Milloy: Where is the progressive counter-narrative to Pierre Poilievre?

Important question:

As a member of the lefty chattering class, I am not sure what concerns me more — the rise of Pierre Poilievre or the inability of his progressive critics to develop a positive counter-narrative to his message.

The main criticism of Poilievre from those on the left seems to be that he is an angry “nut” with bad policies.  Although he may be popular in some circles, they would argue that it tends to be with the not-too-bright and ill-informed. Clever people from downtown Toronto, Ottawa or other urban centres have no time for him.

Labelling someone early in the game can work — just ask Michael Ignatieff — and maybe Poilievre is simply a crank who is just stirring up a small fringe minority.

Perhaps there is nothing to worry about.

I am not convinced.

From where I sit, it looks like Pierre Poilievre has touched a nerve. Canadians are angry, exhausted, divided, and looking for answers. Poilievre is providing them. He has developed a narrative about how he would address Canada’s problems that has caused many to sit up and take notice.

So, how is the other side responding?

Let’s start with one of Poilievre’s most high-profile promises. If he were prime minister, he would fire the governor of the Bank of Canada for his apparent role in fuelling inflation.

“Ridiculous,” say his critics. Not only does Poilievre not understand basic economics but look at what happened when John Diefenbaker tried to fire the governor of the Bank of Canada in 1961.

I have news for my progressive friends: When gas is two bucks a litre and grown children can’t afford to move out of their parents’ basement, ordinary Canadians aren’t interested in history lessons from the 1960s.

Then there is the issue of restoring freedom — the central theme of Poilievre’s campaign. Once again, the progressive crowd dismisses Poilievre as touting crazy conspiracy theories about big government.

But hold on a minute. I don’t care where you stand on vaccines, lockdowns, and masks. The last few years has seen an unprecedented intrusion in the lives of Canadians. Governments have regulated and curtailed our activities like never before, all in the name of public health.

Where are the limits? What is the progressive narrative about the need to balance personal freedom with the common good? Where is there even an acknowledgement from those on the left that the level of government control over our lives during the pandemic has been scary for some Canadians and they understand and respect that fact?

What about natural resource development and climate change?

Like all Conservative leadership candidates, Poilievre is anxious to cancel the carbon tax and dramatically increase oil and gas production in Canada.

What is the left’s counter-narrative?

Why has it been seemingly impossible for progressives to develop an easy-to-understand story that explains how we need to balance short-term support for oil and gas through actions like the purchase of the Trans Mountain Pipeline and approval of Bay du Nord offshore oil project with a long-term commitment to fighting climate change?

How about defunding the CBC — a proposal that always produces cheers at any Conservative gathering?

Sure, enjoying Canada’s national network over a latte or a glass of chardonnay is a favourite pastime for of every small “l” liberal.  But is it just me, or has the CBC increasingly turned into a northern version of MSNBC? Shouldn’t we be concerned that a big chunk of the population doesn’t see their views represented on our taxpayer-funded network?

Could progressives not even acknowledge the concern and outline a way forward to improve our national broadcaster?

And yes, Poilievre appears to have an unhealthy obsession with cryptocurrency and its growing presence in the global economy.

But how do progressives propose to deal with this emerging phenomenon?

What about the whole style of political discourse these days?

Poilievre claims that Canada is governed by “a small group of ruling elites who claim to possess moral superiority and the burden of instructing the rest of us how to live our lives.”

Ouch!

Be honest all you lefties. Can you see how some people (maybe many people) might view progressives that way? What are you going to do about presenting a style of leadership that is open, prepared to listen and willing to engage?

I end this column where I began. Maybe Pierre Poilievre will ultimately go nowhere.

But be careful. Although I am generally uncomfortable with comparisons between Canadian politicians and Donald Trump, there is one point worth making: Love him or hate him, Trump entered the 2016 election campaign with a whole range of easy-to-understand solutions to the apparent ills facing the United States. The counter-narrative from the other side left much to be desired.

Let’s not make the same mistake here in Canada.

Source: Where is the progressive counter-narrative to Pierre Poilievre?

Graves and Valpy: Who supports the ‘freedom’ protesters and why

Useful and informative public opinion insights:

In the turbulent 1960s, American journalist Hunter S. Thompson spent nearly a year following around the Hells Angels outlaw motorcycle gang. His most striking conclusion was not their violent hedonism but their “ethic of total retaliation” against a technologically advanced and economically changing America in which they felt they’d been left behind.

As he wrote in an article for The Nation, that kind of politics is “nearly impossible to deal with” using reason or empathy or awareness-raising or any of the other favourite tools of the left.

And in 2016, political scientist Susan McWilliams Barndt, also writing in The Nation, borrowed Thompson’s language to describe her fellow citizens who elected Donald Trump, introducing a new, deeply polarized right-wing politics into her country’s civic life.

Which brings us to the occupation of Ottawa and the blockading of border-crossings and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s invocation of the federal Emergencies Act — in Canada, for heaven’s sake.

“Thompson was the only American writer to warn coastal, left-liberal elites about their disconnection from poor and working-class white voters,” wrote McWilliams Barndt.

“Thompson’s Angels were mostly working-class white men who felt, not incorrectly, that they had been relegated to the sewer of American society. The manual-labor skills that they had learned and cultivated were in declining demand.

“Though most had made it through high school, they did not have the more advanced levels of training that might lead to economic or professional security,” wrote McWilliams Barndt.

“Their lack of education,” Thompson wrote of the Angels, “rendered them completely useless in a highly technical economy.”

Source: Who supports the ‘freedom’ protesters and why

Losing steam, Polish government plays immigration card

Sad but not unexpected:

As it loses steam in the polls, Poland’s right-wing populist government is playing the anti-immigration card that helped it win in 2015, hoping to take back the political initiative, analysts said.

Thousands of migrants — most of them from the Middle East — have crossed from Belarus into eastern EU states, including Poland, in recent months.

The EU suspects the influx is engineered by the Belarusian regime in retaliation against increasingly stringent EU sanctions, with Poland the Baltic states calling it a “hybrid attack”.

Political attention in Poland in recent weeks has focused on a group of around 30 migrants camped out on the border between Poland and Belarus.

Poland is refusing to let in the migrants, said to be Afghans by a charity trying to help them, or give them aid without the consent of Belarus.

“It cannot be ruled out that there will be early elections next year… and it is by no means certain that the Law and Justice (PiS) party will win a majority or manage to piece together a coalition,” said Agata Szczesniak, a political analyst for the news portal OKO.press.

The government lost its formal parliamentary majority earlier this month after the departure of a junior coalition partner.

A recent poll by Kantar also found that PiS had fallen by three points in the polls and is now neck-and-neck with the main opposition grouping, Civic Platform, at 26 percent.

“To go back up in the polls, PiS is trying to replay what happened in 2015 but even more so. It is focusing public emotion around the image and rhetoric of a war” against migrants, Szczesniak said.

During Europe’s migration crisis of 2015, PiS leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski scored electoral points in parliamentary elections that year with his anti-immigration rhetoric, including warnings about the diseases and “all sorts of parasites” that the migrants might bring with them.

– ‘Holy Polish territory’ –

The government has remained intransigent over the migrants on the border even after multiple appeals from the UN refugee agency, the Council of Europe and the European Court of Human Rights.

Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki has said he is protecting “holy Polish territory”.

Dressed in military-style wear, he has visited the border to announce the building of a fence.

Culture Minister Piotr Glinski has promised to “defend Poland against migrants” and Defence Minister Mariusz Blaszczak has sent 2,000 soldiers to the border.

“What is happening at the border is political gold” for the government, said former EU chief Donald Tusk, now head of Civic Platform.

Adam Szostkiewicz, a political commentator for the weekly Polityka, said the government was “building its election campaign around this”.

But analysts pointed out that public feeling around the issue has changed in recent years.

Many Poles sympathise with Afghans and are growing used to higher levels of immigration in the country, particularly of Ukrainians and Belarusians.

“At the time, around 70 percent of Poles said they were opposed to letting in refugees. Today, it is 55 percent,” said Szczesniak.

– Confusion –

The government may also be sending a mixed message.

In recent days, it has also evacuated almost 1,000 Afghans who worked for Poland’s military contingent.

“On the one hand, the PiS is helping Afghans and on the other it is rejecting them. This creates confusion,” said Szczesniak.

Szostkiewicz said the fact that the crisis could be orchestrated by Minsk “does not justify the lack of basic empathy… and Poles can see that”.

The situation of the group blocked at the border has also prompted pleas from Poland’s Catholic Church, which is traditionally close to the current government.

Poland’s leading Catholic clergyman, Archbishop Wojciech Polak, has appealed for political leaders “to be guided above all by the spirit of hospitality, respect for new arrivals and goodwill”.

Source: Losing steam, Polish government plays immigration card

Boswell: Ten suggestions to help avoid a Trump-like nightmare in Canada

A range of possible measures, some which focus on political culture, others require institutional change, and some more realistic than others. But a good list to discuss and debate (respectfully of course!):

While the CNN hosts expressed shock and disgust, other networks turned their cameras away and Late Show host Stephen Colbert choked back tears, I felt a deep satisfaction when U.S. President Donald Trump spoke directly to the American people (and the world) on Thursday night and launched a scorched-earth attack on his own country’s democratic process — declaring it corrupt and fraudulent because it was failing to recognize his unmatched greatness and divine claim to renewed power.

Had Trump shown an ounce of decency or graciousness in that moment, there might have been an inclination among his Republican allies, certain political observers and even some historians to frame their final judgment of the worst president in U.S. history more forgivingly.

Instead, no one should be able summarize the term in office of the 45th U.S. president as anything but a nightmare, its end — or at least the beginning of its end — suitably incoherent, desperate and terrifying.

But the Trump horror show of the past four years isn’t something Canadians should too swiftly forget. There are many lessons to be learned from what our neighbours to the south have been enduring since 2016 — though this country and the entire world has suffered along with them.

The following is a shortlist of 10 things we Canadians need to be thinking about in charting our own political future in a way that should prevent Trumpism from ever triumphing here.

 We need greater vigilance in calling out and condemning dog-whistling bigotry — not to mention undisguised bigotry — and other strategically divisive speech and actions among fringe political forces and mainstream actors alike;

 We need to demand basic decency in our political discourse and punish corrosive, hyper-partisan rhetoric in which legitimate opponents and other important players in public affairs (such as journalists) are characterized as enemies;

 We must establish a fully trusted electoral system in which the efficiency, transparency, fairness and integrity of the voting process is guaranteed with adequate funding and the best technology and organizational protocols;

 We should move toward an electoral system in which citizens’ voting preferences are more fairly reflected in the composition of our legislative bodies, and where majority power cannot be obtained without majority support at the polls;

 We must extend and expedite efforts to identify, condemn and curb transparently false, incendiary, conspiratorial communication in all digital and other forms;

 We should foster a political culture in which arguments are routinely scrutinized to ensure evidence-based, science-backed, logical thinking prevails over groundless assertions, no matter how colourfully or passionately expressed;

 We must promote greater ethnocultural diversity and gender equity at all levels of our representative democracy to ensure decision-making bodies, the public service and public discourse better reflect the true complexion of our ever-evolving population;

 We have to redouble efforts to improve all Canadians’ understanding of what responsible citizenship requires in a participatory democracy, recognizing the importance of both free speech and tolerance, media literacy, and basic knowledge of civics, history, geography, math and science;

 We need to recognize that achieving and maintaining a stable, constructive democratic culture in this country requires a high degree of social cohesion, political unity and mutual support across the federation’s provincial and territorial jurisdictions;

 We also need to understand that safeguarding democratic cultures in any country requires a sustained, collective commitment to promoting similar values internationally through strong, multilateral, global institutions.

It goes without saying that this really is just a shortlist. Canadians need to do much more to prevent the rise of a demagogue here.

We need to treat the Earth sustainably, we need to respect each other’s human rights and the rule of law, and we need to strive to promote social and economic justice — as well as social and economic freedom — while creating and recreating a healthy political culture.

But in those maddening, pathetic, horrifying moments at the White House presidential podium on Thursday night, Canadians were given a parting gift by Trump the Terrible: an enduring reminder that we can’t ever let politics in this country descend to such dark and dangerous depths.

Randy Boswell is a journalist and Carleton University professor.

Source: https://ottawacitizen.com/opinion/boswell-ten-suggestions-to-help-avoid-a-trump-like-nightmare-in-canada

Why Is Europe So Islamophobic? The attacks don’t come from nowhere.

Of note, but article is too dismissive of the impact of Islamist-inspired extremism and terrorism on public opinion and political reactions:

We live in a time of Islamophobia.

In February, two violent attacks on Muslims in Europe, one in Hanau in Germany, the other in London, took place within 24 hours of each other. Though the circumstances were different — the attacker in Hanau left a “manifesto” full of far-right conspiracy theories, while the motivations of the London attacker were less certain — the target was the same: Muslims.

The two events add to a growing list of violent attacks on Muslims across Europe. In 2018 alone, France saw an increase of 52 percent of Islamophobic incidents; in Austria there was a rise of approximately 74 percent, with 540 cases. The culmination of a decade of steadily increasing attacks on Muslims, such figures express a widespread antipathy to Islam. Forty-four percent of Germans, for example, see “a fundamental contradiction between Islam and German culture and values.” The figure for the same in Finland is a remarkable 62 percent; in Italy, it’s 53 percent. To be a Muslim in Europe is to be mistrusted, visible and vulnerable.

Across the Continent, Islamophobic organizations and individuals have been able to advance their agenda. Islamophobic street movements and political parties have become more popular. And their ideas have been incorporated into — and in some instances fed by — the machinery of the modern state, which surveils and supervises Muslims, casting them as threats to the life of the nation.

From the street to the state, Islamophobia is baked into European political life.

This has been nearly 20 years in the making. The “war on terror” — which singled out Muslims and Islam as a civilizational threat to “the West” — created the conditions for widespread Islamophobia. Internationally, it caused instability and increased violence, with the rise of the Islamic State in part a consequence. Domestically, in both Europe and the United States, new counterterrorism policies overwhelmingly targeted Muslims.

In Britain, for example, you are 150 times more likely to be stopped and searched under Schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act — a draconian piece of legislation that allows people to be stopped at ports without “reasonable suspicion” — if you are of Pakistani heritage than if you are white. And then there are policies that in the name of “countering violent extremism” focus on the supposed threats of radicalization and extremism. In place across Europe, including in the European Union, such policies expand policing and counterterrorism to target the expression of political ideologies and religious identities. In practice, Muslims are treated as legitimate objects of suspicion.

In this setting of suspicion, a network of organizations and individuals preaching about the “threat” of Islam has flourished. Known as the “counter-jihad movement,” it exists as a spectrum across Europe and America of “street-fighting forces at one end and cultural conservatives and neoconservative writers at the other,” according to Liz Fekete, the director of the Institute of Race Relations. In Europe, groups like Stop Islamization of Denmark and the English Defense League have been central to fostering violence against Muslims.

In America, the relative absence of grass-roots, street-based groups is more than made up for by the institutional heft of the movement — its five key organizations include Middle East Forum and the Center for Security Policy — and its proximity to power and influence. The movement is funded by what the Center for American Progress calls the “Islamophobia network,” with links to senior figures in the American political establishment. The movement has successfully popularized the association of Muslims with an external “terrorist threat,” of which President Trump’s so-called Muslim ban is a prime expression.

What’s more, far-right parties built around Islamophobia and the politics of counter-jihad have become electorally successful. Vlaams Belang in Belgium, the Sweden Democrats and the Alternative for Germany have in the past few years become major parties with substantial support. And their ideas have bled into the rhetoric and policies of center-right parties across Europe.

Successive center-right political leaders have repeatedly warned against “Islamist terrorism” (Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany) and the incompatibility with European values of “Islamist separatism” (President Emmanuel Macron of France). The banning of forms of Muslim veiling in various public spaces — from the hijab ban in French schools and restrictions for teachers in some parts of Germany to an outright ban of the face-covering niqab in public spaces in Denmark, Belgium and France — shows how anti-Muslim sentiment has moved comprehensively from society’s fringes to the heart of government.

Britain has led the way. In 2011, it expanded the scope of its counterextremism policy, known as Prevent, to include “nonviolent” as well as “violent” manifestations. The change can be traced to the neoconservative elements of the counter-jihad movement: It was successful lobbying by Policy Exchange and the Centre for Social Cohesion (now part of the Henry Jackson Society), both widely regarded as neoconservative think tanks, that secured it. The expansion of the scope of these policies effectively turns schoolteachers, doctors and nurses into police operatives — and any Muslim into a potential security threat.

In Britain, we can see a vicious circle of Islamophobia, replicated in some form across Europe. The state introduces legislation effectively targeting Muslims, which in turn encourages and emboldens the counter-jihad movement — whose policy papers, polemics and protests propel the state to extend legislation, all but criminalizing aspects of Muslims’ identity. The result is to fan Islamophobic sentiment in the public at large.

The way such an atmosphere gives rise to violence is complicated. Anders Breivik, the Norwegian who killed 77 people in 2011, described his massacre as an effort to ward off “Eurabia” — the theory, popularized by Bat Ye’or and fervently taken up by the counter-jihad movement, that Europe will be colonized by the “Arab world.” Likewise, the attacker in Hanau fixated on crime committed by nonwhite immigrants and possessed what the German authorities have called “a deeply racist mind-set.” Both drew from the groundswell of Islamophobic rhetoric that has accompanied policies that single out Muslims for special scrutiny. But both operated alone, and neither maintained links to any organization or party. Their actions were their own.

The line from policy to act, rhetoric to violence, is very hard to draw. And the process by which Islamophobia spreads across European society is complex, multicausal, endlessly ramifying.

But that doesn’t mean it comes from nowhere.

Narzanin Massoumi (@Narzanin) is a lecturer at the University of Exeter in Britain and a co-editor of “What Is Islamophobia? Racism, Social Movements and the State.”

Source: Why Is Europe So Islamophobic?

The Chinese Roots of Italy’s Far-Right Rage

Good long read and analysis of populism and the far right. Always better to have some fears for the future than not:

Like everyone in her family and most of the people in the factories where she labored in this town nurtured by the textile trade, Roberta Travaglini counted herself an unwavering supporter of the political left.

During her childhood, her father brought her to boisterous Communist Party rallies full of music, dancing and fiery speeches championing workers. When she turned 18, she took a job at a textile mill and voted for the party herself.

But that was before everything changed — before China emerged as a textile powerhouse, undercutting local businesses; before she and her co-workers lost their jobs; before she found herself, a mother of two grown boys, living off her retired parents; before Chinese immigrants arrived in Prato, leasing shuttered textile mills and stitching up clothing during all hours of the night.

Surviving the era of ‘tantrum style’ politics

John Geddes draws on Northrop Frye in this interesting column:

Anyone clinging to sanity deserves a mechanism for coping with the latest Donald Trump outrage. The socially sanctioned default response—I couldn’t imagine him going any lower, but he’s done it again—is too benumbed to feel nearly adequate. My own defensive twitch is to mutter the words “tantrum style” at the iPhone screen when news appears of the inevitable worst-yet presidential utterance, which draws some looks on the bus, but at least I’m not left entirely speechless.

I lifted the phrase from a lecture series Northrop Frye delivered in 1961, which was preserved in a slim book called The Well-Tempered Critic. Midway through a virtuosic explication of the sort of language deployed by the Trumps of this world, the late Canadian literary theorist described the basic transaction: “A mob always implies some object of resentment, and political leaders who speak for the mob aspect of their society develop a special kind of tantrum style, a style constructed almost entirely out of unexamined clichés.”

Frye was at his best in precisely cataloguing the topics covered in the clichés spouted by the tantrum-throwing ego. “It can express,” he said, “only the generic: food, sex, possessions, gossip, aggressiveness and resentments.” Doesn’t that satisfyingly sum up Trump’s constricted range? He’s aggressive and resentful, of course, and a vicious gossip, and obsessed with possessions. But don’t pass over the seemingly quotidian first item on Frye’s list: food. Trump was never more Trumpian than when—in recounting how he told Xi Jinping over dinner at Mar-a-Lago about a U.S. missile strike on Syria—he gloated that they were, at that moment, eating “the most beautiful piece of chocolate cake, and President Xi was enjoying it.”

It’s not the usual line of attack to parse Trump closely enough to grasp how his fixation on the menu fits with all the rest. His racism, his nativism, his populism—these are all aspects of the era’s dominant figure that lend themselves to analysis by writers who come at him through political conviction or even political philosophy. The spate of books and essays that might be gathered under the heading Trump vs. the Enlightenment are almost touching in the earnestness of the authors as they extol values handed down from the 18th-century, like respect for democratic institutions and regard for science, now banished from the White House.

But these approaches can only remind us of what Trump and the rest of the right-wing populists are undermining, not how they’re doing it. In other words, the political thinkers who can help us get clear on what’s worth defending aren’t much help in figuring out what’s put us on the defensive. For that, we don’t need philosophy, but we might be able to make use of a literary critic’s insights in order to fathom how Trump’s crude rhetoric can possibly be working.

He’s a voice, after all, not a mind. If stray scraps of ideology cling to his blather, they don’t add up to much—certainly nothing coherent enough to make any clear-headed listener doubt the basic tenets of democratic liberalism. But he sure knows how to string together clichés—or, as they say on Twitter, make a thread of them—and the world evidently can’t or won’t block him. Frye left us a guide to understanding his tantrum style, and, even better, a way to start thinking again about fostering a culture that hears how empty it really is.

Born in 1912, Frye’s concerns were rooted in his reaction to the totalitarianism that was on the march as he came of age in the 1930s, when he was studying at University of Toronto and Oxford. Hitler’s raving never quite stopped echoing for him, right through to his last big book, 1990’s Words With Power, published the year before he died, in which he describes how the most debased political rhetoric comes down to a “shrieking head” ranting until the “steady battering of consciousness becomes hypnotic, as the metaphor of ‘swaying’ an audience suggests.”

Frye was never swayed by the pull fascism exerted on, to stick to his literary field, Eliot and Pound. As for any tug from the left, well, he once reportedly dismissed rival critic Terry Eagleton as a “Marxist goof.” Frye proposed arming citizens against ideological assaults with educated imaginations, so they would know a verbal bludgeoning when they heard one. “Literary education should lead not merely to the admiration of great literature, but to some possession of its power of utterance,” he wrote in The Well-Tempered Critic. “The ultimate aim is an ethical and participating aim, not an aesthetic or contemplative one, even though the latter may be the means of achieving the former.”

The notion of literary appreciation underpinning participatory citizenship might well land as naïvely bookish. Yet it would be a mistake to assume Frye was out of touch. Despite his tweeds and rimless spectacles—not to mention the intimidating reputation draped over him after his daunting masterpiece, Anatomy of Criticism, appeared in 1957—he never really retreated into his Blake, his Shakespeare, and his King James Bible.

For instance, he dutifully watched countless hours of miscellaneous TV for the Canadian Radio-television Commission in the early 1970s. From the notes he jotted down, which were published much later, we know he was astute enough about popular culture to see football was the medium’s ideal sport (its “discontinuous and intensely localized rhythm seems to me the rhythm of television”) and to greatly enjoy a segment of a CBC comedy special co-created by Lorne Michaels (soon to break big with “Saturday Night Live”).

He grappled more systematically with his times in a 1967 lecture series published as The Modern Century. Frye spoke of how the liberal ideal of social progress had devolved, at the individual level, to the progress of time ticking toward death. When life feels so pointless, so alienating, many individuals shield themselves by adopting a  “deliberately frivolous” attitude, he observed, ignoring news other than tabloid “human interest” pieces. (Imagine if Frye had lived to witness the rise of reality TV.)

At the same time, he detected in advertising and propaganda—and especially their new hybrid progeny, PR—the ascendant forms of language. Decades before the Internet emerged as an all-encompassing digital counter-reality—ushering in a presidency that’s only fully itself only on Twitter—Frye sensed something like it coming. “The triumph of communication is the death of communication: where communication forms a total environment, there is nothing to be communicated,” he wrote.

He was never easy to label. Frye insisted that literary criticism must not be an adjunct of any ideology, whether feminism or Marxism or, back in his day, Freudianism. His resistance to isms in his core work was known to sow confusion about where to peg him on the left-right spectrum. On one hand, the RCMP kept a secret file on him, their interest reportedly prompted by his involvement with a “teach-in” on China at University of Toronto in 1966; he also opposed the Vietnam war and apartheid in South Africa. On the other hand, he scoffed at the student radicals of the ’60s, who sounded to him, as a former student of the ‘30s, to be repeating the “formulas of the ignorant and stupid of a generation ago.”

In other words, he was more or less a centrist liberal, which frustrated his detractors during his lifetime. How could such a formidable genius be so politically bland? I think this largely explains why he’s fallen so far out of intellectual fashion. Yet today—with the best parts of the postwar status quo we used to take for granted under siege by the forces of raw stupidity—Frye’s critical preoccupation with cultivating what he called democracy’s “shaping and controlling vision” takes on an unforeseen urgency.

In the roiling spring of 1969, when he was accepting an honorary degree at Acadia University, Frye pleaded for a return to a “revolutionary belief in democracy and equality,” arguing that, at least for Americans and Canadians, “the dynamic of democracy is an inclusive one, and it moves toward dissolving the barriers against excluded or depressed groups.” He acknowledged where North American society was falling short, but believed the solutions had to be found in its own myths. “The old middle-class and white-ascendancy stereotypes are no longer strong enough to hold society together, and of course they were never good enough,” he said that day. “But the recovery of its own democratic tradition is the key to the present identity crisis on this continent.”

What might be impeding the recovery of that tradition? More than 50 years ago, Frye warned that the comfortably prosperous democracies are vulnerable to an insidious internal blight more dangerous than any overt ideological challenge. “The most permanent kind of mob rule,” he wrote in The Modern Century, “is not anarchy, nor is it the dictatorship that regularizes anarchy, nor even the imposed police state depicted by Orwell. It is rather the self-policing state incapable of formulating an articulate criticism of itself and developing a will to act in its light.”

Sensing that their state is paralyzed in this way, citizens grow susceptible to the empty calls to action bellowed by Trump, or the Brexiters, or any number of subsidiary blowhards. When well-intentioned politicians can’t come to grips with climate change or shrink income inequality, reform immigration or fix health care, why keep voting them in? Supposedly enlightened leaders who haven’t been able to muster plausible critiques, or summon the will to act on them, won’t put populism back in its place until they regain their mobility.

Along with recovering the capacity to move on what matters, they’ll need to find the language to regain the respect of distracted voters. Frye wasn’t against healthy rhetoric. In Words With Power, he cited the most redoubtable of classics—Lincoln’s Gettysburg address and Churchill’s 1940 speeches—as examples of “how an ideology maintains itself in a historical crisis.”

Lincoln and Churchill, he wrote, didn’t appeal so much to reason, as to a shared understanding that respect for the rational is integral to an even deeper social bond. “The principle invoked is that we belong to something before we are anything, that our loyalties and sense of solidarity are prior to intelligence,” Frye said. “The sense of solidarity is not simply emotional any more than it is simply intellectual: it might better be called existential.”

And that solidarity was, for Frye, reliant on the vision that makes a society more than a mob. By vision, he meant everything we lump together, in a post-religious era, as culture. He placed the utmost importance on schools and universities doing the work of keeping genuine culture alive in students’ imaginations. That job, however, cannot be reduced to some sort of ideological indoctrination. At its heart, it must be about instilling a familiarity with and a taste for great stories—the sensibility most likely to carry with it a strong distaste for insults and lies.

What goes on in the classroom takes on real urgency where liberty is most threatened, and thus most valued. In Hong Kong, the high-school level liberal studies curriculum is being blamed by the Beijing regime and its apologists for creating a generation of pro-democracy activists. Frye would have been fascinated, and even more intrigued by reports that link recent efforts to enhance liberal-arts education at Hong Kong’s universities to the cause of bolstering liberal-democratic values there.

But that’s in a city under severe duress. In complacent North America, skeptics will doubt public education is up to a task as existential as reinvigorating democracy through the teaching of the humanities. Think about it this way, though. Let’s say the question is, “What is needed to keep liberal democracy healthy?” and your answer does not include, “The schools will have to do more heavy lifting.” In that case, the alternative answer escapes me. We need to teach the basic mechanisms of democracy (what we call “civics”) and the literature and art that bind us together as a democratic society (what Frye called “culture”).

Near the end of The Well-Tempered Critic, he described what culture accomplishes at its best, on the broadest, most democratic level. “It does not amuse,” Frye wrote, “it educates, hence it acts as an informing principle in ordinary life, dissolving the inequalities or class structure and the dismal and illiberal ways of life that arise when society as a whole does not have enough vision.” If that sounds utopian, will anything less suffice when dystopia commands a beachhead in the most powerful office in the world?

Source: Surviving the era of ‘tantrum style’ politics

Unpacking the People’s Party’s Fear of ‘Radical Multiculturalism’

Will see how this turns-out post the debates. And while I haven’t compiled candidate data (working with Samara and others to do so), anecdotally there so seem to be a fair number of visible minorities, some immigrants, some subsequent generations, among their candidates:

The People’s Party of Canada says it is “inclusive,” but how does that square with its calls to scrap the country’s Multiculturalism Act, tighten our borders, promote “Western civilization values” and cut immigration by more than half?

More diversity will “destroy what has made us a great country,” leader Maxime Bernier tweeted last year in a long, Trumpian thread.

Bernier, who narrowly lost the Conservative leadership to Andrew Scheer in 2017, founded the People’s Party in September 2018.

Since then, it has alarmed critics across the political spectrum, including some former supporters who are worried that xenophobic, and even racist, members of the radical right, as seen in the U.S. and Europe, now have a political home in Canada.

“What the PPC is doing risks normalizing far-right ideology,” said Brian Budd, a PhD student in political science at the University of Guelph who researches right-wing politics and populism in Canada.

The party uses the language of inclusion to communicate its ideas, noted Budd.

Those studying far-right parties in Western democracies have found that the most successful ones in Europe use the language of liberalism, civic values, and the national interest as a Trojan horse to normalize discrimination in the mainstream.

The strategy allows such parties to say they’re pursuing national unity when they’re actually promoting exclusion. It allows them to posit that hate speech is actually the free speech of a democratic society.

“It’s a built-in defence against accusations of racism,” said Budd.

It’s the kind of strategy that Conservative Kellie Leitch used in her bid for re-election in 2015. Leitch said she wanted to establish a “barbaric cultural practices” tip line to “defend Canadian values.”

Bernier used a similar approach in his Twitter rant against diversity, warning that “people live among us who reject basic Western values such as freedom, equality, tolerance and openness.”

While populist right-wing parties, including the People’s Party, have attracted supporters who are white supremacists, Budd doesn’t view the party as all-in advocating for a “homogenous, white European society.”

The party has been quick to point out that it has candidates who are immigrants and people of colour — proof, it has said, that it is not anti-immigrant or racist.

And it is willing to accept newcomers if they “share fundamental Canadian values, learn about our history and culture and integrate in our society,” Bernier has said.

That can be understood as “conditional multiculturalism,” said political scientist Erin Tolley of the University of Toronto.

The party’s immigrant candidates have said that they don’t see a problem with limiting immigration or with Bernier’s view that immigrants must assimilate and take on the party’s definition of “Canadianness.”

Rocky Dong, the party’s candidate in Burnaby North–Seymour, used a metaphor to explain his support for the policies.

“If you have one chopstick, it breaks easily,” he said. “If you have many chopsticks, they’re hard to break.”

Integration is crucial to national unity, said Dong, 48, who arrived in Canada from China in 2001. He helps international students integrate on a daily basis at work, connecting them with housing and education.

Another party candidate, Baljit Singh Bawa of Brampton Centre, who immigrated to Canada from India in 2000, said he was able to integrate thanks to his own drive to improve his English and a three-year stint working in Dubai “to get that international exposure, to get myself out of my comfort zone.” He wants others moving to Canada to integrate in similar ways.

Budd said that immigrant candidates allow the party to showcase its idea of the model minority — “the immigrants who have come in and successfully assimilated without support from the state.”

“A lot of Canadians like to think that Bernier is simply importing something successful from elsewhere,” he said. “But what he’s really doing is trying to adapt ideas and discourses to the Canadian context.”

Having these model immigrant candidates adds a made-in-Canada flavour to the kind of populism Bernier is building; it’s more visibly colourful than whiter movements in other Western democracies.

“It’s about population management,” said Budd, “while ensuring the privilege and supremacy of European culture.”

According to the party’s platform, it seeks to manage newcomer populations by:

  • Cutting immigration to between 100,000 and 150,000 people a year (Last year about 321,000 people immigrated; in the peak year under Stephen Harper, 280,700 arrived in 2010);
  • Focusing on economic immigration to fill labour gaps, while stopping the intake of temporary workers and people entering through family reunification programs;
  • Interviewing newcomers to ensure they subscribe to “Canadian values and societal norms;”
  • Eliminating the Multiculturalism Act and spending on multiculturalism;
  • Stopping “illegal migrants” and “false migrants” entering via the U.S. border;
  • Move to a reliance on private sponsorships to pay for refugee settlement, ending government support.

Bernier describes his vision in the liberal language of “harmony and the maintenance of our Canadian national identity.”

He has also attempted to justify his plans economically for his libertarian supporters, saying the party aims to cut down on state-funded “specialist services” for “freeloaders,” said Budd.

Bernier has said that some cultures, like First Nations, Cape Breton and Quebec’s Eastern Townships “deserve to be nurtured” because they were “developed in Canada” and “don’t exist anywhere else in the world.”

Political scientist Tolley said regional cultures are true of any country. “It is interesting that they’re trying to suggest that these regional cultures can’t exist alongside immigration and multiculturalism,” she said.

The party’s desire to clamp down on immigration and promote “Western civilization values” has led critics, including some former supporters, to accuse it of attracting and harbouring racists, white supremacists, anti-Semites and conspiracy theorists.

People’s Party events have been attended by such far-right individuals as Faith Goldy, an advocate of the conspiracy theory of white genocide who has verbally attacked immigrants and Islamic culture; Paul Fromm, a self-described “white nationalist” based in Hamilton who directs several far-right groups in Canada; and members of the Northern Guard, a militant anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim group that is an offshoot of the Soldiers of Odin.

This has caused trouble with some party supporters.

In July, the entire board of a Winnipeg riding association resigned, saying “racists, bigots, anti-Semites, and conspiracy theorists” had a large presence in the public conversation around the party.

The board members also said they were “appalled” to see “disinformation and distrust… encouraged with wink and a nod now.”

Last week, People’s Party candidate Brian Misera of Coquitlam–Port Coquitlam called on Bernier to “do more to help us disassociate from far-right groups that really have no place in our society.” The party has since revoked Misera’s candidacy, saying that he broke Elections Canada rules by acting as his own financial agent.

Bernier has responded by saying he doesn’t know everyone who attends his rallies and that “people who are racist and [don’t] believe in the Canadian values aren’t welcome in our party.”

Sanjay Jeram, a senior lecturer in political science at Simon Fraser University, believes Bernier’s failure to condemn these far-right elements more strongly is linked to efforts to build the new party.

“My feeling is he’s trying to cobble together a party that’s having trouble with organization,” said Jeram. As an upstart party trying to compete with the Conservatives, Bernier “can’t afford alienating people who he might not want part of the bigger message.”

Jeram said that debate about immigration levels shouldn’t be taboo but cautions against empowering more dangerous anti-immigration constituents. “The party should be more careful to screen candidates who have views that might actually incite violence,” he said.

“In a liberal democratic society, we shouldn’t be limiting debate. But that debate can go into the realm of targeting people for their race, gender, ethnicity or religion and making them vulnerable. It’s possible for people to take those messages and turn them into the legitimization of violence or discrimination.”

Stewart Prest, who also lectures in political science at SFU, said the party’s language is worth scrutiny. For example, it often decries what it calls “radical multiculturalism.”

That “could translate into disliking a particular group, Muslims being singled out,” he said.

Bernier’s attempt to redefine immigration and multiculturalism is a “grand project,” said Prest, as Canada’s mainline parties have agreed for a generation that immigration and multiculturalism are a part of the country’s foundations.

“But these messages can get picked up a number of ways and open the door to even more radical conversations.”

Tolley said that why the potential impact of the People’s Party should not be dismissed despite the party’s low support, currently at three per cent, according to the latest CBC aggregate of available polling data.

Tolley gives the example of the Reform Party, also an opponent of multiculturalism, which in the 1990s was able to change the conversation around immigration, making it an economic issue rather than a social one.

Last week the Leaders’ Debates Commission invited Bernier to participate in leadership debates.

Many experts wonder how the People’s Party’s narratives on immigration, refugees and multiculturalism might shift how other parties and the Canadian public talk about these topics.

People’s Party candidate Rocky Dong says they are only preaching “common sense.”

“We don’t hate the people outside. We just love the people inside the fence.”  [Tyee]

Source: Unpacking the People’s Party’s Fear of ‘Radical Multiculturalism’

Forgotten working class could trigger populist backlash in Canada, says report by ex-Harper advisor

One difference between the US and Canada is that Canada has a stronger  social safety net (e.g., healthcare, more equitable public education etc) but then, of course, so did the UK). Populism in Canada tends to be more economic (e.g., Doug Ford, Jason Kenney) than immigration-based as it is in the US and elsewhere:

Canada risks a populist backlash if politicians fail to focus on the most economically vulnerable people, a new report says, as rosy economic data continues to overshadow the plight of many rural and non-educated workers.

A report by Sean Speer of the Macdonald-Laurier Institute, released Tuesday, argues that politicians across the political spectrum have broadly ignored pockets of working class Canadians who have failed to thrive in an increasingly globalized and technological economy. Resentments among those people, if left unchecked, could feed the same sort of reprisal that led to the election of U.S. President Donald Trump, Speer says.

“Over the long term, an economy that has nothing to offer people is going to create not just economic consequences, but political ones that can possibly cut much deeper,” he said in an interview with the National Post.

Speer, who previously served as senior economic advisor to Stephen Harper, stopped short of suggesting Canada was at immediate risk of encountering a towering, populist wave. But the report nonetheless emphasizes some of the current and deepening divides that are set to define the upcoming federal election: resentments in the oil-rich West toward eastern “elites”, anxieties among less educated working men who have been increasingly displaced by university-educated women, and a widening divide between urban and rural political values.

Both the Conservatives and Liberals have looked to tap into economic anxieties ahead of the looming federal election.

Conservative leader Andrew Scheer has centred his campaign around worries over the rising cost of living, criticizing the Liberals for their carbon tax and promising to help Canadians “get ahead,” according to the party’s official slogan. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, meanwhile, has been touting policies like a promised boost to a tax credit that will support “those hoping to join” the middle class.

Speer is among a number of conservative-minded analysts who decided, after the election of Trump, to adjust their long-held beliefs about the specific role governments should play in the economy, and the degree to which they need to consider the least advantaged voters.

Trump won the U.S. election by a narrow margin, carried in part by working class voters who felt threatened by shifts in the global economy that have led to a deterioration in classic American jobs, like automotive manufacturing and coal mining. Maxime Bernier, head of the People’s Party of Canada, has taken on policy positions that partly resemble Trump’s, blaming political insiders for creating an inherently unfair economic system.

Much of the failure by the media, economists and policymakers to predict the Trumpian shift, Speer argues, was an obsessive focus on the so-called “headline” economic data. Strong GDP growth and falling unemployment in recent years has given the appearance of economic strength while failing to account for those “left behind” amid a shift toward a more globalized and technological economy.

Political turmoil in the U.S. and U.K. is “partly a consequence of this economic myopia,” Speer writes.

“The so-called ‘forgotten men and women’ grew tired of neglect and have since been the political backbones of these new, disruptive populist movements.”

Anxieties over job security and changing economic norms are mostly felt among workers from natural resource sectors like oil and gas, or in the manufacturing sector, many observers have said. It’s also widely visible in women’s growing share in the workforce.

Employment rates among working-age Canadian men has grown by an average 0.9 per cent between 1990 and 2018, according to public data, while female employment has increased 1.4 per cent over the same period. The trend is especially pronounced in struggling natural resource economies: male employment in Alberta shrunk by 0.5 per cent between 2014 and 2019, while female employment in the province has increased nearly one per cent.

Meanwhile, labour participation rates have fallen among men; where non-educated men outperformed women in the workforce by 5.7 per cent in 1990, they now underperform them by 5.8 per cent today. And the fallout applies to a wide swathe of people: Canada currently boasts 6.7 million working-age non-educated workers .

“If we just look at the headline numbers, we miss that there’s a lot more going on there, that there is a bifurcation occurring between women with post-secondary educations and men without them,” Speer said.

In a separate report released earlier this year, Speer teamed up with Robert Asselin, a former top advisor to Finance Minister Bill Morneau, to address Canada’s failure to boost its competitiveness compared with other countries amid an increasingly technology-driven economy.

Digital behemoths like Apple, Amazon and Google have created a concentration of wealth that has hurt smaller firms or companies in weaker industries, leaving Canada with a challenge that “transcends partisanship and political ideology,” the pair wrote. “Whichever political party wins the next federal election will be faced with these questions and challenges,” they said.

Even so, Speer himself is the first to admit that there are few obvious answers when it comes to stemming the tide of populism in Canada. But he said a failure to better understand the issue will only deepen resentments.

“I think it’s going to create a higher and higher level of inequality of opportunity.”

Source: Forgotten working class could trigger populist backlash in Canada, says report by ex-Harper advisor

Immigration likely to emerge as major wedge issue in fall vote

Not so convinced (see my Q&A: Policy Expert Analyzes Role of Immigration in Canada’s Upcoming Election):

While few are willing to predict the outcome of the upcoming federal election, it’s a safe prediction that the issue of immigration will feature prominently in the federal election. It’s a complicated and divisive debate that will encompass everything from unemployment and the economy to social diversity and national security.

As the official campaign period grows closer, the rhetoric around immigration has intensified as the political left, centre, right and, now, far right converge on the question of people migrating to Canada. Immigration has often been a tough issue for political parties in the West to navigate the fine line between embracing diversity and cautious nationalism – and Canada isn’t immune.

An April 2019 Ekos Research study suggested that 39 per cent of Canadians believe that there are too many immigrants coming to Canada. The same poll showed that 40 per cent believed there were too many visible minority immigrants entering the country. Self-identified Conservatives were more likely to hold that view, at 69 per cent, as compared to only 15 per cent of self-identified Liberals. Interestingly, in 2015 only 53 per cent of Conservatives felt that way while 36 per cent of Liberals did.

Given this stark difference of opinion, it’s no surprise the Liberals are doubling down on immigration as a key pillar to economic and social prosperity as an election-winning strategy.  Andrew Scheer, leader of the Conservatives, is forced into a delicate balancing act to appease his base who are uncomfortable or unhappy with the number of immigrants in Canada, while trying to appeal to new Canadians and supporters of immigration in key urban ridings which can determine who wins and who loses.

It is in this internal struggle for conservative votes that we see Maxime Bernier and his People’s Party pose a legitimate threat. Absent from the 2015 election, Bernier has adopted a xenophobic immigration policy along with racial undertones in much of his policies. Depending on how Scheer handles the issue, it could cost his party votes in swing ridings they might otherwise win over the governing Liberals.

The global debate around migration has provided fertile ground for demonizing immigrants as threats to jobs, security and people’s way of life rather than characterizing them accurately as contributors to a country’s prosperity.  It’s this global debate that will force immigration to be a key focus for many Canadians as the rhetoric shifts towards the threat of immigrants regardless of the empirical data suggesting the true threat lies in denying migrants to live and work in Canada.

Goldy Hyder (formerly with H+K Strategies), the head of the lobby group representing CEOs of Canada’s largest companies, the Business Council of Canada, believes Canada is 10 years away from a demographic pressure point as the baby boomer population retires in great numbers. Carolyn Wilkins, the Bank of Canada’s senior deputy governor, said without immigration, Canada’s labour force would cease adding workers within five years.

The business community applauded this government’s adoption of faster short-term visas for skilled labour to allow for tech workers to move more easily to lessen the strain on Canadian business operations, as well as a strategy to bring 1 million immigrants over three years to help fill labour shortages.

Here, again, Canada is not alone. The global pursuit to filling labour shortages with skilled and unskilled migrants continues to intensify as statistics continue to support the narrative that industries face a daunting labour shortage that could derail growth prospects in champion sectors like tech, finance, agriculture and tourism. Yet there remains a healthy appetite to demonize immigrants as stealing jobs from Canadians or, worse, as a threat to national security or Canadian culture.

Having a debate about immigration as part of the federal election may be unavoidable, but it need not be divisive. An informed debate that is both reasonable and rational can help us bring Canadians together around the importance of immigration to our past, our present, and our future.

Muhammad Ali is a Senior Consultant with Hill+Knowlton Strategies (Canada). The views expressed in this pieces are his alone. 

Source: Immigration likely to emerge as major wedge issue in fall vote