Public Good as a foundation of the Canadian existence
It is always time for the public good. Especially in Canada.
Public good, as within the context of a broader concern for the well-being of society, as well as within the context of the public policy of a governing structure.
In his remarkable and unique analysis of Canada, Reflections of a Siamese Twin (or Canada at the End of the Twentieth Century), published in 1997, the great Canadian author, essayist and philosopher John Ralston Saul convincingly argues that Canada, is actually an experiment in imagination about the public good. He theorizes that, for all intents and purposes, Canada should not be existing as a country because there are too many conflicting forces to tear it apart (English vs. French; West vs. East; rural vs. urban; the vast, resource rich and empty natural expanses of the North vs. the narrow population strip in the South that wants to exploit it; the “have” provinces vs. the “have-not”s; first nations vs. the European colonizers; the immigrant communities vs. the established ones; the proximity to an economic giant and militarily aggressive superpower and on and on). By any “rational” perspective, he argues, the country should have disintegrated within a few months of its inception. Yet Canada exists and is still one of the most desirable places to live in the world. At the time of the publication of the aforementioned book, Canada was actually at the top of the UN Human Development Index survey of countries. J. R. Saul further argues that part of the reason is that the Canada of today was not built by imperial conquest but rather by a gradual compromise of inclusion, in exchange for a participation in, and an extension of, the public good.
This is however in stark contrast with the philosophical underpinnings of a conservative and right-wing perspective, which can best be summarized in a few points of a general political platform.
1. Less government is good government, presumably because there are fewer opportunities to waste taxpayers’ money.
2. Therefore, less government, i.e. a smaller government, should by definition imply lower taxation levels.
3. Less government also implies less influence over the affairs of the citizenry, their roles in society, their lives, their jobs, their health, their businesses.
4. The individual is the building block of society and the individual is glorified. Government should not interfere in the affairs of the individual, except to ensure their safety and safeguard their property. The rights of the individual almost always trump the rights of society, except in cases of criminal offence.
5. Investment is the key to prosperity, as it allows for the creation of jobs and wealth; therefore, the lesser a government interferes with businesses the better off the economy would be, as it will encourage investment by those businesses.
6. Culture, education, knowledge and any intellectual output is only relevant within the context of economic activity and how it creates financial wealth and prosperity.
7. Interference with business would include any process that would increase their costs; since costs are disincentives to investment therefore governments should not increase business costs by regulation, price controls, subsidies, worker right and wage legislation etc.
While there could be a few more of these, they are all related nuances of the mentioned ones; the differences between the various public policy platforms and flavours of conservatism are really about questions of degree. In other words, what is the shade of grey within the half a dozen or so points above?
The backdrop of this policy-based conservatism is always what I described in part I. The two are not disconnected. Why? Because, as you can see from this list, the fundamental underpinning of this policy platform is purely material and economic. The relationship between the citizen and society is defined purely in material terms. Taxation, investment, corporatism and trade. Power is defined as it relates to financial transactions. The disenfranchised are not entitled to any role in the power relationship, because by definition, they have no material value equivalent. There is no place for the public good in this construct. Community is irrelevant.
Now, if John Ralston Saul is right, and I am yet to be convinced otherwise, and public good is actually what is holding the country together, then the dismantling of the public good will actually destroy the foundations of the country. Remove the glue, remove the nails, remove the cement and mortar and your house will no longer hold together. In your pursuit of market efficiency and low costs, you would have reduced the cost of the maintenance of your house; but, not because you became actually very efficient, but because you no longer have a house. You are a street-person. The only thing you can do is sell off the wood, the bricks, the drywall, the plumbing and fixtures to scrap merchants.
This is further illustrated by how Canadians see themselves. When asked about their identity and how they differ from their American neighbours, very few, if any, mention historical events or forms of government (constitutional monarchy vs. republic). The distinctions that most commonly come up is that a) we have publicly funded health care, b) that we have almost free (or relatively very low cost) university education, c) that we are an officially bilingual country (i.e. highly tolerant of our minorities), d) that we follow a policy of multiculturalism (i.e. cultural diversity and integration vs. an American assimilatory melting pot), e) that we have gun control and f) that we have legal abortions and same sex marriages across our country; the more knowledgeable ones will add g) that we have a longer period of unemployment benefits, h) that we have a much more generous maternity and parental benefit program, i) that we do not have a history of military aggression against any country; and finally j) that we have higher taxes and k) that our entrepreneurs and brightest in our society would make much more money if they moved to the US. In other words, the vast majority of things that differentiate us from Americans that we attach any importance to as a society are related to the public good.
Hence, not only is the public good the foundation of our country, it is also the key to our identity as a people; granted, not the only facet of our identity, linguistic identity of the French culture being another key one, but it would be at least as important if not more so.
I for one do not want this glue to disappear, neither rapidly nor gradually. I don’t want anyone to pick off the pieces.
Who would pick off the pieces of my Canada? Those who want to sell it off today and those who want uncontrolled access to our resources. Not our oil, not our forests, but mainly our water. For financial gain now and for future economic and resulting political power. Water is the oil of the 21st century.
Historical landmarks in the evolution of the concept of public good in Canada
I am not of course arguing for an ideological position based solely on expenditures on the public good. A full welfare state would go immediately bankrupt, as Canada almost did in the late eighties and early nineties. I am arguing for a balance that does not neglect the public good but reinforces it instead. It turns out, so did many Conservative governments.
If we examine our history from the perspective of this notion of the public good, we can see that all the governments of Canada, including Conservative ones had a strong sense of it. In fact, Conservative governments contributed tremendously to it. Now this might sound contradictory to what I have been arguing, the question is why did this happen? The answer is simple. Because the population demanded it and any government that did not contribute to the public good, could no longer govern. In fact, the term Red Tory, as in a conservative who believes in the public good is actually almost exclusively a reference to a Canadian political philosophy.
The trend among Conservative governments actually stopped in 1988 with the second mandate of Brian Mulroney. The “Free Trade” government. Canadians soon realized their mistake and as a result, the Conservative party as we know it disappeared from the political landscape. Red Tories as a political force do not exist anymore because of that mistake.
Let us now look back at major milestones (only really major ones) in this process of building our country. Only achievements are listed, societal issues, debates that did not result in concrete results are not part of this list. Since this is just for illustration, I have not put in dates and other commentary (except a few that I could not resist). The list is chronological in order of Prime Ministers since confederation.
- The cross-continental Canadian Pacific Railway, essentially uniting the Atlantic provinces with British Columbia. Achieved under John A. McDonald; a Conservative PM.
- The Royal Canadian Mounted Police (or the RCMP- formerly called the North-West Mounted Police) extending the rule of law across vast swathes of uncharted Northern territories. Achieved under John A. McDonald.
- The completion of the Parliament buildings in Ottawa. Achieved under Alexander McKenzie; the first Liberal PM, and the only one ever with working class roots. He was actually a stonemason. Arguably the most honest of all the Prime Ministers of Canada. He literally refused British knighthood three times.
- Introduction of the secret ballot in Parliament, also by Alexander McKenzie.
- Creation of the Supreme Court of Canada, also by Alexander McKenzie.
- Creation of the Office of the Auditor General, also by Alexander McKenzie.
- Creation of the Royal Military College, also by Alexander McKenzie.
- Creation of the Royal Canadian Navy. Achieved under Wilfrid Laurier, Liberal PM.
- Canada contributes to the building of the British Commonwealth and becomes an equal partner with the other Dominions. Achieved under Robert Borden, Conservative PM.
- Women achieve full voting rights (except in Quebec), also under Robert Borden.
- Agnes MacPhail, the first woman MP elected to Parliament in 1921; achieved under McKenzie King Liberal PM. She ran for the Progressive Party and later joined the CCF, the precursor of the NDP.
- CBC founded under R.B. Bennett, Conservative PM.
- Canada asserts independence from British Crown, between WWI and WWII as well as leading up to WWII, also by McKenzie King.
- Canada helps found the United Nations, also by McKenzie King.
- Canadian John Peters Humphrey of McGill University drafts the Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted by the UN; achieved under Louis St. Laurent, Liberal PM.
- Canada helps to establish NATO, also by Louis St. Laurent.
- Canada helps to solve the Suez Canal crisis, also by Louis St. Laurent.
- Canada is the main architect of UN peacekeeping , achieved by Lester B. Pearson, during the government of Louis St. Laurent. Pearson, then Foreign Minister, wins the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts.
- Canada becomes a recognized middle power and a force for peace in the world, also by Louis St. Laurent.
- Canada Council for the Arts is created, also by Louis St. Laurent.
- Canada’s social safety net is created, including family allowances, government funded university and post-secondary education and a very early form of public health services covering hospital expenses, also by Louis St. Laurent.
- The Supreme Court becomes the highest court in the land, and cases can no longer be appealed beyond it to Britain, also by Louis St. Laurent.
- The Canadian Parliament achieves the right to amend the constitution without resorting to debates in the British Houses, also by Louis St. Laurent.
- Newfoundland joins the confederation, also under Louis St. Laurent.
- For the first time, the Governor General is appointed by the Canadian PM, not the British Sovereign, who only approves them, also by Louis St. Laurent.
- Equalization payments are introduced, redistributing the revenues from wealthier provinces to “have-not” provinces, also by Louis St. Laurent.
- Major infrastructure projects that essentially are the tools that have created the Canada of today are put in place like the TransCanada Highway, the St. Lawrence Seaway and the TransCanada Pipeline, also by Louis St. Laurent.
- Canada fights against the inclusion of the apartheid regime of South Africa in the Commonwealth, under John Diefenbaker, Conservative PM.
- Members of first nations recognized as citizens with voting rights, also by John Diefenbaker.
- First aboriginal, James Gladstone, appointed to the Senate, also by John Diefenbaker.
- The Canadian Bill of Rights, a federal statute and the main source of the future Charter of Rights and Freedoms, is introduced by John Diefenbaker.
- Social and infrastructure programs extended to the far North, also by John Diefenbaker.
- Alouette 1, the first Canadian satellite is successfully launched, making Canada the 3rd country in the world to launch a man-made satellite (after the USSR and the USA), also during the time of John Diefenbaker.
- The Canada Pension Plan is introduced, under Lester B. Pearson.
- Canada Student Loans is introduced, also by Lester B. Pearson.
- Universal Health Care is introduced modeled after and with the support of its initiator in Saskatchewan, Tommy Douglas of the NDP, also by Lester B. Pearson.
- The auto-pact with the US is implemented, also by Lester B. Pearson.
- A new Canadian flag, the maple leaf (without the Union Jack) is introduced by Lester B. Pearson. Canada celebrates its 100th anniversary.
- Bilingualism becomes official federal policy and Canada is declared an officially bilingual country, also by Lester B. Pearson.
- Legal equality for women is introduced in all domains, also by Lester B. Pearson.
- The world’s first race-free immigration system based on a system of points is introduced, also by Lester B. Pearson.
- The concept of a “Just Society” with several regional development initiatives is launched, by Pierre E. Trudeau, Liberal PM.
- Terrorist cells of Quebec separatism are stared down by the War Measures Act, also by Pierre Trudeau.
- All federal institutions across the country become bilingual, also by Pierre Trudeau.
- Canada pursues a totally independent foreign policy from the US, also by Pierre Trudeau.
- Anik A1, the world’s first national domestic satellite is launched and brings the CBC to the Far North, also by Pierre Trudeau.
- Petro Canada, a crown corporation, is created, also by Pierre Trudeau.
- Canada joins the G7, also under Pierre Trudeau.
- National Energy Program instituted, also by Pierre Trudeau.
- The Canadian Constitution was fully repatriated from Britain, also by Pierre Trudeau.
- The Charter of Rights and Freedoms is introduced as an integral part of the Canadian Constitution, also by Pierre Trudeau.
- The National Gallery of Canada and the Canadian Museum of Civilization are completed, both being architectural masterpieces, also by Pierre Trudeau.
- To fund government expenditures rather than cut them, 23 of 61 crown corporations are sold off, including Air Canada and Petro Canada; under Brian Mulroney, Conservative PM.
- Canada vigorously opposes South African apartheid and is credited with its demise, by Brian Mulroney.
- Canada leads the world to assist the famine victims in Ethiopia, Jo Clark, former Conservative PM and now Foreign Affairs Minister under Brian Mulroney is the main architect of this move.
- Canada stands up to the US against the Reagan interventions in Central America, under Brian Mulroney.
- Apologies are made and compensation paid to Japanese Canadians for wartime injustices and internment in detainment camps, also by Brian Mulroney.
- Goods and Services Tax is introduced, increasing the spending power of the federal government, also by Brian Mulroney.
- The Free Trade agreement is signed with the US, and later expanded to NAFTA to include Mexico, also by Brian Mulroney.
- First woman prime minister of Canada, and second woman to head a G7 country (after Margaret Thatcher), achieved by Kim Campbell, Conservative PM.
- Federal $42 billion per year deficit eliminated, under Jean Chretien, Liberal PM.
- The Clarity Act that defines the legal framework of the separation of a province and that stared down the Quebec separatists once again is introduced by Stephane Dion, Intergovernmental Affairs minister, under Jean Chretien.
- An unprecedented (since Louis St. Laurent) five consecutive budget surpluses are recorded, due to the efforts of Paul Martin Jr. Finance Minister under Jean Chretien.
- $36 billion of the national debt is paid down, also by Jean Chretien.
- $100 billion in tax cuts are delivered, also by Jean Chretien.
- The new and revamped Youth Criminal Justice Act is introduced, also by Jean Chretien.
- The Ottawa Accord, the international treaty to ban land mines is signed by 158 countries largely due to the efforts of Lloyd Axworthy, Minister of Foreign Affairs under Jean Chretien. Axworthy narrowly misses the Nobel Peace Prize which is offered to the NGO member coalition of the same team.
- Canada refuses to join the invasion of Iraq by the US, also under Jean Chretien.
- Same sex marriage (Civil Marriage Act) is legalized in Canada, under Paul Martin Jr. Liberal PM.
- The Kelowna accord, a historic agreement between the Federal government and first nations is signed, by Paul Martin Jr.
- The Montreal round of the Kyoto protocol to reduce greenhouse gas emissions is concluded with the signing on of the US, this is achieved by Stephane Dion, then Minister of the Environment under Paul Martin Jr.
It has been really hard to select these achievements. But it would give you the perspective that I am talking about. Every single one of them is related ultimately to the public good. In fact, in the post WWII years, you can see that Canada tries very hard to project the concept of the public good across the world. This notion even applies to the NAFTA agreement. But more on that later.
As an interesting aside, and in keeping with the theme of the Red Tories, I would like to note that for a long period and well into the early twentieth century, the Conservative Party was actually called the Liberal-Conservative Party of Canada. This was done to accommodate liberal views, to distinguish it from stoic British conservatism, and to ensure that defectors from the Liberal party not only felt at home, but had an influence over policy. Perhaps in this lies another key of the Conservative Party uncharacteristically embracing the public good.
The Conservatives of course later merged with the farmer-based Progressive Party (the same one that gave us the first woman MP in 1921) to form the Progressive Conservatives. A name they kept until their complete absorption into the Canadian Alliance formerly known as the Reform Party founded by Preston Manning. The Conservatives of today have nothing to do with what has been achieved during the short history of the existence of our country. They are the ideological replica of what I have been arguing in Part I and in the beginning of this essay.
NAFTA or a road long travelled
Geography is destiny.
This is true for any country. The business mantra of location, location, location is doubly true for countries. The only difference being is that countries cannot just close shop and walk away. You have to make the best of what you have.
As J.R. Saul would argue, we Canadians seem to have made quite good out of our sort. For such a young nation, the above list is more than impressive. We have the world’s most decentralized country that is literally stretched to the maximum with its internal tensions and yet, we are still doing relatively well. But for how long still?
Throughout our history, our governments have rightfully realized that the country is about an East-West axis at its Southern population strip and about a North-South axis internally. Meaning of course that the geographic tensions that develop internally are really about these two realities. How to unite the Southern strip across large distances and great contrast, while preventing an implosion and takeover by the US. And how to extend sovereignty to the far North that is largely empty and yet is also what defines our country, both in terms of economic potential and from the point of view of our identity. Almost all the efforts have been to extend the public good across these two axes. By using technology (transportation, and telecommunications), through institutions (CBC, the federal government, the RCMP) and through services and state assistance programs. The idea being that this tying together of the disparate landscapes will create a society of mutual support.
This cannot and could not have been done with a purely conservative ideology. Regardless of what you call the party in power. This can only be done by implementing the public good.
That is why, as J.R. Saul points out once again, every single government since confederation, has either governed from the center left of the political spectrum, or has been elected on a policy that was proposed from the left of the governing party. This included all the Conservative governments (except the one elected in 1988). As an example, the creation of the CBC was a very left-oriented proposition (under R.B. Bennett). Diefenbaker was actually elected on a platform that promised to outspend Louis St. Laurent’s Liberals (which in of itself is difficult to imagine, as his predecessor St. Laurent’s government was one of the biggest spenders – and without a deficit – in Canadian history). Saul further elaborates that if the above would not be possible, then the electorate put in power minority governments where the balance of power has been held by the left-wing parties such as the NDP, thus giving those governments the challenge to manage such a situation.
The question is again why? The reason is because ultimately, the electorate as well understood that our country is also built on the notion of the public good.
The “Free Trade” election of 1988 that put in place the 2nd government of Brian Mulroney came to redefine the concept of our continental geographical reality. At the bottom line, it proposed that our concept of ourselves and hence our government is not defined by the two axes that I outlined, but rather by a much larger North-South axis that carried goods and services across the continent. It suggested that our future prosperity does not lie within the enhancement of the public good within our country but rather it lies in a mercantilist approach of a commercial relationship with the world’s economic and military superpower.
This proposition by the way was nothing new, several free trade proponents had been soundly defeated throughout our history. Including the very Liberal Wilfrid Laurier. Mulroney himself came to lead the Conservatives as an anti-free trader by defeating John Crosbie, the ardent supporter of free trade with the US.
As someone who has actually studied the Free Trade Agreement (I still have a copy in a DOS-based Wordperfect file, as well as the printed version in several binders), I can say that the real achievement of the negotiations was not the notion of enhancement of trade with the US. The real achievement for Canadians was the putting in place of dispute resolution mechanisms that would be binding and that would level the playing field against aggressive protectionist legislation by US law makers. At least that was the principle.
In exchange though, we had to give up privileged access to our resources, redefine our view of ourselves and to wage an intellectual war whether our culture and hence the flowing notion of our identity was really just another part of what was collectively defined as the entertainment industry, and as such subject to NAFTA rules or not. In other words, the definition of our existence and relationship with ourselves as citizens in a society and collectivity was being turned into a purely economic one. Conservatism was back to its true ideological roots.
The end result of NAFTA is still the subject of much debate by economists. But some results are clear and undisputed.
· Close to 80% of our international trade is dependent on a single country, the USA. From a business perspective, this would be the equivalent of having one customer. From an investor’s point of view, it would be the equivalent of having shares not in a portfolio but of only one company. Basically no diversification and complete economic vulnerability to the point of almost being considered an economic hostage. Incidentally, this is a behaviour that is practiced by WalMart, the world’s largest company, against its suppliers, who are completely dependent on and hostage to its pricing practices. Closer to home, just ask the investors who only held Nortel Networks shares.
· In the current context of global economic meltdown, the bankruptcy of our single large customer is even more ominous and would probably reverse any economic benefit that might have accrued over the past twenty years. The economists will not have to debate much longer. While individuals might have been beneficiaries; at the macro level, our country will become a net loser.
· The dispute resolution mechanism, while a great achievement for our negotiators (and an enhancer of the public good) proved to be unenforceable. For the simple reason that our partner just refused to abide by the agreement. Canada has repeatedly and solidly won almost every single dispute on the major economic issue of softwood lumber. The bigger irony is that the ideological right of a Harper government actually cites it as an achievement that they had to negotiate a side deal, essentially walking away from hundreds of millions of dollars of illegally imposed tariffs and setting a major precedence suggesting that bullying works in international trade deals which are not worth the paper they are written on. For all intents and purposes, the dispute resolution mechanism is now a just a “paper tiger”.
So now, twenty years later, we seem to be saddled with liabilities and have almost nothing to show for this major blunder.
The Denial of the Public Good and How to Achieve It
As Canadians, this fundamental denial of the public good is at our own expense as a people.
That is why the Conservatives of today (and Brian Mulroney of 1988) have a serious ideological dilemma. They carry the name of a party that has a long tradition of enhancing the public good; yet their policy agenda is a very strong replica of the initial points I made at the beginning of this essay. They can either choose to be dishonest with themselves or the electorate. They have chosen the latter.
The general electorate though is not easily duped. Hence the Conservative need to build alliances (pun intended) with the most unlikely group; Quebec separatism. That was true then with Brian Mulroney who gave us Lucien Bouchard, The Bloc Quebecois and the ensuing 1995 referendum which almost destroyed our country. It is true now with Stephen Harper who acknowledged a “Quebec nation” (leaving millions of francophones who have lived for centuries outside Quebec and have essentially built this country with a denial of their own identity).
In April 2008, in a scathing article titled One Canada or 10 Canadas? Sinclair Stevens, former minister in the cabinets of Jo Clark and Brian Mulroney outlines the evolution of the Harper policy agenda.
He points out how when referring to "Quebec's historical demands," Labour Minister Jean-Pierre Blackburn suggested the following:
"The recognition of the Quebec nation within Canada allows us to think that we can put some meat around it, and that a majority government is more able to do a number of things, while being respectful of all of the provinces," Blackburn said in an interview. On the topic of constitutional change, he added: "When you're a minority, you never know what can happen, so it's not obvious to do that type of thing in the actual context."
Stevens goes further and shows a clear step-by-step progression of the same idea, the implementation of an ideological right policy as follows:
· How on Oct. 15, 1995, Reform party leader Preston Manning and unity critic Stephen Harper presented Reform's "New Confederation" proposal, a package of 20 measures to modernize and decentralize Canada.
· "We propose measures which will assert the autonomy of all provinces and the power of the people well into the future," Harper said.
· Each of the 20 changes could be accomplished without comprehensive federal-provincial negotiations of the sort that led to the failed Meech Lake and Charlottetown accords. Reform's proposals simply required a federal government willing to act. "Canadians want change, not more constitutional wrangling," Harper said.
· Earlier, speaking to a meeting of the National Citizens Coalition on May 24, 1994, Harper said: "Whether Canada ends up with one national government, or two governments or 10 governments, the Canadian people will require less government no matter what the constitutional status or arrangements of any future country may be."
· In 1997, Harper and his confidant Tom Flanagan, writing in their Next City magazine, suggested that coalition-building was the only practical way for the right to seize national power. They said an alliance with the Bloc Québécois "would not be out of place. The Bloc are nationalist for much the same reason Albertans are populists – they care about their local identity ... and they see the federal government as a threat to their way of life."
· In 2001, Harper proposed "a firewall around Alberta."
· In October 2004, Harper made his "Belgian waffle" speech in Quebec City, suggesting that Canada should become a North American version of Belgium, which has autonomous regions. He was sympathetic to this "national autonomy" concept because "Québécois never wanted to be an overwhelmed province in a centralized Canada." Subsequent to Harper's speech, the Belgians had an election that left them so divided they were unable to form a government for more than eight months.
· With little mainstream news comment, Harper – the day after his keynote speech at the Conservative policy convention in Montreal in March 2005– slipped a new section into the Conservative policy paper passed in Montreal. For the first time in Canadian history, a national political party embraced a provincial rights agenda. The section – Part D – binds the party "to ensure that the use of the federal spending power in provincial jurisdictions is limited, authorizes the provinces to use the opting out formula with full compensation if they want to opt out of a new or modified federal program, in areas of shared or exclusive jurisdiction. Consider reforming Canadian federalism, taking into account: (a) the need to consolidate Quebec's position within the Canadian federation; (b) the need to alleviate the alienation felt by the citizens of the West."
You can see the full article here
I have highlighted the parts that actually demonstrate the consistency in thought. Frankly, one wants consistency in thought in political leaders. It just happens that I do not want these thoughts to govern my country.
Because it is not his to give away.
The fact that the majority of Quebecers have already twice rejected the separatist option does not seem to bother Harper the ideologue, bothers me very much.
The fact that we are already the world’s most decentralized country and any further decentralization could actually tear it apart, does not bother Harper the ideologue, bothers me very much.
The fact that Quebec already more than fully occupies all the room it can within a Canadian federation (with all of its full state structures such as control over immigration, a separate legal system, a separate taxation mechanism, a separate pension plan, even diplomatic representation abroad and at a tremendous cost of all of the above to Quebec taxpayers I might add) and that any further divorce from federal powers would actually send it into full statehood and destroy Canada does not bother Harper the ideologue, bothers me very much.
The fact that the denial of the public good, which defines Canada itself, and cannot be dismantled because it will mean the dismantling of Canada does not bother Harper the ideologue, bothers me very much.
He cannot help it though. He is an ideologue. Ideology is not to be confused with ideas. The latter are the outcome of human creativity. The former leads to propaganda. In its extreme form, it builds dictatorships. Communism and Fascism always start with propaganda to win sympathy. In recent history, just go back and see how Iraq was invaded. Healthy public discourse, the foundation of democracy is dismissed as inefficient and unnecessary.
Do I believe that Stephan Harper wants to poison Canadian with the listeriosis bacteria or kill them with nuclear reactor accidents? Of course not.
However, I know for a fact that he wants less government. He believes that less government is better. He believes that less regulation is better. He believes that governments should not intervene in the economy or any sector for that matter. He genuinely believes that it is better for our country as a whole and if most Canadians share his views, that is what he will set out to do.
On the way to get there though, a true and open discourse must be held with the citizens. But that has not been the road chosen. The road chosen is advertising and the reduction of serious and complex matters into single and meaningless words like “Leadership”, “the prudent choice”, “steady as she goes”. In a sense, the image evoked wants to dumb down the electorate and frankly is quite offensive.
A real Conservative agenda, by the definition of conservatism itself, will want to do less inspection and policing. Can you say Walkerton? If your memory is short, it was the poisoning of drinking water by E Coli bacteria, in small Ontario municipalities in 2000 which led to several deaths. Because the Conservative provincial government of Mike Harris had decided that municipal water supplies need not be inspected by higher provincial authorities and should “police themselves”. Can you draw parallels between the listeriosis outbreak that has now killed over twenty people and that one?
You do not have to believe the counter propaganda that Stephen Harper is the Canadian version of a George W. Bush. But the fact is that a) Harper did urge Canada to invade Iraq and b) just this year the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration of the US) grounded the fleet of American Airlines stranding thousands of passengers. United Airlines entire fleet of Boeing 777s was grounded immediately afterwards. Why is this relevant? Because it so happens that the Republicans implemented severely reduced regulation and airlines became responsible for “self-policing and self-inspection”. The FAA no longer sent inspectors in the field. Most of them were fired and the ones who were left became desk clerks who read the “reports” sent in by the airlines. Until a couple of whistle-blowers noticed some discrepancies and missing data in the reports suggesting fraud and blatant disregard for passenger safety. They reported it several times to their management but were dismissed. So they went to the media and mayhem followed.
You want more proof? Please dig deeper into the firing of the head of the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission, Linda Keen. Just Google the story.
The Current Economic Crisis
It is rather ironic and blatantly disingenuous that the Conservative party is campaigning on being a better steward for the economy. There is actually ZERO track record of that being true in Canadian history. More duping of the electorate.
But furthermore, as the remarkable British commentator and political scientist John Gray points out, the current fall of the global economy is the equivalent of the shattering of the Berlin Wall and the destruction of Communism; on the other side of the spectrum of course. See his article in The Observer here:
With the collapse of the fully free markets and the integrated global financial system, things we have been repeatedly told by Conservative ideologues that are ultimate tools not only of prosperity but also the key to democracy itself (Question: how many times have you heard the neo-conservatives mention the words freedom, democracy and free-market economy in the same phrase? Answer: all the time), we find ourselves as a country to have been proven right.
That the public good does matter.
In fact, it is the only thing that matters and might be our sole option not only as a country, but also as a planet.
And that is why I cannot be a Conservative.
Watch for Part III of this series. Why I Cannot Be a Conservative, The Armenian Perspective.
Montreal, October 12, 2008
© Viken L. Attarian