Friday, 23 October 2015

Wither Canada or the second coming of Trudeaumania

Wither Canada, no not the Python episode from the 70's but the genuine question; what ever became of Canada.

Well the short answer is that it never went away, but from the day Stephen Harper became PM in 2006 to last Monday, Canada had been the 51st state, the pale imitation of trickle down Rayndian neo liberal petrie dish to the USA. For years people in the UK would, especially from the election of Barak Obama in 2008, naturally or rather unnaturally look to the USA for examples of how to do things and shining examples of small l liberalism or alleged socialism.  The only problem with that model is that the USA is not now nor will it ever be anything but an apple to the UK's orange. The histories of both nations divert in every significant way you can think of and the resulting political structures and philosophies that dictate world views as well as economic and societal structures could not be more different. And yet UK political and economic elites continued till a few days ago  to only go to  the well of America for inspiration .

I suppose I should point out the obvious or not so obvious, starting with the basic notion that Canada has a House of Commons and Senate modelled on Westminster. What that means is that much of the required assumptions of how government works be it central or  provincial will be the same assumptions that govern systems and applications of civil service, how a bill proceeds through Parliament and how members are elected and behave in the chamber. Party political fund-raising through to the rules governing elections and debates are closer than anything you will find in the USA. And yet when talk of reform surfaces, the last thing you hear is  why don't we ask our Canadian cousins for their experience.

Next up is of course the very basic veering off point between Canada and the UK... being where on the spectrum each country was in 1979.  In Ottawa a very likeable  but  slightly gormless Tory named Joe Clark was about to be lapped by Pierre Elliot Trudeau in February of 1980 after losing a non confidence motion on a money bill, while the UK had in May of 1979 embarked on the hell that would be the Thatcher era. Monetarism at it's worst v the Just Society and centralised mixed socialist economy. It's natural that while Canada built on the foundations of the late 60's and 1970's social and economic compact that preserved the welfare state and multiculturalism with a huge dash of leading the West and the South ( aka third world aka developing block of ) nations in a series of initiatives to fight land mines, global warming and poverty, it was seen as a genuine alternative player on the world stage and that of course included think tanks in the UK.  However, from the moment the Government in Ottawa joined the lock step march of the UK and USA in the trickle down world of the American Republican and Thatcherite war on the poor the sick and weak, it became easy even under the Blairite era to ignore any contributions to public policy and debate Canada would have to give. Let's be honest, for a while as much fun it was to kick the shins of American politicians for their ignorance, it was damn embarrassing watching the likes of John Baird the minister of selling off natural resources and national parks, deny global warming at International conferences. Harper himself would be the dull  invisible PM at  G8 and  Commonwealth conferences who if  Canadians were lucky; said nothing  and if not, made some deal that further put the country in the back pockets of dictators and multinationals.

And yet... even under these unproductive circumstances, there were and still are plenty of areas where UK policy can learn much from Canada. Federal structures and reform, party political financing, internal reforms of the House of Commons as it pertains to operating hours and the accountability of it's members to the House and the electorate. Why is it that even now the PM here still only faces questions once a week when in Ottawa there is no such thing as PMQ, it's just question period and the PM must be a part of it every time unless away from Parliament. The expenses scandal we had would not have happened if rules and regs  in place for over a decade if not longer in Canada, had been applied.  As for the NHS, every Province and Territory has had  universal health care since 1968 while the Americans still struggle with the concept of free health care at point of delivery.  Why when there is public discussion of the NHS and the mess it's in  are we not even alluding to Canada or other nations at least on the same page as we are? Gay rights, Canada quietly and without fuss allowed gays to marry over a decade ago ( something that still is news to many here), in 1967 the minister of Justice ( go on guess who) said "The state has no place in the bedrooms of the nation" thus decriminalising homosexuality. Women have had control over their bodies and reproductive systems for so long it's simply not an issue now. All still issues in the USA, home of the free and the brave.

Most recently and wisely the new Governor of the Bank of England was hired from Canada, that country that had been the direct neighbour of the USA, that didn't go down the route of Fanny May and Enron. Yet when the debate occurred here, till recently, it was still the fault of Gordon Brown???  How blind some media outlets and political parties  were to utterly ignore the facts. Our closest political cousins did not need to bail out the banking sector ( even under a tory administration) while here Thatcher's children pointed fingers at Brown and ignored the reality of a stable Canadian economy. Only the apparently brave and  ultra left wing fire brand  and threat to the nation.... Jeremy Corbyn winning, put an end to that lie.

Which brings me nicely to the events of Monday and why they happened. Justin Trudeau, the most interesting thing to happen in Canada since Celine Dion or that abomination Justin Bieber , if we're to believe the sudden eruption of serious news stories and  vid  clips of him kissing men and twisting the light bulb emerging on the net, became Prime Minister elect. If I were a brit for the last  30 years I'd be going, where in hell did this guy come from? But the answer is he was always there and is the natural extension of the what it is to be Canadian. To be clear, the Harper years are even referred to by Canadians as very un Canadian. The two issues that won Trudea the election were in order 1- Defecit spending and 2- The Niqab. then maybe 3- Taxing the 1%  followed by  the environment ...The reasons he won are very Canadian.

Before I say more, for those of you in the know, I do not acknowledge the existence of limp and useless Michael Ignatieff and mourn the kicking around of a wonderful but far too nice a man Stephane Dion who I had the honour of calling my MP and friend. His Green plan was years ahead of it's time and will most likely be the foundation of the new government's war on green house gasses.  

Let's start with deficit spending. Going back as far as the early 70's, Keynesian based policy that espoused the spending of money to make money and the tolerance of a certain level of deficit was the back bone Liberal policy.  Every minister of finance right up to several who themselves became Prime Minister were never shy of spending a little more than they had. In the last Parliament, Harper managed to extract a promise  from Thomas Mulcair and his NDP ( the allegedly real left wing party) to support a law forcing future Canadian governments to operate under a balanced budget.  Let's examine the terms  here . For Tories, here and there, balanced budget is another term for austerity. A policy that has seen veteran pensions reduced  by  more than half, services to the public  including door to door delivery of the post being withdrawn most  recently, and throughout the Harper years, a consistent effort to reduce the amount of money spent on citizens and  the services given them across the board. Even the hobbled and injured CBC so used to cuts from central government was on the verge of the final indignity of complete irrelevance as a national broadcaster. But The NDP felt they had to respect the public mood and take on board the will of the people if they stood a chance of winning the election. Sound familiar? It should.

The actual left in Canada, which has always been the Liberal Party,  under a controversial, bold, brave, perhaps even courageous leader said  NO. The accepted wisdom was that the Liberals had signed their own death warrant. Oooo I'm sure I've heard that here somewhere too... But then a funny thing happened on the way to the circus, the team explained what that actually meant. Municipalities and families  and farmers and small businesses signed on and supported the Liberal position. Shock horror! Except if you think about it, it 's perfectly sensible centrist policy that has  worked  on and off in Canada going as far back as 1948 or earlier if you take Mackenzie King's rural electrification policy that cut the legs out from under the CCF. The occasional slow down for a liberal balanced budget ( achieved by the way by Chretien and Martin) were exercises in socially just economic policy that still included taxing the wealthy and collecting taxes from large corporations.

Next up the niqab.  Oh what a lovely petard the right weaves to hoist itself upon. And this one did not fail to explode in the face of the Tories and the nationalists. The simple facts are that a woman who was going to a citizenship ceremony wanted to wear the niqab when getting sworn in. On the surface an issue that could be dangerous to anybody brave enough to touch it.  The Tories and the Bloc Quebecois waded in and  demanded the woman show her face.  Quickly and I mean  at light speed, the debate especially in Quebec, escalated to the levels where the EDL and UKIP would feel particularly comfortable.  It's at this point that the NDP again waffled, choosing to to finally appear to both support the woman and the existing rules. Trudeau in March had  said “You can dislike the niqab. You can hold it up it is a symbol of oppression. You can try to convince your fellow citizens that it is a choice they ought not to make. This is a free country. Those are your rights,” he said. “But those who would use the state’s power to restrict women’s religious freedom and freedom of expression indulge the very same repressive impulse that they profess to condemn. It is a cruel joke to claim you are liberating people from oppression by dictating in law what they can and cannot wear.” So when the whole thing  blew up in Quebec and the party taking again a brave position to support the choice of that woman was seen as  taking a strong stand against the apparent public mood , it cemented in the minds of undecided voters and NDP voters that the only way to be rid of the Tories  was to vote Liberal. As the rot spread and the NDP vote collapsed in Quebec the rest of the country noticed and took a three way race and turned Trudeau into the front runner. 

The thing to take from this exercise in decision making and risk taking is that Justin Trudeau gambled that Canadian core values had not changed. A country built by immigrants would be tolerant and accepting, a country that had  as of Sept 3rd responded with a huge outpouring of anger and dismay at the death of a refugee boy who's family was already in Canada. The shame felt by people that such a government spoke for them with such miserly cold hearts that it killed a child in the name of austerity, immigration control and let's face it ... Islamophobia. The only decision then was which way were the the 60% of the electorate not voting tory going to go. Harper knew his goose was cooked by early September but  until that moment during the Niqab debate Mulcair was still in with a shout for a minority coalition.  The mesquinerie or pettiness of Harper had driven the final nail into the desire of Canadians to be well rid of him and the NDP was going to pay the price. This is  illustrated by an incident best related by Justin Trudeau himself on election night

 Last week, I met a young mom in St. Catharines, Ontario. She practises the Muslim faith and was wearing a hijab. She made her way through the crowd and handed me her infant daughter, and as she leaned forward, she said something that I will never forget. She said she’s voting for us because she wants to make sure that her little girl has the right to make her own choices in life and that our government will protect those rights.
To her I say this: you and your fellow citizens have chosen a new government, a government that believes deeply in the diversity of our country. We know in our bones that Canada was built by people from all corners of the world who worship every faith, who belong to every culture, who speak every language.

Lastly there is a trickle of issues that would make a leftist here giddy with delight if they thought there was a ghost of a chance of getting elected on these planks.. 

1- Taxing the top 1%
2- Legalizing the sale of marijuana as a priority 
3- Increasing exponentialy the representation of  women and natives in the Commons
4- Going on the world stage and reclaiming Canada's rightful place in the Green House Gas fight
5- Saying refugees are welcome and will not be allowed to die, target 25,000 before Christmas.
6- Withdraw from participation in the bombing of Syria and Iraq with as immediate effect as can be achieved.  

and some of you will positively wet yourselves over this one.

7- Vowing that the 2015 election was going to be the last ever federal election using the first past the post system. 

To quote his father in less happy and more dangerous times "Just watch me" 

 So what do we on the left have to learn from these strange creatures in Canada who are so related to us they are nearly us? Fate has given us Jeremy Corbyn. He's done three impossible things according to the establishment.  Get on the ballot, be a serious candidate and win.  Can he win an election? If a centrist Keynesian Socialist can take a mainstream party from 34 seats in the commons to a majority government of 184 MPs in a country where there is a belief  they are open , friendly accepting and progressive, then why not here? 


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