CANADA NEEDS A VIABLE ALTERNATIVE TO THE CONSERVATIVE PARTY.
Somewhere something has been lost. In our quest to ‘balance the budget’, ‘slay the deficit’, ‘pay down the debt’, ‘stimulate growth’, ‘focus on jobs and the economy’, ‘cut taxes’, ‘reduce the size of government’ and a whole host other right wing neo-conservative buzz words, we’ve lost sight of something crucial: Canada as an idea and an ideal of a place where people matter, and where the legally-constituted and duly-elected representatives of our government act collectively in the best enlightened interests of the common good of all Canadians.
What we’re witnessing now ever since the end of the Cold War and the return to power, oddly enough, of the Liberal Party in Ottawa and which has accelerated under Stephen Harper’s Conservative Party, has been a definite shift towards an agenda which is far more focused on serving the entrenched interests of men and women of money, power, property and prestige.
After the Second World War, civilization had come through a period of very rapid economic expansion, from roughly the 1880s until the end of WWII, as North America and South America industrialized and welcomed millions of immigrants from mostly Europe where economic, political, religious and ethnic strife was causing much upheaval and pushing many of its citizens to either pack up and leave for the Americas or to be forcibly expelled and do the same.
This very rapid period of change, which was characterized by very rapid industrialization, urbanization, economic expansion and contraction as well as war, led to a lot of temporal wealth being accumulated both here in the Americas as well as back in Europe.
However, the great social dislocation caused by this wealth-creation process, including the two World Wars, the Great Depression, the Crash of 1929 and several boom and bust cycles in between, which were all exacerbated by the very rapid process of social change in both Europe and the Americas, ultimately led us to an acknowledgement, after all the dust had settled in August of 1945 and all the bodies had been buried and the troops demobilized and sent home, that there was a general consensus in society that something should be done so as to alleviate and attenuate the often flagrant disparities of wealth and opportunity which existed in Canada.
Hence the same template of cooperation between the state, capital and labour, which had been assembled and put in motion to vanquish the enemy in WWII, was replicated in peace time. This was done, not only as an altruistic way to assuage and alleviate human suffering and disparities of social and economic opportunity, but also so as to learn from the mistakes of the post WWI era, whereby ‘laissez-faire’ capitalism had prevailed and the economy had contracted substantially in the wake of the laying off of thousands of defence plant workers in munitions factories. The governments of North America and Western Europe wanted to make sure that demand for raw materials continued to remain high so that the factory owners could continue making profits like during the war, except that after the war, the scientific and technological discoveries made during WWII would henceforth be transformed into civilian goods destined for domestic consumption and export.
This way the government, economic, and labour elites would all be happy because they’d all come out ahead of the game and the first two groups especially would finally be able to have a society of mass production and mass consumption, something which had heretofore eluded them. The unions would win because levels of employment would remain high, buying power would be injected into the economy and therefore a certain measure of social peace would ensue as more people became prosperous and were able to afford a decent standard of living, could purchase property and furnish their homes with material possessions.
Something which helped this process along was the institution of the so-called ‘Fordist’ wage scale, which was based on Henry Ford’s now famous 5$/day wage he paid to his employees on the assembly line at Ford Motor Company.
The original ideology before the end of WWII which prevailed amongst the elites of Western Europe and the Americas were those of Eugenics and Social Darwinism. Essentially Eugenics put forth the idea that we should strive towards the breeding of a ‘master race’ and should practice such things as selective breeding, the sterilization of the mentally challenged and so forth. Many of the most well-known high-profile figures of the late 19th century and early 20th century advocated such measures, including Winston Churchill in Britain and Emilie Murphy of the so-called ‘famous five’ group of women who advocated for the recognition of women’s rights in the now-famous ‘persons case’ of 1929.
Social Darwinism, on the other hand attempted to justify the socio-economic disparities within western civilization by attempting to apply Charles Darwin’s theory of Natural Selection, which applied to plant and animal life, to the human race. Essentially, the Social Darwinists argued that ‘only the strong survived’, or that it was a case of ‘survival of the fittest’ and that through so-called ‘natural selection’ the poor and weak would be ‘weeded out’ of the social hierarchy, which would therefore improve the human race in the process.
They used these arguments to justify not paying better salaries and wages to working-class people in the factories, arguing that they were in most cases, ‘inferior races’ of people, often being immigrant stock from Eastern Europe, which many Anglo-Saxons of the elite in those days considered to be ‘inferior’. They therefore argued that they could in no way deign to be able to ever rise above their inferior status and participate fully in the democratic process and become consumers, so therefore it was justified to not pay them more.
Consumer society was originally destined for the class of urban professionals, business owners and other prosperous people who could afford to purchase consumer goods. Factory workers were never destined to become consumers under this original model. However, the elites always ran into the problem, before the end of WWII of having a chronic shortage of purchasing power in the economy, because they refused to pay the workers enough money to actually buy what they were producing, and therefore the factory owners found themselves with a chronic oversupply of goods, and not enough demand to purchase them.
So Henry Ford initially was laughed at when he paid his workers 5$/day to make Ford cars on the assembly line. But his strategy worked, because his employees saved their money, and many of them bought a Ford car or other consumer goods with the money they’d saved by working at Ford. So some of that money came back into Henry Ford’s pocket, which was shrewd on his part, and much of the rest of it was injected into the economy as purchasing power, thereby stimulating consumer spending.
So after WWII, the unions used this ‘Fordist’ wage scale as their template for their bargaining position in many labour negotiations and eventually many public and private sectors of the economy adopted this wage scale, including the federal, provincial and municipal public services, the health and education sectors, mining, pulp and paper and forestry, the auto sector and some other manufacturing and industrial sectors of the economy.
This contributed to ensuring that Canada and all of the western world entered a period of unparalleled material prosperity in the post WWII period, as pent-up consumer demand was unleashed, new markets for residential and commercial property ownership were developed and there was a general upward direction of society as we moved into occupying and developing heretofore untapped market and overall societal development potential.
Where we ran into a snag was when this whole process of ‘onward and upward’ development arrived at the crucial juncture of the mid-to-late 1960s. Economic expansion was continuing relatively unabated, with some downturns here and there, but the overall trend was continued prosperity. This was beginning to lead to people’s expectations being raised even more regarding their hopes for a better future and the possible elimination of many if not most of the remaining disparities of social and economic opportunity in the western world.
Many people felt that the sacrifices of WWII and WWI and the Great Depression had been too horrific to ever be repeated and saw the worsening Cold War dilemma as a sign of a civilization in a state of moral decay, even going so far as positing that we were on the brink of collapse as a society. Many called for total disarmament, world peace and an end to MAD (Mutually-Assured Destruction, the scenario whereby both the west and Soviet Russia would’ve simultaneously annihilated each other in a nuclear war).
The solution put forth by many of these people was to embrace a society based on the civil state being an instrument for the pursuit of the common good, be it in the secular-humanist sphere, or as an instrument of some sort of traditional Judeo-Christian ideology expressed through a secular state. Many people in the 1960s saw the west’s growing foreign policy entanglement’s as a sign of misplaced and misdirected imperialist war-mongering, and called for Canada to not associate itself economically or militarily with its allies in the USA and Britain, for example, in the military-industrial system of economic development which aided and abetted this mode of foreign expansion.
In the case of Canada, efforts at building this so-called ‘Just Society’ as Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau called it were partially successful. Full-fledged public medicine was brought in by his predecessor Lester B. Pearson on July 1, 1968 and cutbacks were made to Canada’s military, including integrating our Armed Forces (Army, Navy and Air Force), under one centralized command structure with a common set of uniforms and the scrapping of our aircraft carrier HMCS Bonaventure, among other things.
Taxes were raised substantially across the board to finance these measures and the regulatory climate became more difficult for businesses to work in, with ordinary people being the net beneficiaries of most of these policies, as the average person now was able to gain access to quality medical care, post-secondary education financed at roughly 80% of its true value, quality social services and so forth.
The standard of living of the average Canadian rose dramatically from the late 1960s onwards with this massive injection of taxpayer dollars, which eventually rose to become massive government borrowing in the early 1970s as the level of government intervention in Canada had begun to spook private investors as far back as 1968 when private capital formation had begun to shrink the very year public medicine had been brought in. Our economy in Canada entered a period known in the 1973-74 period as ‘Stagflation’ or economic stagnation along with inflation, as private capital slowed substantially, but the level of consumer spending and economic activity remained artificially stimulated by the continued massive government deficit-spending on the construction of schools, hospitals, government offices, and university buildings throughout the 1970s.
The source of our current malaise can essentially be traced back to the 1979-82 recession, when this last gasp of government-funded post WWII economic prosperity essentially came to an end. By this time our industrial economy had become increasingly inefficient, both from a labour cost perspective and energy cost perspective, and our market share for domestic consumption which our domestic industries used to take for granted was rapidly being usurped by cheaper, better-quality imported goods from Asia, especially Japan.
A lot of our old industrial infrastructure began to shut down and/or move offshore to Asia or Mexico, as the move towards free trade and globalization of markets continued unabated. This put a lot of pressure on governments to try and think of new ways to sustain themselves fiscally as large sectors of the economy were radically re-shaped by plant closures and a move towards a more service-sector and resource, real-estate, and consumer-spending dominated marketplace and society.
At the beginning of the recovery after the 1979-82 recession, we had a change in government in 1984, with the election of the government of Brian Mulroney of the Progressive Conservative Party. He was a fan of Ronald Reagan and Reaganomics and got along well with Margaret Thatcher as well. Although Mr. Mulroney never was able to fully implement his vision for a re-shaped Canada with smaller government and greater participation of the private sector, his initial efforts did at least set the tone for subsequent administrations, both Liberal and Conservative to attempt to re-shape Canadian society along the lines of what was emerging at the time in the early 1980s as what we now know as ‘neo-conservatism’.
This ideology, which germinated in the minds of people such as Ronald Reagan and his backers as far back as the mid-1960s, when the big-government tax and spend policies of California were being put into place during the time when he got involved in state politics as governor before making a bid for the White House, was based on an essentially libertarian ideology which is essentially liberal in the purest sense of the word.
When I say ‘liberal’ I mean the original definition of liberal, which was the late 18th century anti mercantilist, anti monarchical anti theocratic definition of liberal, which was espoused by Republican revolutionaries in the 13 Colonies, in the French Revolution, etc. This ideology espoused the inalienable rights of man, especially if he were a common, white Christian, Protestant, property holder who met the eligibility requirements for property ownership so as to vote in those days, in opposition to the entrenched rights of money, power, property and prestige of the Crown, the nobility and the Church.
This ideology espoused that nothing should stand in the way of common men of property from acquiring more of the same in the name of ‘liberty’ and ‘freedom’ and that the accumulation of said wealth was in the best interests of all of society at large and led to the enrichment and betterment of mankind in general. This ideology had taken hold in most parts of the western world in the wake of the French and American Revolutions and the English Civil war and accelerated with the Industrial Revolution.
It was only stopped somewhat by the equal and opposite ideology of Communism, which arose out of the egregious inequalities created by this unbridled pursuit of wealth, which leads us back full circle to the late 19th century and early 20th wherein the emergence of Bolshevism of Russia, and its subsequent propagation around the world through its ‘marketing’ arm the Comintern (Communist International) in 1919, contributed to leading to the mixed-market type of capitalism that was instituted in the west after WWII, from having to accommodate the pressures for socio-economic reform from having Bolshevism dwelling on our ideological left flank from 1917 onwards, culminating with having the Soviet Union as our arch rival until the early 1990s, when their empire collapsed and the threat of Communism abated, leaving the world open to the powers of the ‘free market’ once again.
So this leaves countries like Canada and everyone else for that matter in a quandary. How do we pursue economic development and guarantee prosperity for our people, without losing sight of fundamental issues such as social justice and the redistribution of wealth, power and opportunity in society? If our governments, who are supposed to represent the interests of all the people, are going to be increasingly reduced to being the simple cheerleaders for the industrial, commercial, and financial bourgeoisie, (as Marx himself deplored of ‘democracy’ in the mid 1800s), then who will speak for the interests of the common person?
This is a problem of public governance which is increasingly being taken up by so-called ‘civil society’ groups, who work outside the framework of the official political party structure and are staffed with often young and not so young very politically passionate people who care deeply about the policy outcomes of today’s society. They often work on a shoestring budget, and use such instruments as the internet and social media to organize and do fund raising.
As a card-carrying member of both the federal and provincial Liberal Parties of Canada and Québec, I can only hope that my beloved party, which once ruled supreme in our country, can reach out to such organizations as The Council of Canadians, Friends of Canadian Broadcasting, The David Suzuki Foundation, The John Howard Society, Habitat for Humanity and so on, and help build a better Canada, which is a reflection not just of propertied interests, but of ordinary Canadians also who hope for a better future for themselves and their families.
This way, we will hopefully ‘find’ again what was ‘lost’ in our mad rush towards satisfying the Gods of neo-conservative buzz words and the people of property who support them. Here’s to the common good. Carry on, Canada!!!