Canada Shifts to Right Under Harper, Mimicking the United States
Canada Panel with Leo Panitch and Yves Engler
SHARMINI PERIES, TRNN PRODUCER: Welcome to the Canada panel on The Real News Network. Today we are going to tackle two topics: Canada’s shift to the right under Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s leadership, and how democracy reigned in a small Canadian town, Kitimat, British Columbia, where they voted no to the tar sands Northern Gateway Pipeline.
For this panel, we’re joined by Leo Panitch. Leo Panitch is the Canadian Research Chair in Comparative Political Economy and a distinguished research professor of political science at York University in Toronto. He’s the author of many books, the most recent among them U.K. Deutscher book prize winner The Making of Global Capitalism: The Political Economy of the American Empire and In and Out of Crisis: The Financial Meltdown and Left Alternatives.
We’re also joined by Yves Engler. Engler is a Canadian commentator and author. His most recent book: The Ugly Canadian: Stephen Harper’s Foreign Policy. And previously he published The Black Book of Canadian Foreign Policy and Canada in Haiti: Waging War on the Poor Majority.
Let’s begin with you, Leo. So, as a immigrant to Canada, my parents sent me there to study because it was internationally renowned for being reasonable, a safe place to study and raise a family, with universal healthcare, affordable education, foreign policy focused on peace and human rights. But all that has changed. Why?
LEO PANITCH, PROF. OF POLITICAL SCIENCE, YORK UNIVERSITY: It was always a bit of a myth, Sharmini, as you no doubt discovered when you got here.
That said, what has happened to Canada in the last quarter-century, and what has especially happened under the government of Stephen Harper, should finally convince people outside of Canada and all those Americans who look upon Canada as their sweet–should finally convince them that things have utterly changed.
We have a very right-wing government, and have had now for the better part of a decade, which is well to the right of the American government and of a good many of the Republicans state governments. Just yesterday, The Ottawa Citizen announced that it would be cutting another 9,000 jobs from the federal public service on top of the 20,000 that it’s eliminated since 2012. Of course, there were also vast layoffs in the 1990s under the Liberals, but this government in particular has targeted those particular services and departments that are most essential for a civilized community, ranging from ecological regulation to providing resources to veterans, closing down veterans offices, laying off almost 10 percent, or forcing the CBC, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, the equivalent of the BBC in Canada, forcing them by virtue of massive cutbacks to layoff, most recently, almost a tenth of their workforce.
If you want to hear more, I would just say that cultural, you know, just as you say, this wasn’t a country that had a militarist culture. You couldn’t have imagined someone getting elected in Canada the way Reagan and Thatcher did, on making Canada great again in the militaristic sense. This is now a government which relishes in military symbols. If you go to a movie in this country now, you see a government-sponsored ad that invites young men to join the Army to fight chaos, whatever the hell that means. And you go to a sports event, and the same type of militarism that is associated with imperial America is now rammed down our throats.
PERIES: Yves, do you want to jump in?
YVES ENGLER, AUTHOR AND POLITICAL ACTIVIST: Yeah. Well, there’s no doubt that the Conservative government has really ramped up the militarism. I think that in terms of sort of understanding where this is coming from, in terms of the rightward shift in Canada, I think that the rise of the tar sands is an important explanation of that and, you know, this is very much a sort of, you know, Texas-style oil politics, you know, associated with the George W. Bush, that the Conservatives represent their base being in Alberta.
Also, in terms of foreign policy-wise, the rise of Canadian mining companies abroad, and that’s been two decades of development of country like in Mexico, where Canadian mining companies basically didn’t exist 20 years ago. Now 75 percent of the mining companies, hundreds of Canadian mining companies in Mexico, are Canadian. And that’s very much–they’ve been the beneficiaries of a neoliberal shift in Mexico in terms of opening that area up to foreign mining. And that goes across all–all across the globe.
So I think that the Canadian capitalist class is one that’s been particularly tied into so-called free market capitalism, the, you know, reforms with the Free Trade Agreement, NAFTA, the, you know, Free Trade Area of the Americas, World Trade Organization. This has been very beneficial to the Canadian mining sector, Canadian banks, which are big players around the world. So I think at this point we have a Canadian business class that is almost entirely supportive of that model of extreme capitalism which is particularly harmful to majorities of population, to the environment. And the Harper government is–it’s just, you know, the reflection of that, I think, an extreme reflection of that in the political realm.
PERIES: Leo, you’ve been making a note of how Canadian foreign policy and Canadian domestic policy is actually mimicking U.S. policy. Do you want to elaborate on that?
PANITCH: Well, perhaps the thing to concentrate on exactly at this moment is the way the Conservative government here has borrowed from the Republican right to introduce a fair elections bill, which will be called the Fair Elections Act, which will make elections much more unfair. It’s directly oriented, as has been the case in the States, to make it more difficult for people to vote, requiring forms of identification which are expensive and which young people and particularly people from the native community often don’t have. In order to do this, they have cut back on the powers of the chief electoral officer. They’ve attacked the commissioner of elections. All of this is in the legislation.
There is a mobilization against this. The opposition parties are opposed to this. A hundred and fifty university professors signed an open letter last month. There’s going to be another next week.
But you’ve seen this kind of thing in the United States, and it follows the Conservatives’ adoption of the type of electoral tactics. The appalling types of advertising that has become so common in the United States in elections is now becoming common in Canada.
So I think Mark is right that this does have to do with them following the tendencies of the Canadian capitalist class, and especially the oilmen in Alberta. But I also think that this government is actually leading the capitalists and ideological respects and doing so in an ugly way.
PERIES: What are some of the indicators of this? And how are Canadians feeling about this shift?
PANITCH: To a large extent, the public is fairly apathetic. It’s a sort of low point of political activism in many ways. So the response is not where it should be. I think that the one example of last week that you mentioned, on an issue to–discusses the vote in Kitimat against the Northern Gateway Pipeline. This is a community on the west coast of B.C. that would be the main beneficiary in British Columbia of building this pipeline across the province to get oil out, tar sands oil out to the West Coast and international markets. And the fact is, this community of 10,000 that was being offered 180 jobs by Enbridge voted nearly 60 percent against pipeline, with a huge onslaught of money pumped into the community by Enbridge in terms of trying to convince people to support the pipeline.
The fact that they voted against it, I think, is the sign that this, the oil project, the extreme energy project that the Conservative government and a big chunk of the Canadian business class is tied into, is not one that is necessarily supported by majorities of people in the country, be it for concern around, you know, spills of oil and, you know, destruction of ecosystems, be it around questions of global warming, be it around questions of even, you know, exporting jobs and questions of refining, where the refining process should be. There’s a lot of, you know, opposition to this extreme energy agenda, which I think is something to be happy about. But, unfortunately, I think that the mobilizations in general are not sufficiently strong from social groups to unions to different citizen groups.
PANITCH: I’d like to add to that that not only the unions, which used to be seen as so much more social unions, social movement unions, than the American, but really aren’t anymore in Canada, but also our social democratic party, which so many people south of the border look to as proof that the Canadian left is strong, has been playing into, rather appallingly, a low-tax platform. In this province, in Ontario, the NDP shied away from the case that social movements and unions were raising to raise the minimum wage higher than what the Liberal government here introduced. The central platform of the leader of the new Democratic Party, federally and here in Ontario provincially, is very much oriented to not raising taxes. And this simply has the function of contributing to people’s aversion to paying taxes, and understandably, when people are being hit in every other respect in their pocketbook. They’re tempted to trade their votes for the hundred bucks that they’re promised they might sell [incompr.] save a year by voting for a no-tax platform. The result of that is to feed into the decimation of public services. And therefore the lack of leadership that Ian is pointing to from unions also applies to the lack of leadership from the New Democratic Party or social democratic party.
PERIES: So thank you very much, both of you, for joining us.
PANITCH: Good to talk to you, Sharmini.
ENGLER: Thanks for having me.
PERIES: And thank you for joining us on The Real News to Network.
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