobilize Canadians’ votes and approval suggests an urgent need to rethink that understanding.”
This growing influence is further compounded by a trend known as “mainstreaming,” in which ideas and policies traditionally belonging to the far ends of the political spectrum are increasingly being taken on by mainstream political parties and actors. This process of mainstreaming is, among other things, driving the explosion of interest in populism, in Canada, and around the world.
The Observatory will include collaborations from a multidisciplinary team of researchers, including Rémi Vivès, Assistant Professor of Economics at Glendon College and quantitative researcher in the social sciences, and Efe Peker, Assistant Professor of Sociology and Political Science at the University of Ottawa whose research focuses on state-religion relations, secularity, immigration, and nationalist populist politics in Canada, Western Europe, and the Middle East. It will also promote the work of populism researchers across the country.