Hey, what do you know? Right in the middle of an unwholesome national festival of Schadenfreude (pleasure in other people’s suffering) about our neighbours’ absolutely insane, and yet also hilariously pathetic politics, Canada up and finds a way to prove that politically, it is just as deeply and fundamentally screwed up. Who knew? Well, actually, more of us than you might suspect, and for a whole bunch of reasons. I’m going to make an attempt to dig into a few of them today. My American friends already know that I take informed and yet also uncompromising shots about the policies of their government which do great damage. Principle absolutely requires I am at least as clear about stupidity and craziness on my home turf.
My favourite thing about social media is that I have made so many friends overseas, that I now write to more people elsewhere than near. I’ve always been very interested in the world anyhow, but just as with learning a new language, nothing makes you reconsider your own lazy assumptions better than having to explain them to someone who doesn’t already have them! (That is, hasn’t had them stealthily installed by simple acculturation). And yes, this principle applies just as well to our modern crisis of willful mutual unhearing between tribes, as it does to separation by culture and or distance.
So – here’s a quick national review for those from elsewhere, because you will almost never read any stories about Canada which reflect the whole – since ninety-nine percent of journalists who write about Canada from here or abroad, even the best of them, belong to the same smug and spoiled upper middle class clique.
Some cynical wisemen will tell you that the worst things about Canada are our smugness and hypocrisy – but while these are indeed both common faults, you are already being lied to. The self-designated wits who say stuff like this are actually completely convinced that that their smug tribe (Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal all represent very powerful outposts of this quality of arrogance) actually are the only “True” Canadians. The faults of far less arrogant others are beneath their notice!
This condescension and arrogance is so common and grotesquely shameless, that many people in small town and industrial Canada absolutely hate Toronto as the symbol of it, and greatly resent the way so many ignorant urban bourgeois bigots keep trying to rewrite the national story to suit their pride and also their cynical electoral purposes.
Which in turn, points us to something which has been fundamentally wrong with the Liberal brand for a considerable time – a deep seated contempt for mark one democratic principles (REPRESENT ALL THE PEOPLE) based upon the modern technocracy-as-religion delusion that there is a right policy for everything, and only a wrong kind of person could possibly object to it.
If you’re still trying to figure out what is so contemptible and dangerous about Neo-Liberalism, I would like to suggest this is actually an easier way in, than going through economics. It is a belief system which considers itself a rightful aristocracy, and non-believers to be sub-human (though it would never use such clear language). Too dumb to know what is best for them. Not ever to be listened to, considered, or shown simple respect.
Now, for a bit of balance – Canada actually is a rather mellow place on a lot of fronts (and my readers know I love my town). A surprising number of our defining historical events were compromises and accommodations, where many other nations celebrate annihilating victories, and this still shows in many areas. Policy wise, we roughly split the difference between American kill-or-be-killed and Nordic humanist-buffered capitalism. You really can’t call a resource extraction economy which has never managed to find the national will for a sustained investment in value-added a socialist project in any serious way, but our social programs do effectively reach many, and there is always political benefit to be harvested in trying to go further still, on simple humane grounds. “Nice” still sells here – and that’s not something to be ashamed of.
Now I am a Toronto kid, and while I am sincerely trying, I cannot completely set aside my perspective, but I would still argue that our hypocrisy is more or less national – but only if you first grant this hierarchy of contempt. One thing all of Canada except Toronto agrees on, is that they hate Toronto (even the other social justice hotspots still hate us, for doing it all wrong). But one thing all of Canada including Toronto agrees on, is that we’re really damn glad we aren’t American.
We feel superior for not invading, exploiting and destroying so many people overseas, and for being kinder to our own as well. But if we actually wanted to earn that high-ground, we would have to forgo the benefits of America’s lethal adventurism, and we do the opposite, every time – crowding around the fresh kill hoping for a bone with meat on it. No, we didn’t send any soldiers to fight in Vietnam, but we were very happy to sell them most of the copper needed for all those bullets and bombs.
America is a Lion with Alzheimers, bloody of tooth and claw, but it doesn’t ever really quite know why. But on that same scale, Canada is a hyena with syphilus, always in for a cut of the spoils (and a shameful dose of snark). You can recognize our rare Canadian statesmen and women, because they actually have stood up to the lion on principle. Lester Pearson made a prescient speech in Buffalo NY opposing the Vietnam war at it’s outset – soon after, the sainted Lyndon Johnson grabbed him by the collar and lifted him right off his feet, bellowing “How dare you come into my living room and piss on my carpet!” (No, the rabies ain’t new – nor Lebowski’s wrath, it seems). Paul Martin gently destroyed an all-Americas trade deal by giving a keynote speech announcing to the assembled potential signatories that “America does not honour their trade deals” (as indeed we have learned the hard way). Martin’s next election was plagued with dirty tricks and perfectly timed concocted scandal. Sadly, like so many places around the world, we don’t seem to make politicians with that sort of principle and backbone anymore – or if we do, we sure as heck don’t want to elect them!
What we elect now are charismatic actors, backed up by a team of poll-chasing business school graduates. What do we get from them? A pyrotechnic festival of obfuscating metrics – but most crucial work is not ever done – because these days it is nearly impossible to accomplish change, without someone considering it a grave injustice – and (up until recent new innovations in folly) no one wants to risk starting a voter revolt which plays directly into the hands of their opponent.
The especially weird Liberal two-face posture might make more sense in this contrast. Federal Liberals were long champions of Canadian content rules for Canadian broadcasters. Because broadcasters were required to have a certain percentage of Canadian content, they had to commission a whole lot of production for a sustained period of time. Toronto and Vancouver in particular now have extremely busy high-end film and television industries (just as Montreal is an international powerhouse – and a cultural leader also, in terms of the games world), thanks to far sighted tax policies and content requirements.
But no one of a certain age will ever be able to forget Liberal Member of Parliament Sheila Copps, who I outright liked for her nerve and wit in question period, standing in the house of commons to declare Canada does not have a culture. A shockingly honest summary of the rot in the Liberal brand.
What she really meant was – we Liberals are disconnected elitist snobs, the kind of people who talk big about the working class, but treat waiters like servants (an even more pronounced problem of the supposedly hard left NDP party – but that’s a takedown for another day), and we will always be ready to show casual disrespect to everyone who ever contributed to what we already are, just to court the immigrant vote (important everywhere, absolutely crucial in the Toronto region).
For a couple of decades now, I’ve had more friends who were born elsewhere and came to join our national project than I have Canuck chums, though many of both. Further, for more than three decades I have been making the argument that Canada is a million times more fun, interesting and culturally rich, because of the contributions of successive waves of immigrants. Toronto used to be the city of churches – our recent high water mark is much more like the city of festivals.
BUT – there is and has always been a TON of rich, wonderful and diverse culture all across Canada – and this shockingly pig-ignorant bourgeois and shamelessly bigoted modern idea that vast numbers of good hard working people deserve to be dismissed with outright contempt, because they don’t agree with a particular modern conception, blinds us to the full range of what we must learn, do and be, in order to make a whole society function (something those we are now popularly encouraged to disparage so much, worked a great deal harder on, than we show any signs of ever being willing to).
I adore scholarship and culture of all kinds – high brow and cheesy – but I would still far rather live in a world composed entirely of farmers, than a world of sociology students and literary critics. Not only would we all survive longer and eat better, we’d whine a hell of a lot less, solve more problems, and have way way way more fun!
Okay now, what is a Justin Trudeau anyhow? He is a schoolteacher, I swear, I have worked with this guy. When he showed up to a party in blackface, he thought he was being charming and daring and sexy. A little bit of transgressive fun – ha ha! When he first instituted a (long overdue) annual Day of Truth and Reconciliation, and then took his family on holiday for it, instead of meeting with native leaders, he was only hoping to avoid causing (or having to hear) any bad feelings, that’s all.
He thinks everyone should be nice, follow the rules, show up to class on time and obey, or else he should be able to punish them – because after all, the shaping of young minds has been entrusted to him. Except – that isn’t his damn job anymore, and he still shows no sign of understanding that the leader of a democracy has to represent the people his teacher-mind would rather put in detention – exactly as faithfully as those he would sit at the head of the class with a big gold star.
The best thing Justin did was take a page out of his father’s book. Trudeau senior’s first official act (1969) was to make homosexuality legal in Canada. Like him or not (and that argument will never end) he was brilliant, and clearly thought about making sure he left a positive legacy, whether he had a long career at the helm or not. “Government has no place in the bedrooms of the nation” was his particularly clear and excellent way of putting it. This was about liberty and respect for citizens.
Justin’s need to get the whole class singing the same song made his own move less inspiring. Again and again he made it clear that he wasn’t legalizing cannabis in Canada because it was the right thing to do, or because roughly ten percent of the Canadian public enjoy it, decade after decade. He even said it wasn’t about unjust arrests and lifelong damage (which it sure as hell was, to a whole lot of those ten percent). He said legalization was a program designed to displace organized criminal gangs, and remove (actually, divert) one of their key revenue streams. But he also displaced all the cool farmers and medicinal growers who had accumulated vast learning and taken great risks to help cancer patients for the last half a century. (No other medicine is better for Chemo, ask anyone).
Still, even with all cool points absent – the accomplished policy is an important demonstration case, and also another humanist policy distinction with the American national government. We’re glad no one is being hauled off to jail for having a joint anymore, and we are working on erasing old convictions also. Well done Justin!
Since then? Well, there aren’t a heck of a lot of things you can get done, when you are determined to dodge hard feelings, and avoid being totally honest with anyone.
The SNC Lavalin case was interesting. I break with a lot of people on that one, because I understand exactly why he, as Prime Minister, exerted extreme pressure on his Justice Minister to allow an “out” for one of our weirdest and most corrupt international corporate titans. Balance of exchange anyone? Very simply, were SNC Lavalin excluded from bidding on Canadian infrastructure projects for years, Canadian taxpayers would end up transferring billions of Canadian dollars into the hands of the even more weird and troublesome Bechtel, and similar American firms. There was a clear, simple and strong case on national interest (and we were sparring against Trump at the time, so fair play and sportsmanship were not on offer from that quarter). But Justin didn’t have the balls to say any of that. He thought he ought to be able to solve a key problem of economics, corporate governance and international diplomacy by being adequately peevish, and having someone else make it go away.
And so, to now – I have had to step away from my usual voracious consumption of international news the last few days, because so many columnists who I generally like, have been very lazily taking their lede from mainstream Canadian journalists, and thus getting the whole story wrong. Telling only the smug arrogant Rosedale clean-fingernail version of things – that is, the kind of a story which makes every other part of the country absolutely hate us! (and not without reason).
No, it is not a gang of white supremacists come out of the woodwork. The Spartacists always used to send six people to the front of every parade with a big banner, and then get a photo, so they could proclaim in “The Workers Vanguard” that thousands showed up just for them, and not their actual anti-poverty or anti-nuclear cause.
No they aren’t rabid anti vaxxers either – though we really ought not to be using that phrasing anymore, don’t you think? We now have adequate evidence to prove it does absolutely nothing to persuade those with reservations, and frankly, respect is also a non-negotiable part of any sound governance – something we have clearly forgotten just as badly as senile Joe has, though with considerably less of an excuse.
Now here’s something I really never expected to say. Despite missing a few very helpful policies (like guaranteeing enough paid sick time for those with covid to get over it, before economics forced them back to work, where they might spread it again), our conservative provincial government has done a better than expected job at managing the emergency. Policy hasn’t been outstandingly great or horrible on the international scale (our urban lockdowns have been severe – but compliance and results also much better than for many), the thing is, every single time Ford had to use government power to compel behaviour, he has appeared genuinely reluctant to do it, and also very aware of how much sacrifice he was asking of everyday people.
I know there are a million technical arguments about measures and timing – but I swear the importance of tone in this emergency has been crucial. When Ford says he wants to close things as little as possible, because he knows people are desperate to get back to their lives, we actually believe him. Not just because he is pro business (and this is the key thing so many leftists here miss about the Ford approach), but also because he really does think the famous ‘little guy’ deserves respect.
I have had simple personal encounters with stalwarts of the left who proved themselves contemptuous entitled and shockingly honourless, in their private dealings. Liberal smugness may even transcend that of the definitively sanctimonious NDP, for being even less self-aware and more condescending, with even less heart or conviction.
What the truckers needed was a meeting with a truly humble leader who could convince them that he hated every government power he had to invoke, appreciated everything they contributed, and regretted how much his measures cost them. This was a long way beyond Justin’s personal capability, but that isn’t the truckers’ fault.
Now before anyone gets too excited – let me ask one the crucial question which really scales the “THREAT” of this “genuinely fed up with sneering contempt” movement, before the government deliberately escalates, in order to provoke a discrediting reaction from the furious minority which can predictably be found (and if necessary, helped along) in every group of disparaged and unheard protestors.
By a quirk of Canadian law, the party in power can choose to set the date of an election when it favours them. Parties in opposition always promise to change this unfair advantage, but once they win power, they love the corrupting lever too much to surrender it. (Like Obama, with W’s insane extension of government powers).
Now – can anyone honestly tell me with a straight face that the truckers are being more reckless for less reason than Trudeau was, when he chose to call a very early election right in the middle of the pandemic? He absolutely knowingly endangered citizens across the country, just for political sport and ego. These truckers aren’t there for sport, nor to represent hatred. They want their rights respected – and especially to know that suspension of the principle of bodily integrity was a temporary emergency move, and not a power which goverment will now attempt to enshrine forever.
Trudeau may think sneering “Let them eat cake” and slamming the portcullis will cut it. But this has not generally proven to be an especially successful strategy for governance in times of widespread working class unrest.
Sadly, the brilliant woman who I was absolutely certain would be our next prime minister, and might even have saved the Liberal brand itself, Christia Freeland, has now also taken herself out of serious contention by revealing her inability to act in a diplomatically objective manner when it comes to Russia. Terribly sorry, but we don’t need a Hillary here either. The Albright doctrine is perhaps the only political philosophy even more cynical and outright evil than Kissinger’s. At least the neocons have the excuse of staggering stupidity.
So now I’m left scratching my head. Is it going to be Prime Minister Poliviere and Premier Ford? Prime Minister Ford and Premier Brown? The other way around, maybe?
I am pretty sure Canada isn’t the only place where this is happening. Conservatives are gaining spirit and inertia, mostly because the centre and left have decided to shit their diapers.
To be sure – so far we are earnestly told that actually, someone else put those diapers on them, snuck the shit in there, and then forced them to whine and say all that dumb stuff.
But at some point we will need to find and back some serious principled and sane adults in the centre and on the left, or the right everyplace is going for an extended power-play against an empty net.
Translating the key take-away here into American terms – as frightening as rednecks can be made to appear to smug city folk who almost always take their extraordinary relative advantages for granted, it is actually New York and California where insane new wars, vast foreclosures and shockingly inhumane commodifications of life itself are planned, not Arkansas, Idaho or Wisconsin. Not that you’d ever know it, from the moralizing rhetoric.