plague of Tories unleashed against Canada
Globe and Mail Update
Published Friday, Jul. 01, 2011
We know what the Egyptians, or at
least their head honcho Pharaoh, did to attract the wrath of G-d. He
wouldn’t let His people go. But everyone paid the awful price – those
ten vile plagues culminating in the genocidal murder of all Egyptian
But what have Canadians done to
evoke the wrath of the heavens? What have Ontarians done? Or poor
Hogtowners? Though it’s our pharaohs who sin, only regular folks pay
the price. It’s a trifecta, folks. Harper the asbestos killer in
Ottawa, Ford the city-wrecker in Toronto, and, come October 6, very
likely Hudak the math-challenged in Ontario. Won’t we be in a pretty
pickle then? What have ordinary people done to deserve this plague of
right-wing Conservatives? Equally mysterious, why have so many ordinary
folks supported them?
It defies rationality to have come
to this. Much of the world is still trapped in one of the great
economic meltdowns in the history of capitalism. Yet whom have
Canadians turned to in their justifiable anger but Conservatives?
Hardly anyone of right mind disagrees that it was the insatiable greed
and reckless irresponsibility of Wall Street, which had been deeply
unregulated over the past 30 years, that plunged much of the world into
its economic tailspin. In Canada, even Stephen Harper boasts about how
our banks, thankfully constrained by government regulations, were
prevented from going off half-cocked the way they did south of the
border, which saved us from the worst of the collapse.
In a real sense, we can say it was
social democratic restraints on the Canadian speculator class that
saved us even more misery here, as if the great decline in
manufacturing and high unemployment wasn’t enough. And it was precisely
the free-market religion so passionately embraced by Conservatives –
whether Mr. Harper, Rob Ford or Tim Hudak – that could have damaged us
Conservative economic policies have
had another overwhelming consequence: an astonishing increase in
inequality and the incessant enrichment of those wealthier than some
entire countries while normal people stand still if lucky or slip back.
These two dynamics have converged nicely in the years since the
collapse. Those who caused it, already rich beyond the dreams of
avarice and with government funds bailing them out in the tens and
hundreds of billions, continued to reward themselves with unimaginably
large payouts. So the filthy rich got filthier while the rest struggle
to make ends meet each week.
In fact, while the world continues
to face humungous economic challenges, the world's wealthiest are
getting even richer and more numerous. Whatever picayune slippage some
suffered after the 2008 banking crisis, a new report shows they're
already filthier than they used to be. This happy state of affairs has
been dramatically enhanced by the generosity of governments everywhere
in reducing even further the tax burden on the filthy, which of course
has led, together with smaller recession-time revenues, to large
deficits in governments’ budgets.
These circumstances should logically
have led to demands for more social democratic values to reduce the
chances of further bankers’ follies and to attack the problem of
growing inequality. Nothing makes more sense than to turn to the state,
J. K. Galbraith famously explained, as the only possible countervailing
power to the vast might of the corporate sector. But right-wingers
didn’t give an inch, as the National Post’s Jonathan Kay, of all
people, pointed out in a thoughtful and surprisingly positive review of
Linda McQuaig and Neil Brooks’s The Trouble with Billionaires in the
Literary Review of Canada last year.
Bear in mind this is a man who
thinks Jeffrey Simpson is “centre-left.” Conservatives, Mr. Kay wrote,
“do not even pretend to have a solution to the inequality problem.
Based on my experience at the Post, I’d say that most do not think of
it as a problem at all. I cannot think of a single Canadian
conservative aside from Conrad Black who has made any serious
intellectual effort to reconcile his or her faith in capitalism with
the free market-engendered meltdown of the American economy. Instead,
they mechanically spout ritualized denunciations of the politics of
‘tax and spend’.”
This of course goes double in the
In fact there was only one strategy
the right wing’s propagandists, organizers and billionaire financiers
could now follow – sheer, unmitigated chutzpah. Instead of
acknowledging a whit of responsibility, they would do the opposite,
preposterous as it seems: Blame government, taxes and unions, and
distract attention from the filthy rich. This quite explicit strategy
has been working for several decades; why not try it again? After all,
shamelessness is the signal characteristic of those who survive and
prosper in this life. Sure government regulations and bailouts saved us
all from an even greater crash. Sure unions in the public sector helped
their members maintain a barely modest level of middle class comfort
and security, the precarious embodiment of the North American dream of
upward social mobility. So attack both government and unions, what else?
Of course this makes no sense of any
kind, except that it’s working like a charm. It’s elected many
right-wing politicians, some so far off the conventional ideological
continuum they’re in a parallel universe of their own insanity. Thus
the United States in the mid-term elections and the surrealistic
contest for Republican presidential candidate. Thus a know-nothing
union-baiting mayor in Toronto. Thus a Harper government, enabled by
working class and middle class ethnic voters in Southern Ontario who
somehow trusted him but distrusted a larger role for government.
Thus the sustained attacks across
the United States, and now Canada, on public service employees who have
been lucky enough to have unions to keep them from a life just above
permanent financial anxiety. It shows the worst of human behavior and
the failure of reason. Instead of solidarity with those lucky enough to
hang on and with little responsibility for society’s ills, frightened,
insecure people have turned mean and vindictive towards those just
marginally luckier than themselves, instead of turning against those
who are in fact responsible for it all. These people are or should be
natural NDP sympathizers, not conservatives. In that light, it was
remarkably principled of the new NDP caucus to launch their filibuster
last week on behalf of labour rights, widely considered fundamental
human rights by those with decreasing influence.
For decades the goals of American
conservatives, including the highly politicized corporate sector, have
been transparent enough: Reduce corporate taxes and taxes on the rich.
Reduce all government regulations that impinge on corporate profits.
Destroy trade unions. Earlier this year the ultra-reactionary
billionaire Koch brothers held a meeting of allies in Palm Springs,
California, to plot “strategies for combating the multitude of public
policies that threaten to destroy America as we know it.” They have had
extraordinary success, under both Republicans and Democrats, in
achieving all three, as Corporate Canada and its political allies have
But there have been major
regressions in Canada as well. Tax breaks for un-needy corporations
continue apace. Private-sector unions have become a tiny minority in
both countries. In the public sector, where unions had some clout left,
it’s under ferocious attack across the United States and now suddenly
in Canada (and in Greece and Britain and Botswana too, for that
matter). All we need is a Tim Hudak victory in Ontario, and with his
pals Mr. Harper and Mr. Ford, watch the attacks accelerate. Who will
save us from this awful plague?
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