Thursday, February 28, 2019
Breaking Faith with Democracy in Canada
I knew, almost from the outset, that there was something deeply wrong with the government of Justin Trudeau.
The freshly-minted prime minister, perhaps in a moment of hubris, chose to publish online the mandate letters issued to all of his cabinet appointments. What came through from those letters was that ministers were given two co-mandates: one was the bailiwick of that particular ministry (i.e. transportation, defence, etc.) while the other was the Canadian economy. I can vividly remember Trudeau's enviro-min, Dame Cathy McKenna, proclaiming the duality of her role as both environment minister and economic minister. We must not do anything on the environmental front that might impinge on economic growth in the petro-state. Take a minute to get your head around that.
Those mandate letters were a powerful expression of the hold the neoliberal order would have on the Trudeau administration. And so we had a prime minister who had promised to fight the good fight against climate change doing relatively little while continuing to subsidize fossil fuel production and, ultimately, pouring billions of dollars into an expanded bitumen pipeline. That's the economy utterly crushing the environment. Canada would remain, first and foremost, a petro-state.
What we're now witnessing is what happens when the economy butts heads with the rule of law, the administration of justice. With the SNC-L corruption the PMO had to choose - would it be the economy and the party's electoral fortunes in Quebec this October or would it uphold the rule of law and the administration of justice. True to form, the economy and partisan political advantage prevailed again. There were higher interests to be served than upholding the rule of law. Of course, like all skulduggery, that had to be done in private meetings, behind closed doors.
For years, critics of neoliberalism have warned that it's a degenerative disorder that, as it progresses into its final stages, undermines democracy and paves the way for authoritarian, anti-democratic takeover. That's a recurrent theme in Thomas Piketty's celebrated book, "Capital in the Twenty-First Century." (If you don't want to buy his nearly 500 page tome, follow that link to get it free in pdf.) More recently, Chris Hedges wrote of "Neoliberalism's Dark Path to Fascism." If you want something a bit more vintage, check out public intellectual Henry Giroux's prescient 2004 book, "The Terror of Neoliberalism: Authoritarianism and the Eclipse of Democracy."
There is no shortage of brilliant, powerful literature warning us of the ultimate price to be paid for sitting on our hands and doing nothing as the neoliberals corrode our democracy. Just because they're from your party and have a pretty face changes nothing. Even Justin Trudeau is a handmaiden of the neoliberal order. The proof is in the irreconcilable contradictions in his policies, the recurrent cognitive dissonance in his actions and his words. He's not Erdogan or Orban or Trump. We haven't reached that stage yet but do tell me that rightwing populism hasn't already achieved a firm toehold in Canada. There are plenty among us today who have developed a taste for authoritarianism and intolerance. The government of the day has done literally nothing to push back.
The era of Laurier, St. Laurent, Pearson and Pierre Trudeau is no longer with us. Progressive democracy in Canada has been usurped. Unless we reverse that, reconnect to the values of the past, we may have to kiss our own democracy goodbye. This is a perfect moment for Liberals to do a bit of soul-searching.
Brookings just released a paper on "The Anatomy of Illiberal States" - in Europe. The link takes you to the pdf. of the 55-page report. Amusingly it focuses on Europe and seems to have nothing to say about the Illiberal States of America.