It may seem odd to be highlighting immigration when borders are largely closed here in Canada and around the world. And yet, there are good reasons for doing so. First of all, finding the right balance on immigration is bound to be a major challenge for Western governments after the pandemic, as it was before. Second, at least in Canada as Anne Michèle Meggs and Mark Stobbe explain from different perspectives, immigration is not only, or even primarily, about crossing borders – it’s about people who are already here.

Click to read by How Immigration Really Works in Canada by Anne Michèle Meggs, and The Postsecondary Education Extortion Racket for International Students by Mark Stobbe.

Meggs meticulously examines all the various routes that people take to attain permanent resident status in Canada, and finds that the points system, supposedly the pillar of our immigration policy, plays a much smaller part in the process than is generally believed. A large proportion of Canada’s immigrants enter the country under various temporary work and education programs and then transition to permanent resident status. In her article in this issue, the first in a two-part series, she focuses on international students. Stobbe draws on his own experience teaching college classes with significant numbers of international students to question a system in which postsecondary institutions become a back door to immigration.

In the current context, no explanation is needed for paying close attention to events in the United States, and especially the Black Lives Matter protests that followed the killing of George Floyd in May and the election campaign that culminated in the defeat of Donald Trump in November. Derek Shearer, who has observed his society as scholar, political activist and government official, provides a personal account of what it has meant to be White in America from the 1950s to the present. Over the summer, the Inroads listserv kept coming back to a web of interrelated topics including policing methods, high homicide rates in U.S. cities and the legacy of slavery and Jim Crow. We offer a selection from late August. In his postelection editorial, Henry Milner sees institutional reform as key to stopping the next populist wave.

Click to read Growing Up White by Derek Shearer, Hobbes, Lee Kuan Yew and Black Lives Matter from the Inroads listserv, and Picking Up the Pieces After the U.S. Election by Henry Milner.

In another section, John Richards and Harold Johnson present analyses of social pathologies in First Nation communities and ask “What’s to be done?” For Richards, addressing these pathologies – as manifested in the disproportionate number of “deaths of despair” – requires addressing high unemployment first and foremost. Johnson sees a different way forward: land-based healing.

Click to read First Nations, Employment, and Deaths of Despair by John Richards, and Land-Based Healing by Harold Johnson.

Also in this issue:

Gareth Morley asks whether the “new intolerance” reflected in “cancel culture” is really either new or intolerant in Is Cancel Culture a Thing?

In an interview, Craig Jones advocates legalizing and regulating all drugs and dealing with substance use through a lens of harm reduction, in Finding Better Solutions to the Opioid Crisis.

Jon G. Bradley and Sam Allison find that Canada’s electoral map, far from promoting equal representation, maintains old strongholds and denies new realities. Click to read Canada’s Unreasonable Electoral Districts.

While acknowledging that the West has flaws, Kamel Daoud maintains that it needs to be perfected, not destroyed. Click to read Don’t Destroy the West.

In their columns, Reg Whitaker writes about how current policy, partisan and regional divides play out in federal politics; Arthur Milner draws lessons from speeches by three prominent figures on Canada’s right – Andrew Scheer, Scott Moe and Erin O’Toole; and Julia Smith maintains that if we want to promote equality, we need to do a better job of teaching children to read.

Click to read The Changing Ottawa Dance Card by Reg Whitaker, Candy Before Supper by Arthur Milner, and Without Literacy there is No Equality by Julia Smith.

In Life Among the Far-Right Rasputins, Ronald Beiner wonders whether Benjamin Teitelbaum got too close to his subjects in writing a book about former Trump adviser Steve Bannon and his ideological soulmates in other countries. Meanwhile in his review of Eric Kaufmann’s Whiteshift, Andy Hira finds that Kaufmann pays too little attention to economic factors in accounting for populism. And Henry Milner takes us to the world of Russia’s “illegals” program in his review of Gordon Corera’s Russians Among Us in Russian Spies and the Spymaster-in-Chief.

Philip Resnick continues his poetic diary of this year of COVID-19 with Pandemic Poems: The Second Wave.

And I review Philip’s recent memoir, Itineraries in The Political Scientist and the Poet.

Philip Resnick, Itineraries: An Intellectual Odyssey. Vancouver: Ronsdale, 2020. 148 pages.

A friend of mine once said (in relation to Rupert Brooke, the early-20th-century British poet, and his Letters from America) that poets are the only political scientists who should be allowed to practise. I think of that remark often when I’m reading the work of Philip Resnick. As attentive readers of Inroads well know, his poems express the well-honed insights of the astute political scientist, with the discipline, focus and precision that are the mark of the poet.

We learn in Itineraries, Resnick’s memoir of his “intellectual odyssey,” that when he was in Grade 10 he stomped on a Bible and was told to leave Herzliah High School, the Hebrew day school in Montreal he was then attending. I also did my secondary studies in a Hebrew day school in Montreal (a different one) so it’s not hard for me to picture the consternation this gesture must have caused.

Resnick’s departure from Herzliah marked his abandonment of organized religion, but he notes a number of ways in which he has been marked by his Jewish upbringing. Perhaps the most significant is his consistently serious engagement with ideas, strongly suggested in his list of Jewish “cultural heroes,” from Spinoza to Einstein, Freud, Kafka and Arthur Koestler – none of them conventionally religious. At Herzliah he also would have had his love of language nurtured by his English teacher, Irving Layton, one of the leading Canadian poets of his time and mentor to Leonard Cohen.

Resnick would travel widely, both geographically and intellectually. His Jewish influences blended with many others. Itineraries contains vignettes from Belgium, Spain, the Soviet Union (as it was then), Australia and Japan, among other places, along with a more extended engagement with France. But the place that affected him most deeply and became his “second home” was Greece – an adopted homeland through his wife Andromache, to whom he was married for 45 years until her untimely death in 2016. Greece, of course, is home to one of the world’s great intellectual traditions, and the frequency of Greek references in Resnick’s poems testifies to how thoroughly that tradition became part of his thought.

Much of Itineraries is taken up with reflections on the issues and concerns that have engaged Resnick as a political scientist, including socialism, democracy and academic freedom. Questions of Canadian identity and Canada-Quebec relations figure prominently. Coming of age in Quebec at the time of the Quiet Revolution of the early 1960s, he carried a sympathetic view of progressive Quebec nationalism with him to his new home in Vancouver, and favoured the Yes side in Quebec’s first sovereignty referendum in 1980. That sympathy was severely strained by the widespread support among Quebec nationalists for the Canada-U.S. free trade deal in 1988 – a deal he and most other people in English Canada who shared his political leanings strongly opposed. During the Meech-Charlottetown imbroglio of the late 1980s and early 1990s, he became a leading commentator in English Canada on what was at stake and the possible future of the country. His observations on all these matters in Itineraries are lucid and judicious, if short of groundbreaking.

But it was the more personal chapters, the ones (even if written in prose) where Resnick the poet is allowed to come to the fore, that I found most compelling. A memoir such as this is at its best when it presents to the reader not just a mind confronting a series of problems but a sensibility – what Resnick’s teachers at Herzliah might have called a soul. Itineraries comes close enough for it to be a satisfying journey.

A book-length collection of Resnick’s “pandemic poems,” of which Inroads has published a substantial selection in the last two issues, is due out in the spring.

In early March, the contents of this issue of Inroads were taking definitive shape. There was much to write about.

Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs’ resistance to construction of the Coastal GasLink pipeline across their traditional territory in northern British Columbia, and the cross-Canada protests supporting the chiefs, raised complex issues on which editorial board member Gareth Morley could cast light ( The Perils of Postcolonialism ). We were also exploring aspects of the regional divide between the Prairie provinces and the rest of Canada, starkly revealed in the 2019 federal election.1 Co-publisher Henry Milner, in his ongoing study of Donald Trump supporters in the United States, had concluded that insufficient attention was being paid to the crucial distinction between uninformed and misinformed voters ( The Uninformed, the Misinformed and the Disinformed ). Co-publisher John Richards was heartened by the results of a little-noticed election in the Indian state of Delhi, which could provide a much-needed shock to the lamentable state of public education, and public services more broadly, in South Asia. The reform party that won the election trounced both major national parties: the currently governing BJP and Congress, in power until 2014 ( Something is Rotten in the State of India ). Two Quebec opposition parties were seeking new leaders.There were some notable books to review.3

Then, with dramatic suddenness, we were required to learn a new vocabulary – quarantine, self-isolation, social distancing, flatten the curve, PPE, N95 – and a new way of life. And to adopt a new agenda for Inroads.

The biggest change is not in the content of Inroads but in the medium itself. Unlike the 46 previous issues, this one is not available in ink-and-paper format. This change has been under discussion for some time, as the proportion of Inroads readers who access our content online has steadily increased, but it was not scheduled to take effect with this issue. However, we determined that, in a context of pandemic restrictions, it was best not to endeavour to move from the design and production stage (in Vancouver) to printing (in Brampton, Ontario) and then to mailing and newsstand distribution. So you may be reading this in the usual web format or in a PDF that looks like the old print edition, but either way it has reached you electronically.

In terms of content, we compare the impact of the pandemic in Scandinavia to that in Canada. In Canada, deaths from COVID-19 have been especially high in Quebec: with less than 23 per cent of Canada’s population, as of the end of May it had recorded more than 60 per cent of the deaths. In Scandinavia, Sweden has almost 80 per cent of the deaths with 38 per cent of Scandinavia’s population. A major factor contributing to Quebec’s high rate is the proportion of the elderly living in long-term care residences, CHSLDs, with 70 per cent of Quebec’s deaths. Sweden has also seen a substantial number of deaths in long-term care homes, around 50 per cent. But what has drawn most attention is that unlike its Nordic neighbours and most other countries, Sweden did not impose a strict lockdown. We have four reports from Scandinavia about why Sweden acted differently and how it has played out: from Thomas Lundén and Donald Lavery in Stockholm, John Erik Fossum in Oslo and Jan Otto Andersson in Turku, Finland.

Click to read The Swedish exception.

Our columnists also look at the COVID-19 crisis from various angles. Julia Smith examines the reasons why, despite a verbal commitment to “evidence-based policy,” it so rarely happens in practice, in Evidence and Policy: Why the Twain Rarely Meet. Arthur Milner asks why so little information was available and so few pointed questions were asked about how governments responded to the pandemic, in We Did Okay, but Where Was the Information? Reg Whitaker traces the journey from Canada’s being declared broken in the midst of the countrywide pipeline protests in February to our being “stronger together” in the face of the pandemic in April, and has some suggestions about where we go from here in Through the Looking Glass – and Back?

Also in this issue:

The activities of two Inroads editorial board members merit special mention. Philip Resnick, an eminent political scientist, has been represented in recent issues of Inroads primarily in his other guise as a poet. In an evocative chapter of his new memoir Itineraries,4 Philip writes about his “muse” – the “unseen voice” behind his poetic writing. During the pandemic, Philip’s muse has been especially insistent, and he has responded with some of his best work, casting light on dimensions of this time that go beyond the policy implications. It is fitting that there be an expanded selection of Philip’s poems in this issue.

Click to read Pandemic Poems, by Philip Resnick.

Dominic Cardy was elected to the New Brunswick legislature as a Progressive Conservative in September 2018. When the Liberal government fell later that fall, Dominic was appointed Education Minister. Until this issue, Dominic still managed to find some time for Inroads. But not this time, and we could not, at first, quite figure out what had changed. It turned out that Dominic, before virtually anyone else in the political realm, had realized that the novel coronavirus emerging in Asia, a part of the world he knows well, would pose a serious threat to public health in Canada. At a caucus retreat on February 24, he roused his colleagues to action with a detailed white paper. Largely as a result of his efforts, New Brunswick acted quickly and effectively. As of the end of May, not a single New Brunswicker had died of COVID-19. Dominic’s prescience and persistence earned him recognition by the National Post as a “hero of the pandemic.”5 We will, just this once, forgive Dominic his absence from the Inroads editorial process.

Continue reading “Introducing Inroads 47”

A prominent feature of the outcome of last October’s federal election was regional polarization. In Saskatchewan and Alberta, two thirds of voters supported the Conservatives, giving them 98 per cent (47 out of 48) seats in those two provinces, while in the rest of the country the Conservatives won barely a quarter of the seats. In this issue, Inroads takes a deeper look at some of the aspects of this
regional difference.

Geoff Salomons and Daniel Béland explore one of the most striking aspects of Alberta’s distinct political culture: its ongoing rejection of a sales tax, which every other province and the federal government have implemented. Click to read Is the Alberta Advantage really an advantage?

Stephen Bird draws on survey data collected by the Positive Energy Project at the University of Ottawa, with which he is affiliated, to determine the extent of regional polarization on issues of energy and the environment. In his piece Energy and Canada’s Polarized Regions, he concludes that different regional attitudes, based as they are in differences of geography and infrastructure, are likely to persist – as, indeed, is Alberta’s unique attitude toward a sales tax, despite strong economic arguments in favour of such a tax.

Yael Tamir, Why Nationalism. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2019. 205 pages.

It is unlikely that Yael (Yuli) Tamir – former Israeli cabinet minister and founding member of Peace Now, former student of Sir Isaiah Berlin, Oxford academic – read Gareth Morley’s major essay in the last issue of Inroads, in which he argued for the separation of nation and state.1 Nevertheless, Tamir’s book Why Nationalism can be read as an answer to Morley, for she argues precisely the opposite: that the state needs the nation, and the two should be brought closer together.

In large part, Tamir’s book is a critique of globalism, to which she sees nationalism as an antidote. In this respect, her thinking parallels that of John Judis in his recent book The Nationalist Revival.2 Where people place themselves on the “global-national continuum,” she writes, is largely determined by their interests:

It is easier to be a globalist if you are likely to enjoy the benefits of the open market, or to support free immigration if you feel secure in your social status and do not fear that newcomers are going to take your job, or reduce the value of your property by renting the next-door apartment, forcing your neighborhood schools to face new challenges.

Globalism, she writes, “failed to replace nationalism because it couldn’t offer a political agenda that meets the most basic needs of modern individuals.” These include “the need to belong, the desire to be part of a creative community, to feel special, find a place in the chain of being, and to enjoy a sense (or the illusion) of stability and cross-generational continuity.” Citing Freud, she suggests that globalism entails living beyond our psychological means.

In other words, membership in a nation confers benefits in and of itself. But its benefits acquire an additional dimension when it is brought into alliance with the state: “With the help of nationalism, states turn into homelands – places one is affiliated with due to love and fate rather than due to instrumental considerations.” This “pre-political partnership,” this “political we,” is essential if states are to “turn into democratic and decent entities.”

A shared sense of national belonging, Tamir suggests, underlay the “cross-class coalition” that supported the development of the modern welfare state:

Society’s disinherited members were thus given permission to claim social benefits as well as protection from tangible risks. This was one of nationalism’s greatest gifts, allowing the less privileged to profit and to enjoy a set of social goods and social services grounded in rights rather than in generosity or benevolence.

So what went wrong? Her diagnosis, again, largely parallels Judis’s. Globalization along with an ideological opposition to regulation eroded the resources of the state. Western elites pursued a global destiny rather than a national one. Public education, once the “jewel in the national crown” (Tamir should know – she was minister of education in Ehud Olmert’s pre-Netanyahu Israeli government), lost its ability to promote integration and social mobility. The cross-class coalition buckled under these strains.

Tamir reproduces former World Bank economist Branko Milanović’s “elephant curve,” a graph of real income growth between 1988 and 2008 as a function of percentile of global income distribution. The graph begins at the bottom of both scales – the world’s poorest have been excluded from income growth – before rising rapidly, peaking at about the 55th percentile. This reflects rising incomes in China and other emerging economies. The graph then takes a sharp dip, bottoming out around the 80th percentile. Stagnating incomes of the poor and middle class in high-income countries are found here. Then comes another rapid rise – the trunk of the “elephant” – representing the enrichment of the world’s elites. “Growing social gaps,” writes Tamir, “lead to the formation of separate, hostile identities.”

Eroded and diminished though it has been, the nation-state is still, for Tamir, “the only viable option.” Hence, she welcomes the revival of nationalism and seeks to channel it toward constructive ends, to rebuild social solidarity through “committed nationalism.” She emphasizes that the elites need to be enlisted in this task: “Asking the haves to look beyond their immediate interests must be justified not only in universal utilitarian terms but also as the national (American, Israeli, French) thing to do.”

The foregoing is, in brief summary, Tamir’s program. However, there are complicating factors, many of which she fully acknowledges. First of all, she recognizes that the nation is an artificial construct; rather than being a “pre-political partnership” underlying the state, it is an entity that needs to be deliberately encouraged by the state. She quotes the mid-nineteenth-century Piedmontese leader Massimo d’Azeglio, who helped bring about a unified Italy: “We have made Italy. Now we have to make Italians.” The Italian state makes Italians. The American state makes Americans. The Israeli state makes Israelis (another portfolio Tamir held was Immigrant Absorption).

A second complicating factor takes the form of what Tamir calls “a cultural version of the Heisenberg uncertainty principle”: “One cannot create communities that are both meaningful and entirely open: the more meaningful a community is to its members the more exclusive it would be to all others.” This suggests limits on the “diversity” and “inclusion” that are currently in vogue.

She is sceptical of statements like the one by Chancellor Angela Merkel that “we are all Germany,” including Muslims, or this one by President Emmanuel Macron: “I see Armenians, Italians, Algerians, Moroccans, Tunisians. I see so many people from Mali, from Senegal, from the Ivory Coast. I see so many others I haven’t mentioned. But what do I see? I see the people of Marseille! What do I see? I see the people of France!” Can the historical and cultural specificity that we associate with “Germany” or “France” be so easily set aside? If it is, what is the basis for the national solidarity that Tamir regards as the essential underpinning of a humane state? If it is not, should cultural uniformity be imposed on the new Germans and French people that Merkel and Macron are eager to embrace? Or is something other than historic “Germanness” or “Frenchness” to be the basis of national soldiarity?

As a disciple of Isaiah Berlin, Tamir is wary of carrying any idea to its extreme. Hence, she places limits on how any nationalist program should be carried out. One of these is that “the demand to put one’s country first should not be grounded in a sense of superiority but in a belief that others have the same right (and duty) to pursue their goals.” Nationalism, on this view, does not mean “exceptionalism.” Citizens should be committed to their nation not because it is uniquely virtuous, but simply because it is theirs.

A second limit is that “as no country is culturally, ethnically, or religiously homogeneous, the place of minorities must be secured. The fact that they do not share the ruling national ethos, culture, or language should not be used against them.”3 So in the end, Tamir cannot escape the circumstance that led Gareth Morley to develop his proposal for the separation of nation and state: “Modern states are as bound to be ethnically pluralistic as they are to be religiously pluralistic.”4

And while they espouse different solutions, perhaps they are not so far apart after all. For Morley, the best approach is to recognize the complex or “intersectional” nature of everyone’s identity while appealing to the resources of the liberal tradition to foster communication and common governance across the multiple identity divisions. For Tamir, it’s to promote national solidarity, but tempered as noted above: “to stop the ideological pendulum half way, offering a social contract that balances human rights and freedoms with social solidarity and group identity.” This sounds to me less like a diametric opposition than a creative tension.

Continue reading “Why the State Needs the Nation”

In October 2019, in Washington, DC, several U.S. diplomats, defying Trump Administration instructions, testified before the committees of the House of Representatives that were conducting an inquiry into whether or not impeachment proceedings should be launched against President Trump. Their testimony corroborated previous allegations that Trump had made U.S. military aid to Ukraine conditional on the Ukrainian government digging up dirt on his political rivals. In October the case for impeachment was strengthened materially, perhaps decisively.

In London, Prime Minister Boris Johnson concluded a Brexit deal with the European Union and the deal was approved by Parliament. However, Parliament also insisted on subjecting the deal to detailed examination, a task that could not be completed before the October 31 Brexit deadline then in effect. Johnson had no choice but to request yet another extension of the deadline, an action he had previously placed lower on his scale of preferences than being “dead in a ditch.” At the end of the month, the opposition Labour Party agreed to Johnson’s request for a December 12 election.

October events in northern Syria included the withdrawal of American troops, a Turkish invasion and the killing of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the most prominent leader of the Islamic State.

In Hong Kong, massive street protests against the Beijing-backed local administration continued. Street protests to advance various economic and political demands also took place in Santiago de Chile, Quito, Barcelona, Beirut, Addis Ababa and other places. Demonstrations by mostly young people against the lack of adequate measures by the major industrial powers to reduce greenhouse gas emissions continued into October, following the global climate strike of late September.

In California, which has a larger population than Canada, Governor Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency as wildfires raged from Sonoma County north of San Francisco to the suburbs of Los Angeles. Thousands of people were evacuated and millions were without electricity as power companies shut down their equipment to reduce the risk of additional fires. The conditions contributing to the unusual severity of the fires, including extreme winds, were widely attributed to climate change.

All of this is to say that when the political events of October 2019 are remembered, the Canadian general election that took place on the 21st of the month is unlikely to play a prominent role. Canadian news junkies may fixate on American or, less often, British politics, but a federal election campaign will generally direct their attention back to the home front. This time the redirection was only partial.

And yet, the election was not without consequence. Perhaps most significantly, it brought us back, after successive Conservative and Liberal majorities, to the situation of minority government that had prevailed before 2011. Given the political configuration, this is likely to be a relatively stable minority government, but in any minority situation questions of who is entitled to hold power are never far from the surface. Calling on historical analogies, Gareth Morley analyzes those questions here.

Click to read Who’s On First by Gareth Morley.

While political parties generally strive for a majority, there is a strong case to be made that, for the electorate, minority government is a preferable outcome. Writing in Le Devoir on October 26, Guillaume Bourgault-Côté noted the achievements of previous minority governments, especially Liberal minority governments supported by the NDP, such as Lester Pearson’s two mandates (1963–68) and Pierre Trudeau’s precarious minority between 1972 and 1974.1 These governments gave us public health insurance, the Canada Pension Plan, an agency to review foreign investment, improvements to social insurance and other significant legislation.

Bourgault-Côté quotes University of Ottawa political scientist Geneviève Tellier as saying that the Liberals and the NDP are “two parties that have worked together in the past – and should be able to do it again.” However, in a post to the Inroads listserv, Simon Rosenblum questions whether the analogy holds. In the current situation, the Liberals only need the support of any one of three parties – the NDP, the Bloc Québécois or the Conservatives – to pass legislation. This means the Liberals can play the other parties off against one another, reducing their leverage. In the end, the government will be able to do essentially what it wants.

Good or bad, minority government can in some ways be seen as the country’s normal state, as even in the majority elections of 2011 and 2015 no party represented as much as 40 per cent of the electorate. In the recent election the party that received the most votes, the Conservatives, captured only 34.4 per cent. Nearly a third of the electorate voted for smaller parties – primarily the NDP, the Bloc and the Greens, who collectively received 29 per cent of the vote – despite the incentive created by our first-past-the-post electoral system for supporters of such parties to vote strategically for the least bad alternative that has a chance of winning their district.2

The 2019 result also highlighted Canada’s regional divisions, as is evident from the regional reports in this section. Regional differences manifested themselves not only in the increased support for the Bloc in Quebec but, even more dramatically, in the total rejection of the winning Liberals and the overwhelming support for the Conservatives in Alberta and Saskatchewan. Even the previously unsinkable Ralph Goodale, the only Liberal elected in Saskatchewan in the previous three elections, went down to defeat.

The Conservatives won 69 per cent of the vote in Alberta and 64 per cent in Saskatchewan. By contrast, their share in neighbouring Manitoba was only 46 per cent, and in no other province did they win as much as 35 per cent of the vote. Here too the impact of our electoral system, long apparent to political observers, is worth noting. While Canada’s regional differences are real, the electoral system dangerously exacerbates them. One third of voters in Alberta and Saskatchewan voted for parties other than the Conservatives, and they are represented only by a lone New Democratic MP from Edmonton. In a proportional system the Liberals, with 14 per cent of the votes in Alberta and 12 per cent in Saskatchewan, would have MPs from those provinces from among whom they could choose cabinet representatives.

The 2019 election was conducted under first-past-the-post despite Justin Trudeau’s promise four years ago that it would not be. So the Liberals have only themselves to blame for finding themselves in the awkward position of having to impose a climate-change plan on two reluctant petroleum-producing provinces without a single Liberal MP from those provinces. Will the glaring deficiencies of the electoral system brought to light by the 2019 election rekindle the flame of electoral reform? It does not seem likely.

Regional cleavages and overwhelming Conservative dominance of Alberta are not in themselves new (Conservative dominance of Saskatchewan is a more recent phenomenon). The Progressive Conservatives, as they were then, won more than 60 per cent of the vote in Alberta in four successive elections between 1974 and 1984. Two of those elections resulted in Liberal majority governments based almost entirely in the east – in 1980, the Liberals won a majority despite winning only two seats in Manitoba and none farther west. After the 1980 election, the Liberals introduced the National Energy Program that brought tensions between Alberta and the federal government to a peak.

Still, there is a dimension to the current division that was lacking in these earlier ones. If climate scientists are to be believed, we are entering a crucial decade for the effort to mitigate the effects of climate change. Emissions cutbacks on a much larger scale than anything previously achieved will be needed, and soon. This will be the most challenging item on the Liberal minority government’s agenda. The political configuration will not make its task easier. On one hand, the government is dependent for its survival largely on parties to its left. On the other hand, it is shut out of Canada’s major petroleum-producing region, which expressed its strong support for the major party with the closest ties to the fossil fuel industry and the weakest approach to climate change – although, as John Richards points out in this section, the differences in the actual impact of the parties’ climate change plans if they were implemented would be much less than their rhetoric would lead us to believe. On climate change, the government is in a tight spot, and there is no easy way out.

Click to read Canada Fiddles While California Burns by John Richards

The New Yorker’s resident Canadian, Adam Gopnik (though born in Philadelphia, he was raised in Montreal), characterized the election as a “worthwhile Canadian initiative,” citing the winning entry in a competition for the world’s most boring headline. And yet, from his vantage point in the United States in its current political situation, a worthwhile Canadian initiative looked pretty good: “This was what an election ought to be – a spectrum of parties, running from the socialist left to the free-market right, fighting for specific ideas and regional interests and arriving at a result that, more or less aptly, and however imperfectly, reflects the mood and interests of the country.”3

One can appreciate Gopnik’s prespective. If the election, because of our first-past-the-post system, failed the democratic test, at least it passed the Hippocratic test: unlike some elections elsewhere in the last few years, it did no harm. But did it do any good? To answer that question we will have to wait and see if the government can find a way out of the climate change conundrum.

Continue reading “The Worthwhile Canadian Election”

For a while during Justin Trudeau’s first term as Prime Minister, reelection of his Liberal government appeared all but assured. The Liberals were riding high in the polls, they were facing opposition parties with untested and largely unknown new leaders, and Trudeau himself seemed the very model of the young, aware, progressive head of government the world needed.

Since the eruption in February of the SNC-Lavalin affair, those assumptions have collapsed. Less than six months from the October 21 election, the Liberals are trailing Andrew Scheer’s Conservatives in the polls and face an uphill battle to remain in office. The Liberal decline cannot be attributed solely to the SNC-Lavalin affair, but it played a large role. This affair – whether or not to call it a “scandal” has been controversial – preoccupied the Inroads listserv in March and April. While the political implications of SNC-Lavalin were not far from their minds, contributors to the listserv (including some with extensive experience in government) primarily debated the legal response to SNC-Lavalin’s undeniable sins: was Jody Wilson-Raybould right or wrong. Highlights of the discussion lead off this section.

Click to read Getting to the Heart of the SNC-Lavalin Affair.

Two years ago in Inroads, distinguished political scientist Gad Horowitz made the case that Canada’s political parties differed from one another in their “deep culture” – differences that were not always reflected in their specific policy proposals. Drawing on this argument, he now criticizes the common practice of lumping the Liberals and New Democrats together as “progressive” parties, and recommends that the NDP emphasize its “positive social democratic difference” in the coming campaign.

Click to read Are the Liberals and the NDP Both Progressive? by Gad Horowitz.

With a Conservative government a possible, if not probable, outcome of the election, it’s time to think about what policies such a government might pursue. Tom Flanagan, who served as a Conservative campaign manager and adviser to the Harper government, has some suggestions for how a new Conservative government might proceed in one important policy area, Indigenous affairs.

Click to read Thinking the Thinkable: A Conservative Government by Tom Flanagan.

Finally, we asked political analysts in each of Canada’s regions to set the scene in advance of the fall campaign. Richard Johnston in Vancouver, Royce Koop in Winnipeg, Paul Barber in Toronto, Eric Montigny in Quebec City and Patrick Webber in Fredericton provide not only a who’s-up-who’s-down assessment of party prospects but also insight into the underlying dynamics that are likely to play out in their respective regions.

Click to read Up For Grabs: A Region-by-Region Guide to What to Look for in This Fall’s Federal Election.

Subsidizing employers to hire young people for summer jobs should not be among the more controversial of federal government activities. The Canada Summer Jobs program is part of Ottawa’s Youth Employment Strategy (YES), a well-established initiative whose origins date back to the Chrétien government in the 1990s. During the 2015 election campaign, Justin Trudeau’s Liberals promised to increase funding for YES and, once in office, they did.

Canada Summer Jobs provides grants to nonprofit and public-sector organizations and small businesses to allow them to hire youth aged 15 to 30 (until 2018 the program was limited to students) for six to 16 weeks of summer employment. Grants are allocated by parliamentary constituency and local members of Parliament have input into who gets them. The list of recipients reads like a cross-section of Canada:

  • Kiwanis Club of Kelligrews, Newfoundland, $8,957 for three jobs
  • Bouffe Pontiac, Campbell’s Bay, Quebec, $2,781 for one job
  • City of Mississauga, Ontario, $6,720 for four jobs
  • Sinnett Pork Farm, Leroy, Saskatchewan, $1,048 for one job
  • and on and on and on, for a total of $204,992,914 for 70,033 jobs in 2018.

A small proportion of the nonprofits that receive grants are religious organizations. And that’s where the trouble began.

On April 10, 2017, after applications for that summer’s program had been submitted but before the grants were announced, the Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada issued a press release headed “Grants from Canada Summer Jobs Program Support Political Attacks on Human Rights.”1 The press release went on to say, “Federal government grants from the Canada Summer Jobs program for youth have provided ongoing support to political organizations that advocate against human rights, including the right to abortion, doctor-assisted dying, and LGBT rights.” It provided figures going back to 2010 for grants to four anti-abortion organizations: the Canadian Centre for Bio-Ethical Reform, Campaign Life Coalition, Life Site News and the Wilberforce Project (formerly Alberta Pro-life).

In response, Matt Pascuzzo, Employment Minister Patty Hajdu’s press secretary, told a reporter for the iPolitics website that “any funding provided to an organization that works to limit women’s reproductive rights last summer was an oversight. That’s why this year we fixed the issue and no such organizations will receive funding from any constituencies represented by Liberal MPs.”2

Because of MPs’ involvement in deciding who gets grants, Pascuzzo could not speak for constituencies represented by the opposition. His statement indicated that the government had undertaken a rescue operation, but hardly “fixed the issue” as he claimed. So the government set out to implement a more comprehensive solution for 2018.

This solution took the form of an “attestation” that every applicant had to agree to in order to be eligible for a Canada Summer Jobs grant. The attestation read,

Both the job and the organization’s core mandate respect individual human rights in Canada, including the values underlying the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms as well as other rights. These include reproductive rights and the right to be free from discrimination on the basis of sex, religion, race, national or ethnic origin, colour, mental or physical disability, sexual orientation or gender identity or expression.

The expansive nature of this attestation is noteworthy. First of all, it applied not only to the job itself but also to the “core mandate” of the organization. In addition, the organization had to go beyond saying that it upheld the Charter of Rights and Freedoms; it had to respect the “values underlying” the charter, “as well as other rights,” including reproductive rights. The attestation would seem to exclude any organization affiliated with the Roman Catholic Church, evangelical Christian denominations, Orthodox Judaism or many branches of Islam.

Not so fast, said the government. The phrase core mandate referred to an organization’s “primary activities undertaken” and “not the values of the organization.” The Roman Catholic Church may be against abortion, but that’s not its “core mandate.” Hajdu told Maclean’s that “there are very few organizations in this country that would have a hard time attesting that their core mandate respected the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.”3

Nevertheless, the religious groups were not happy. They (unsuccessfully) sought an injunction against use of the attestation, launched court challenges and made representations to Hajdu. They maintained that the attestation itself was a violation of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, on grounds that it violated religious freedom. As the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada saw it, groups that opposed abortion were being “denied equal access to a government benefit solely because of their religious beliefs.”4

In June 2018, another – separate, but related – controversy arose. The Islamic Humanitarian Service (IHS), based in the constituency of Waterloo, Ontario, had been a recipient of Canada Summer Jobs grants for several years, including a $20,715 grant for six jobs in 2017. The leader of IHS, Sheikh Shafiq Hudda, delivered a fiery speech at the Al-Quds Day rally in Toronto on June 9, in which he dared Israeli soldiers to come fight Palestinians hand to hand and predicted they would go home in body bags. He also called for “eradication of the unjust powers, such as the American empire, such as the Israelis and Zionists.” The matter quickly came up in the House of Commons, as Conservative MPs demanded to know why an organization whose leader made such speeches was receiving government grants, especially in light of the government’s values test for the summer jobs program. The Islamic Humanitarian Service received its grant as usual in 2018, according to the organization; however, it does not appear on the online list of organizations receiving Canada Summer Jobs grants in 2018.

For 2019, the attestation that had aroused so much controversy is gone. Instead, applicants are required to attest that “any funding under the Canada Summer Jobs program will not be used to undermine or restrict the exercise of rights legally protected in Canada.” In addition, the list of ineligible programs and job activities includes:

Projects or job activities that:

  • restrict access to programs, services, or employment, or otherwise discriminate, contrary to applicable laws, on the basis of prohibited grounds, including sex, genetic characteristics, religion, race, national or ethnic origin, colour, mental or physical disability, sexual orientation, or gender identity or expression;
  • advocate intolerance, discrimination and/or prejudice; or
  • actively work to undermine or restrict a woman’s access to sexual and reproductive health services.5

The new criteria applied only to the jobs being funded by the program, and not to the broader activities or values of the organizations that sponsored them. The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, one of the leading critics of the 2018 attestation, expressed its approval of the changes. “We believe these changes will allow Canadian churches and faith-based organizations to apply and be eligible for funding under this program,” said the fellowship’s director of public policy, Julia Beazley. “The new wording should also mean that pro-life organizations are not excluded simply because they are pro-life.”6

So after oscillating between funding anti-abortion groups and excluding a wide range of groups on the basis of their values, has the Canada Summer Jobs program finally found the sweet spot?

Perhaps. But there are reasons why the government has had to travel a winding road to get to this point. The interface between religious groups and government programs is never going to be smooth. Many religious groups routinely discriminate on the basis of sex, religion, sexual orientation and gender identity and expression, and actively work to undermine or restrict women’s access to sexual and reproductive health services. We accept all this (much of which we would not accept were it to occur in private corporations or other organizations) in the name of religious freedom.

What the most recent Canada Summer Jobs guidelines are saying to religious groups amounts to this: you can still engage in discrimination, and we will still give you government money, as long as you don’t use the government money directly to engage in the discrimination. But any government assistance is subject to what a U.S. AID official, in a congressional hearing during the Vietnam War, described as the “principle of fungibility”: aid is aid, whether military or economic.7 Similarly, a Canada Summer Jobs grant to an organization benefits the entire organization, not just the little piece that is involved in the summer jobs.

More fundamental questions arise. Does the 2018 attestation, or the 2019 list of ineligible activities, implicitly represent a statement of “Canadian values”? If so, why limit it to the Canada Summer Jobs program? What about other government grant programs? Or even charitable status, which effectively amounts to a government top-up grant for individual contributions? Is this the core of what Gareth Morley, elsewhere in this issue, refers to as an “ideological identity” for Canada (see page 28), with the attendant problems that he identifies?

So many questions. And all from an innocent program to provide young people with summer jobs.

Continue reading “Defining Canadian Values, One Summer Job at a Time”

Three hitherto minor subplots have merged over the last two years into a “populist” revolt, which is now the major plot in the political theatre of Europe and North America. The first subplot is rising income inequality in high-income OECD countries. (Ironically, on a world level, incomes since 1980 have become more equal, as a result primarily of the escape from dire poverty of 500 million Chinese and Indian peasants). While average per capita incomes have risen substantially since 1980 in most OECD countries, the bottom three quintiles have realized virtually no increase. Reversing this trend is at the core of left populist politics, exemplified by Jeremy Corbyn and Bernie Sanders.

Second, deregulation of the banks in many OECD countries in the 1990s led to multiple real estate speculative bubbles in the 2000s. When the bubbles burst in 2008, many of the world’s banks became bankrupt. Governments bailed them out, which preserved the stability of international financial markets and prevented a repeat of 1929. However, middle-class mortgage owners were not so fortunate, and became angry. In the United States, this anger helped bring about Tea Party success in the 2010 election. The third subplot has been tension surrounding mass immigration – in particular Muslim immigrants from Africa and the Middle East. That a substantial minority of them are sympathetic to Salafist interpretations of Islam has exacerbated this tension.

David Goodhart can make a good case to be the best candidate for the role of Cassandra in this drama. Former editor of Prospect, a U.K. centre-left magazine, he has written for more than a decade about the potential for polarization foreshadowed by these subplots. His 2017 book The Road to Somewhere introduced “somewheres vs. anywheres” as the sound-bite summary of the present state of affairs.

In this issue Gareth Morley reviews three recent books on the populist revolt and what’s to be done about it. Yascha Mounk (The People Against Democracy) laments the rise of illiberal democracy, in particular in eastern Europe. Jonah Goldberg (Suicide of the West), himself a conservative, attempts to understand where the Reagan Republican tradition went wrong. Francis Fukuyama (Identity: The Demand for Dignity and the Politics of Resentment) is the most ambitious of the three. He attempts to synthesize the history of political analysis from the post-1989 optimism with the fall of the Berlin Wall to present-day pessimism over the retreat of liberal democracy.

Click to read Big Thinking and the Democratic Recession by Gareth Morley.

In this issue we also review two prominent French books dealing with the immigration subplot: Gilles Kepel’s La fracture and Hakim El Karoui’s La fabrique de l’islamisme). Another element in the drama has been the often covert influence of Vladimir Putin’s Russia. Seva Gunitsky examines a notable effort to explain this singular society, Masha Gessen’s The Future Is History.

Click to read A Realistic Approach to Islamism in France by John Richards and A Country Illegible Even to Itself by Seva Gunitsky.

Without seeking to challenge Goodhart’s claim to the role of Cassandra, over the last ten issues Inroads has published numerous reviews dealing with the three subplots, all available on our website. One of us reviewed Amy Chua’s recent book Political Tribes. She emphasizes the polarizing impact of “market dominant ethnic minorities.” Josh Gordon reviewed Joan Williams’s critique of academic treatment of the American white working class (White Working Class). It has, she argues, prevented liberals from understanding Trump voters. Dominic Cardy reviewed Fukuyama’s two-volume opus on the rise and fall of Western liberalism (The Origins of Political Order and Political Order and Political Decay). Dominic also reviewed another notable book on Russia, Peter Pomerantsev’s Nothing is True and Everything is Possible. Mark Pancer reviewed Robert Putnam’s analysis of family dysfunction, especially among America’s “somewheres” (Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis). Gareth Morley reviewed Joseph Carens’s case for more-or-less open borders (The Ethics of Immigration), and one of us reviewed Paul Collier’s case against more-or-less open borders (Exodus: How Migration is Changing Our World).

There are many other books we could have reviewed, given space and the right reviewers. Jan-Werner Müller’s What Is Populism? directly addresses what has become the major plot. J.D. Vance’a Hillbilly Elegy is a study of American “somewheres,” the population that has become the main constituency for populism. In Dangerous Minds, Inroads contributor Ronald Beiner traces the influence of the ideas of two philosophers, Friedrich Nietzsche and Martin Heidegger, on today’s far right. Other books on Russia include Bill Browder’s Red Notice, an account of his own encounter with the dark side of the Russian system; his story helped bring about the Magnitsky Act in the United States.

This is only a small sampling of books that have already come out, and there will undoubtedly be more. Watch this space in future issues of Inroads.

Selected and edited from the Inroads listserv by Bob Chodos

The Inroads listserv began in 1997 as a means to link Inroads readers and others interested in policy discussion. With nearly 130 subscribers, it offers one of the few chances for people of diverse views to grapple with social and political issues in depth.

To subscribe, send an email note to listserv@lists.queensu.ca with the following in the subject and body of the message: subscribe inroads-l

A column in the Guardian by prominent British commentator Simon Jenkins the day after the U.K. election1 sparked an exchange between John Richards and Philip Resnick. Others were not slow in weighing in.
From: John Richards | June 9

Philip Resnick:

You may have seen the Guardian column by Simon Jenkins on the implications of the U.K. election. It hints at a Norwegian-type arrangement between the U.K. and the European Union, not unlike what I had suggested re Brexit before the election. Needless to say, I’m delighted by the drubbing Theresa May and her party received, in England and Wales at least, and by the sterling performance of Labour under Jeremy Corbyn, a leader that everyone in the commentariat and within the Blairite wing of his party had been deriding ever since his election. Everything else aside, I can’t help but see a vindication for an unpretentious but principled socialist, who can actually speak the language of the common man or woman, and much like Bernie Sanders mobilize the young. Too bad he won’t get the chance to be PM on this round.

Now in the 2017 election campaign, Corbyn to his credit took on May and her party over Brexit by stating clearly that an imperfect negotiated deal with the EU was better than no deal at all. This suggested an openness to a Norwegian-type arrangement – not ideal, but better than raising the moat at Dover. Moreover, given the significantly greater demographic and geopolitical importance of the U.K., both within Europe and internationally, the U.K. would be in a stronger position than Norway (and would have allies within the EU) to influence future EU policy in a number of areas.

John Richards:

Yes, I read Simon Jenkins’s “day after” column in the Guardian. Like Nigel Farage, Jenkins predicts that the “Remainers” will raise their heads and may succeed in sabotaging the whole Brexit initiative. I hope they are right! The majority of the Labour caucus, all the (weakened) Scottish Nationalist caucus, all the (much humbled) Lib Dem caucus, and a sizable minority of the Tory caucus think that leaving the EU is a monumental error. Combined, they form a comfortable majority in Parliament. Unfortunately, they are spread among several parties and lack an obvious leader able to counter both May’s and Corbyn’s pro-Brexit position.

I admit that I underestimated Corbyn’s campaigning strength. Both Sanders and Corbyn illustrated the potential advantages of a much more generous welfare state. Injecting optimism drew in many disengaged young voters. Corbyn’s optimism proved for many more attractive than Theresa May’s brittle recitation of “Brexit means Brexit.” Her drubbing is a result worth cheering. Her majority in Parliament now depends on the small contingent of Protestant MPs in Northern Ireland, descendants of a leader, Ian Paisley, as unsuitable to the problems at hand in his time as is May to today’s problems.

The weakness of both Corbyn and Sanders is a refusal to lead on the “tough” aspects of governing. In Corbyn’s case, you should acknowledge that he is partially responsible for the U.K. being in its present post–Brexit referendum chaos. There are many reasons to explain why Britain conducted its Brexit referendum last year and why a (slim) majority voted to get out of the EU. Corbyn is not the main “sorcier apprenti.” But nor is he innocent. Had he campaigned in 2016 half as vigorously for the U.K. to stay in the EU as he did against Blairites among his colleagues, he probably would have persuaded enough marginal Labour Brexiters to vote Remain. After all, the EU poses no obstacle to the U.K. running a more generous welfare state than the Tories or Blairites advocate. Corbyn shares with May a quasi-isolationist view of the world and a dislike of Britain’s active engagement in European affairs. Her ideal harks back to past British glories; his is a nostalgic hope that the past four decades of public reaction against the downside of “old Labour” can be erased and that Britain can return to the optimism of Labour’s first post–World War II government.

I acknowledge also that a “Norwegian” solution is better than a hard Brexit or no deal at all. But a “Norwegian” solution is far from ideal. It implies that one of the major European countries will be passive in the evolution of European policy, whether related to trade or to the use of military force. (Britain and France are the only two European countries with a sizable military presence.) Over the last generation, Britain has played a positive role in the EU: it championed expansion to include the former East European colonies in the Soviet empire; it provided a much-needed pro-market counterweight to the dirigiste excesses of Brussels bureaucrats and the French; it (unsuccessfully) advised against the euro, which has turned out to be one of the most severe self-inflicted wounds of the EU.

Philip Resnick:

In response to John’s comments, I would add the following. It is a pity that Corbyn did not campaign more forcefully for the Remain position in 2016 – here he was following in the footsteps of Tony Benn, who had always seen the EU as a major obstacle to the New Jerusalem that Labour would some day inaugurate. Having said that, as you acknowledge, Corbyn was hardly the principal sorcerer’s apprentice in the Brexit fiasco – David Cameron, Nigel Farage, the Murdoch press et al. deserve the lion’s share of the blame.

From: Reg Whitaker | June 10

In its own way the U.K. election is as much a shocker as the Brexit referendum or the Trump vote. To be sure, May is still PM (for the moment) and Labour is still in opposition (for longer). But May’s cynical gambit has failed disastrously, adding a spectacular own goal to her former boss Cameron’s referendum. Labour, led by a man who at the outset of the campaign was nearly universally seen as an unelectable disaster, has just increased its share of the vote over its last election by a margin larger than any Labour Party campaign since the Attlee sweep to power in 1945.

It is still too early to come to a clear consensus about what happened based on detailed analysis of the vote, but a number of points seem to have already emerged.

Brexit was in a sense responsible for everything, yet was nowhere clearly present. Brexit was like Banquo’s ghost: it haunted the proceedings but was visible only to some.

The Brexit problem is the old problem of Europe in British politics. Europe has always divided the Brits, but these divisions crosscut, rather than follow, partisan-ideological lines. Europe is not a left-right issue but British politics have always been left-right. So Brexit split the Tories and split Labour.

Only the Lib Dems tried to make Remain an issue again, but they were tainted by their time in coalition with Cameron and fell between the renewed tribal rivalry of Tory and Labour. May did try to make her faux Churchillian stance at negotiations with the EU (“a bad deal is worse than no deal”) the last desperate shot at her majority, but this fell as flat as her tough-on-terrorism stand after Manchester and London Bridge. Corbyn countered with the obvious point that a “soft” Brexit was better than no deal. But in neither case was there much content to what Brexit would actually mean in practice, and neither May nor Corbyn seemed willing to confront the magnitude of the Brexit challenge to the British economy and to the stability of the Union.

But when you look at the areas where Labour did best and made gains, it appears that these tended to coincide with areas where Remain did best in the referendum. The identification of Labour support with Brexit scepticism is strengthened by Corbyn’s capacity to mobilize the millennial and first-time voters – precisely those who are most pro-Europe. The Labour vote, we might say, is the accidental beneficiary of Brexit anxiety, and vice versa.

I agree with Simon Jenkins (always a very wise head) that this result does reopen the Remain case, even if it will take some convolutions to arrive at that point. Somewhere down the line the U.K. should have to confront the necessity of a second referendum to pass on the actual Brexit negotiated by actual negotiators. There is a Canadian precedent: in 1980 the PQ referendum on sovereignty-association would have been followed by a second referendum to ratify or reject the actual deal negotiated. That respected the Quebec people in a way that the second referendum in 1995 did not. Given 50% + 1, Jacques Parizeau would have gone for a unilateral declaration of independence. Quebecers, he enthused, would be like “lobsters in the pot.” Britons, it seems, are lobsters in the pot with 52%. That is just not acceptable.

Commentators have made much of the losses suffered by the Scottish National Party and the emergence of the pro-Brexit Democratic Unionist Party in Northern Ireland as May’s strategic partner as evidence that fears of the Scots leaving the U.K. and perhaps Northern Ireland reuniting with the Republic to remain in the EU have been overblown. Perhaps, but I am not convinced. First, because the election was a U.K. election, not a referendum on post-Brexit Britain. Scots voted on issues of concern to all Britons. The DUP would push for a soft border. Second, since Brexit has no actual shape, there was less reason to pose a Scottish or Irish response at this point. Following an actual deal that could change again dramatically.

The other main point I would like to make is about the remarkable campaign of Jeremy Corbyn. Negatively branded well in advance – as much by his own party as by the Tories and the rabid right-wing media (think Stéphane Dion kitted up in terrorist revolutionary clothes!) – he turned it around in the campaign in an unprecedented way. His own modest and eminently reasonable demeanour, once exposed directly without the demonizing filters of the media, charmed and won over many who had previously dismissed him. But this conversion cannot be detached from the fact that Corbyn was speaking on the basis of a Labour Manifesto that was (a) resolutely left-wing and (b) surprisingly popular, especially with the young but with many older voters as well. Corbyn addressed the concerns of ordinary people, in words that were clear and accessible. And he offered hope over fear, which was the sole Tory offering. I take this as entirely encouraging in the time of Trump and Brexit The dead hand of “there is no alternative to neoliberalism” is loosening its grip and the political space is opening up.

There is a Britain, particularly among the young but not limited to them, that does not want to retreat into Little England and rejects the deceitful constraints of neoliberal orthodoxy. Jeremy Corbyn (like Bernie Sanders) is just the old, white-haired prophet of progressive change that could come from below. “Could,” not “will,” of course, but at least the possibility has been presented.

From: John Richards | June 10

Among the thoughtful postelection articles in the U.K. press, I quote a passage from Deborah Orr in the Guardian:

I feel that Britain has voted Irony. I hate the way people keep talking about “the kids”, when they mean young adults. I’m supposed to be thrilled that Corbyn got the kids out. Maybe he should have got the kids out a year ago during that terrible, dishonest EU referendum, that Cameron promised in order to be prime minister for what turned out to be an extra 13 inglorious months. The kids have voted for the man who made it plain that he didn’t really care about the EU, one way or the other, even though the kids who did vote last time voted overwhelmingly to stay in Europe.2

May evokes past British glories; Corbyn wants a more generous welfare state and renationalization of the railways. Between the two, I prefer Corbyn. But Orr rightly insists on rubbing her readers’ collective noses in the key political problem currently facing the British: Brexit. Given that Guardian readers are overwhelmingly Labour supporters, hers is a necessary voice. Neither May nor Corbyn said anything of substance in the campaign about Britain’s future relationship with Europe. If Britain withdraws from the EU, it will almost certainly suffer economically. But the remaining EU members will also lose. That the second largest European economy is succumbing to nostalgia of the right or left is not good news for Europe’s future.

From: Arthur Milner | June 10

The white underclass has seen / sees globalization – free trade, lots of immigration – as its enemy. The consequence has been the increasing success of the far right. Corbyn – not least because of his equivocation on Brexit (Sanders, too, opposed free trade) – is seen as an opponent of globalization and a friend of the working class.

American political scientist Thomas Frank, who generally denounces free trade, said this: “The orthodox economics on the subject says trade agreements are going to be good for some people and bad for other people, and you have to compensate the losers. What do Democrats do after they get these trade deals done? They scold the losers. They say, ‘Well, you didn’t go to college’” (CBC Sunday Edition, November 13, 2016).

He was talking about Bill Clinton, but of course it also applies to Tony Blair.

I generally support globalization. But if you get free trade without protection for those who lose out in the short term, you get Trump and Brexit.

So when Deborah Orr rants against Corbyn’s not caring about the EU, she’s exactly wrong. Had he cared more, he would have been seen as another Labour elitist.

I blame Blair for Brexit, not Corbyn.

From: Garth Stevenson | June 10

I don’t think I belong to the underclass, white or otherwise, but if I had lived in England in the 1970s I think I would have voted against joining “Europe.” England is part of Europe only in the trivial sense that Saint-Pierre and Miquelon are part of North America. It has a different history, a different legal system, and the English even drive on the other side of the road! Its cultural, historical and sentimental ties are with the United States and the Commonwealth, not with Europe. Historically since Tudor times it resisted every attempt to unify the continent, whether by Habsburgs, Bourbons, Bonapartists or fascists. Its heart was never really in the postwar European project, whose most enthusiastic advocates always envisaged a common currency and federal institutions at the end of the road, not merely free trade. General de Gaulle, the greatest European statesman of the 20th century, knew that the English were not really Europeans, which is why he tried to keep them out. Ireland, which is mainly Catholic, and Scotland, which has civil law rather than common law, have more in common with Europe than England does, and historically both countries used European neighbours, especially France, as counterweights to England. Presumably that is why they want to stay in.

Having said that, I also think that it is probably too late for England to get out, except at the cost of massive inconvenience, uncertainty, economic loss, possible separation from Scotland and lasting bitterness between England and its neighbours. So if had been an Englishman last year, I would have voted against Brexit. The least bad alternative at this point in time, a deal similar to that which Norway has, will be very difficult, and perhaps impossible, to negotiate. At the very least, Reg is absolutely right that there should be a second referendum to ratify the final deal (if there is a final deal) just as the Quebec government proposed in 1980.

The other option for the U.K. government might be to say, “Our people are deeply divided, they probably didn’t realize last year how difficult and inconvenient Brexit would really be, so let’s just forget the whole idea and not even try to negotiate a Brexit.” I’m not predicting that they will say that, but it is what I would probably do in their situation. Strictly speaking the Brexit vote was only a plebiscite, not a legally binding referendum, because there is no provision in British law for a binding referendum, so there would be no legal obstacle to this course of action.

The SNP would certainly support the minority government on this issue, and Labour would probably do so also, since Corbyn was never much of a “European” enthusiast and his very effective campaign has reinforced his authority over the party. Of course the DUP, on whose ten seats the government is currently relying for its temporary majority, would be unhappy, but the alliance with the DUP is already becoming controversial in England because of the DUP’s opposition to abortion and same-sex marriage. Apparently an online petition opposing the alliance with the DUP for that reason has attracted half a million signatures.

May, however, doesn’t seem like a strong enough leader to take such a bold step as abandoning the Brexit initiative. Run-of-the-mill politicians like May don’t take bold steps that abandon their previous policies the way de Gaulle accepted the independence of Algeria, so we will have to wait and see what happens. Que sera, sera.

From: Reg Whitaker | June 11

England part of Europe only in a trivial sense?

If we go back far enough to the origins of human settlement on what we now call the British Isles we discover that it was not an island but attached by land to the continent – and the movement of people and culture was continental in scope.

Two thousand years ago there was the little matter of Britain being part of the pan-European (and Near Eastern) Roman Empire, signs of which can be found whenever any one digs (as with the CrossRail project).

Then there were the Angles and Saxons, and then the Vikings (go to York and take a look at the evidence), all coming from Europe.

Of course let’s not forget 1066 and the Norman Conquest and the ruling class speaking French first for centuries after.

Trivial? Really!

From: John Richards | June 11

Arthur, There is an important distinction between the role of historian and politician. If we consider Brexit as historians, there are many factors in play. Clinton and Blair bear some responsibility inasmuch as they too easily accepted “neoliberal” notions about deregulation in the financial sector. Given the importance of London and New York in financial matters, this meant both the U.S. and the U.K. suffered more seriously in the wake of the financial collapse of 2008 than most countries – and exacerbated working-class misgivings about free trade arrangements. Much as Angela Merkel admitted a large number of refugees in 2015, Blair invited large East European immigration a decade earlier. Both experienced political backlash, which in the U.K. case contributed to working-class mistrust of the EU. We can invoke other factors. The U.K. had a “good war” from 1939 to 1945 inasmuch as the U.K. played a crucial role in destroying the Nazi threat. The Germans and French had very “bad wars” inasmuch as the French role in World War II was ambiguous and inconsequential, and too many Germans supported the Nazis. Post-1945 the French and German elites had a viscerally powerful desire to put an end to a century of warfare between their two countries by constructing an “ever closer union,” a goal that British elites never shared. If we consider Brexit in terms of expectations of politicians engaged in the debate, David Cameron obviously deserves to be damned for placing peace in his party above the potential damage that a lost Brexit referendum might inflict. But Corbyn should not escape criticism for his role as another “sorcier apprenti.” As Philip noted in his post, Corbyn has consistently over his career perceived the EU as an unwelcome constraint on U.K. social policy. He has rarely been frank in arguing this case. In the present context the reason for his dissembling is obvious. The great majority of his new supporters – many of them young, well-educated voters anxious to remain within the EU – do not share his quasi-isolationism. His solution has been to mumble about Britain’s role in the EU and the consequences of Brexit. Which brings to mind Edmund Burke’s letter to the Bristol constituent who had written to damn Burke’s position on an issue of the day. Burke replied that Bristol voters had elected him to exercise his judgement, not respect every sentiment of Bristol voters.

From: Garth Stevenson | June 11

Dear John, You criticize Corbyn for perceiving the EU as a constraint on U.K. social policy. Isn’t that what the Liberal Party of Canada, the NDP, the Ontario government and just about everyone who reads (or has heard of) Inroads thought about the Canada-U.S. Free Trade Agreement in 1988, and NAFTA a few years later? And NAFTA in fact is little more than a free trade area with no central institutions and seems to have had no effect on Canadian social policy that I am aware of. The EU on the other hand has elaborate central institutions, significantly reduces the autonomy and sovereignty of its member states and has aspirations to do so even more. It even has a flag and a “national” anthem (borrowed from poor old Beethoven, no less). So why are Brits who are sceptical or apprehensive about the EU targeted as isolationists, reactionaries, members of “the white underclass” and so forth, while Canadians who had similar misgivings about NAFTA (i.e. ourselves) are spared this kind of criticism? There seems to be a double standard at work here.

From: Joe Murray | June 11

When reading election result tea leaves, it’s important not to lose sight of the impact of ephemera and good electioneering craft and lack thereof.

There’s been a bit too much of a focus on policy as the salient factor in determining votes. Voters’ choices are based on a multitude of factors: identification with a party, identity formed in opposition to a party, perceptions of parties’ recent history, campaign platforms, specific policies in the platforms, positioning of the campaigns with respect to each other generally on key issues, key messages of the campaigns, narratives that explain the motivations and character of the leaders and what they will do, deliberate and inadvertent messaging sent by the type of events and backdrops the campaigns employ and don’t employ, the sophistication of messaging through various communications channels (TV ads, earned coverage, social media, etc.) and weaving them together into a convincing whole.

Some specific observations on this campaign:
  1. There were high expectations of May and low expectations of Corbyn going into it. As the campaign developed, May’s underperformance and Corbyn’s exceeding expectations became self-reinforcing stories.
  2. May chose a safe style of campaigning typical of campaigns with huge leads. Like “time for a change” against governments long in the tooth, “arrogance” is a familiar attack against this approach to campaigning. The Tories didn’t manage to inoculate themselves against that attack or respond effectively. May failed to pivot when the wheels started falling off her bus.
  3. Given the problems Corbyn had in public image and within his party, focusing on a person-to-person comparison made sense. “Strong and stable” are antonyms to how Corbyn was perceived at the campaign launch, not just what European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker wanted in his negotiating partner.
  4. In an attempt to present a contrast with the “easy answers” of a spendthrift Labour manifesto, the Tories aimed to be straight and sober minders of the purse. Their manifesto proposed changing from a universal winter heating subsidy program to a means-tested one and, much more importantly, arranging for more of the value of more seniors’ homes to be used in calculating what they could pay for their senior care, all while lifting a lifetime cap of £72,000. In ensuring protection for those worst off while addressing looming demographic challenges to the budget, this is consistent with May’s reviving the British “One Nation” strand of conservatism so close to Canada’s Red Toryism, while retaining the support of fiscal conservatives. But this was looking only at their own move, not how their opponents could respond – a rookie mistake that wasn’t caught because the circle of consulted advisers to her co–chief of staff was too small.
  5. In some excellent jiu-jitsu, Labour used these key messages to remind voters of previous Tory cuts and general hard-heartedness. When Tory grandees who hadn’t been consulted dissented, May flip-flopped on key parts of her platform. This totally undercut the central messages of “strong and stable.”
  6. Corbyn, having gained a reputation as a crazy inflexible old leftie who hadn’t changed his doctrinaire views since the 1970s, when actually seen by voters seemed like a guy who cared about real people – the opposite of an out-of-touch, stuck-up politician. His campaign put him in the midst of people. By contrast, May’s trouble delivering her message convincingly in the spotlight provided an awful picture of an inauthentic, wooden person repeating a self-serving message ad nauseam. Good craft versus bad craft.
  7. In terms of positioning, the Lib Dems put having a second referendum at the centre of their manifesto as an appeal to Remainers. Their leader’s commitment to abortion rights and same-sex equality was called into question by weak responses to questions about his religious faith. They lost votes, winding up with their worst percentage since 1956. I think it shows there was no Macron-like latent support for a pro-EU, anti-Brexit relitigation of last year’s referendum. May was explicitly hard-Brexit and didn’t benefit much, but I don’t think that was crucial to the campaign. Corbyn tried with reasonable success to change the channel from his soft Brexit to talk about Tory cutbacks and austerity and the need to rebuild the welfare state.

In sum, campaign f***-ups and personal failings made a difference. Perceptions of personality as well as character made a difference. Campaign strategies made a difference. And to a certain extent, the polity’s views on the high policy questions of the day also played a bit of a role.

From: Reg Whitaker | June 13

As the stunning results of the U.K. election have begun to sink in, there has been much speculation about the immediate political future. But the most recent development – still ongoing this week – of a pact between the shrunken and shaken May government and the ten-member Democratic Unionist Party caucus to keep the PM propped for an indefinite period in to the new Parliament is a most sinister matter. It is not exactly a deal with the devil (that would be to adopt the biblical rhetoric of the DUP) but it is a very dangerous deal, dangerous for the U.K. and particularly dangerous for Northern Ireland. If Theresa May were not in a state of desperation, this pact would never have been acceptable.

To understand why, we should first recognize that the entire Brexit debate was an English controversy, which utterly ignored the impact of Brexit on Northern Ireland. The Good Friday Agreement was based on the joint membership of Britain and the Irish Republic in the EU and the disappearance for all practical purposes of the once-policed “hard” Irish-British border. Free movement of people, goods and services also permitted joint administration of all-Ireland matters – in effect a fudging of the once unbridgeable gap between Republican demands for Irish reunification and Loyalist insistence on the Union. Brexit throws all that into question, especially if it is the hard Brexit demanded by the Tory Eurosceptics or the “no deal rather than a bad deal” that May has egregiously proposed.

Enter the DUP, and the figure of Arlene Foster now “negotiating” with May (“your money or the life of your government” would seem to be Foster’s opening gambit). Now, consider that the power-sharing arrangement in Northern Ireland has broken down and that there is at present no Northern Ireland government. Why? Because Foster as First Minister was personally associated with a massive corruption scandal but refused Sinn Fein’s demand that she step down. Instead, new elections saw Sinn Fein make major gains but fall one seat short of the DUP. All talks to reconstitute power sharing on the new basis have failed because Foster will not cooperate. This is the same woman who walked out of the Good Friday talks one hour before the agreement came into force because she would not countenance amnesty for the IRA – even though her DUP has always been associated with Loyalist militias that were as ruthless as the IRA in killing and maiming.

The British government is supposed to offer its good offices in finding a resolution to the power-sharing stalemate to avoid reversion to direct British rule. But now the British government will be dependent for its life on the very party that has prevented a resolution!

Much has also been made about the reactionary views of the DUP on social issues like gay rights and abortion. Already Ruth Davidson, the openly lesbian leader of the Scottish Conservatives, who have made the only real gains recorded by the Tories in this election, has signalled her severe displeasure at the prospect of the DUP holding a knife to May’s throat, and has raised the possibility of a Scottish Tory party separate from the English party. But while this is a problem for May, the bigger issue is the consequences of the DUP deal for Northern Ireland.

The destabilization of Northern Ireland is an dreadful prospect. It is doubtful that any return to the horrific days of the Troubles is likely: no one really wants that. But the delicate balance between the two communities, and between the Union and the Republic, is in jeopardy. Intransigent Loyalism can halt the slow and painful process of reconciliation and cooperation. No one will gain from this. But Arlene Foster can exert leverage out of all proportion to her real support, and May has no other recourse but to surrender.

The DUP will certainly demand even more money from Westminster even though Northern Ireland is still the most heavily subsidized part of the U.K. The Good Friday Agreement was always seen (although never openly acknowledged as such) as a way for England to relieve itself of its heavy security and economic obligations to the declining industrial rust belt of Northern Ireland. Brexit could further constrain the fiscal capacity, not to speak of the will, of the U.K. government to continue pouring good money after bad into Ulster. But now they may have no choice.

This is a serious mess. Another election and a Corbyn Labour majority government may be the only way out.

Continue reading “Theresa May’s losing gamble”