The scourge of populism and why it could happen here

Dec 3, 2018 | Event Summary

In his role as Ambassador, Mr. Allen witnessed the surge of right-wing populism in Italy, France, the Netherlands and Austria as well as the ascent of left-wing populism in Greece and Spain. A witness to those historical events, Mr. Allen was able to provide a first-rate overview of the populist dynamics in Europe including the developments which precipitated the UK “Brexit” vote in 2016. Additionally, Mr. Allen discussed the significance of the 2016 US Presidential election and offered his analysis as to why Canada’s liberal democracy is not immune from the populist impulse.


• Many factors contribute to the rise of populist movements on both the left and right side of the political spectrum. However, there is a growing sense that Europe’s populist impulse was amplified by the fiscal austerity measures adopted after the global financial crisis and insufficient burden-sharing by national governments in response to the irregular flow of migrants (2015-2016).

• In the last decade, Canada has managed to avoid a high-casualty terrorist attack, the worst effects of the global financial crisis, and it has not been overwhelmed by large-scale migration movements. Nevertheless, recent public opinion surveys (ie., 2017 Edelman Trust Barometer) suggest that Canadians’ popular trust in traditional political institutions is declining somewhat.

• The European and US political events of 2016 need to be taken seriously and not treated as an anomaly. Fortunately, there are measures that can be taken to avoid a populist surge in Canada. They include: a strengthened social safety net, public backing for investigative journalism, political support for Canada’s ethnic diversity, and managed migration.


Canada cannot afford to be complacent. In addition to a global populist threat, Canada faces several converging risk factors: stagnant wages (indexed for inflation); declining productivity; an aging demographic; and rising international protectionism. Because of the painful policy decisions that may be visited upon Canada in the coming years, respect for constructive public dialogue and for non-partisan engagement has never been more important.


Born in Winnipeg in 1950, Jon Allen (LL.B., University of Western Ontario, 1976; LL.M., International Law, University of London School of Economics, 1977) joined the then Department of External Affairs in 1981. In addition to postings abroad in Mexico City (1983-85), New Delhi (1989-92) and Washington (1997-2001), Mr. Allen spent his early career in the Legal Bureau of the Department representing Canada in disputes under the Canada-US Free Trade Agreement and working in the areas of human rights, humanitarian and environmental law.

Mr. Allen also held the positions of Director General, North America Bureau (2001-2004), Minister (Political Affairs) at the Embassy of Canada in Washington (2004-2006) and Assistant Deputy Minister, Americas (2010-2012). From 2006 to 2010, he was Ambassador of Canada to Israel. From 2012 to 2016 he was Ambassador to Spain and Andorra. From December 2012 to July 2014, he was Chargé d’affaires a.i. to the Holy See.

Mr. Allen is currently a Diplomat in Residence at Fulbright Canada, a Fellow at the Munk School of Global Affairs at the University of Toronto and a Distinguished Fellow of the Canada International Council.