John Richards is a member of the faculty in the Graduate Public Policy School at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver. He has written extensively on social policy in Canada, primarily via the C.D. Howe Institute where he holds the Roger Phillips chair in social policy. In addition, he has undertaken teaching and research in Bangladesh over the last two decades. He heads the Centre for Policy Research, which is linked to the International University of Business Agriculture and Technology (IUBAT) in Dhaka. The centre’s most recent publications, available on line at http://www.iubat.edu/cpr, assess nutrition among women in low-income families in an urban slum and four rural villages, and the role of nutrition in school completion among children of these families.). Long ago, he was a MLA in Allan Blakeney’s initial NDP government in Saskatchewan. He crossed the floor to sit as an independent socialist, which not surprisingly assured subsequent electoral defeat and the need to complete a long-delayed doctorate. Married to a French woman, he is among an endangered minority – fluently French-English bilingual western Canadians.
Pictured: Assar Lindbeck, laureate of the Global Economy Prize for 2017. Photo by Kielinstitute, licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0
No Canadian public intellectual has exercised the influence that Assar Lindbeck enjoyed in Sweden, where he played a prominent role in academic and public affairs over four decades. The obituary published in the Financial Times of London on his death in 2020 spoke to his reputation in Europe.
Lindbeck combined advocacy for generous social programs with insistence on containing what he described as “hazardous dynamics.” The most prominent manifestation of his public role occurred in the early 1990s, when he chaired a commission that redesigned many core Swedish social and economic programs.
At the time, both Sweden and Canada were experiencing financial crises, brought on by the bursting of respective speculative housing bubbles and the general recession in Europe and North America. Those of us over 50 can recall Canadian initiatives in the 1990s equivalent to those Lindbeck championed in Sweden. Ottawa limited access to unemployment insurance, reduced conditional transfers to provinces and doubled Canada Pension Plan premiums. The provinces closed underused hospitals, rendered welfare assistance more difficult and severely constrained civil servants’ wages.
We invited Inroads contributor Richard Murray, a protégé of Lindbeck’s, to write a personal note on his career.
Social conditions in many of Canada’s First Nation communities are, by expectations of a modern society, intolerable. While, on average, social conditions among those who have “gone to town” are better, they remain intolerable for many urban First Nation families. What’s to be done?
At least since the 1996 report of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, the dominant answer among First Nation and non-Indigenous political leaders, academics and newspaper editors has been affirmation of First Nation identities via an expansive interpretation of treaty rights and emphasis on autonomous Indigenous communities separate from mainstream society. A prominent image in the RCAP report is a “birch bark canoe, for the Indian people, their laws, their customs, and their ways a ship… for the white people, their laws, their customs, and their ways … Neither of us will try to steer the other’s vessel.” Here is a somewhat fuller exposition of the RCAP goal:
Assimilation policies have done great damage, leaving a legacy of brokenness affecting Aboriginal individuals, families and communities … Yet the damage is not beyond repair. The key is to reverse the assumptions of assimilation that still shape and constrain Aboriginal life chances … To bring about this fundamental change, Canadians need to understand that Aboriginal peoples are nations … To this day, Aboriginal people’s sense of confidence and well-being remains tied to the strength of their nations. Only as members of restored nations can they reach their potential in the twenty-first century.1
A quarter-century after the RCAP publication, it is time to ask: has the agenda succeeded? Arguably, the most important criterion of success is the ability of First Nation communities to create employment for their members. By this criterion, the answer is no. There are, obviously, relevant criteria other than employment. But however important these other criteria are, they are complements to, not substitutes for, employment.
Following each census, the federal Indigenous services ministry constructs the Community Well-Being Index (CWB), a heroic attempt to assess the social well-being of more than 600 First Nation and Inuit communities across Canada. The employment rate is one element in constructing the CWB. From the first CWB iteration, based on the 1981 census, to the most recent, based on the 2016 census, the employment rate in First Nation communities remained two thirds the rate in non-Indigenous communities. At a regional level, the rate has risen in some regions, stagnated in others and declined in one region.
In this article, I aim to illustrate the relevance of employment as a factor associated with three social pathologies that have received extensive attention in government reports and academic and policy studies: suicide, alcohol abuse, and homicide. Ideally, the analysis should be conducted at the level of individual First Nation communities, but in the absence of disaggregated data, regional-level data suffice to show the existence of dramatic differences in prevalence of these pathologies associated with differences in regional employment rates.
First Nation families voting with their feet is an indication that employment matters. In the 2001 census, 49 per cent of those who had the right to live on-reserve (“registered Indians” pursuant to the Indian Act) did so; in the 2016 Census, only 40 per cent did so. Another measure of mobility is the distribution of those who identify in the census as First Nation whether or not they are “registered.” In 2001, 45 per cent lived on-reserve; in 2016 only 34 per cent did. The majority of First Nation people now live in cities, and more than a third live in large cities (population over 100,000). Probably the best explanation for this migration comes from the large-scale survey of 2,600 urban Indigenous people (Métis and Inuit as well as First Nation) undertaken for the 2010 Urban Aboriginal Peoples Study:
When asked (unprompted, without response options offered) why they first moved to their city, equal proportions cite the opportunity to be closer to family (38%), and the pursuit of education (37%) and employment opportunities (37%). Smaller proportions say they moved to their city because it offered better amenities (18%), the chance to escape a bad family situation (10%) and the opportunity for career advancement (9%).2
None of the above implies that the urban Indigenous population enjoys overall social conditions on a par with their non-Indigenous neighbours or that urban natives have abandoned their Indigenous identity. Emphasis on the RCAP agenda has obscured the extent to which Indigenous communities display social pathologies – which also afflict many in non-Indigenous communities – that can only be addressed by the overall society. A key factor underlying these pathologies is absence of employment.
A frequently cited article on suicide among the Indigenous population is Michael J. Chandler and Christopher Lalonde’s 1998 study of suicide in British Columbia.3 Chandler and Lalonde established the residence of each Aboriginal suicide in one of 29 tribal councils. Then, using an index of “cultural continuity” that each tribal council achieves (based on such measures as the percentage of children attending on-reserve schools and the extent of band control of health and other services), they found a connection between this index and suicide: the higher the tribal council’s cultural continuity, the lower the suicide rate. I do not deny that “cultural continuity” matters. The major problem with this study is the attempt to attribute suicide to a single factor.
In 2017, a parliamentary committee submitted its report on “The Suicide Crisis in Indigenous Communities,” which is worth quoting at some length:
Jack Hicks noted there is a connection between “job losses, unemployment, social despair, and suicide.” Sheila North Wilson, in describing the recent loss of her cousin to suicide, noted he had trouble finding work when he returned to his home community, “How is a young man, a young father, and a young husband supposed to feel when they don’t have any jobs to provide for their family?” …
For those living in remote communities, the Committee heard there is clear connection between unemployment and hopelessness. For example, when the Weeneebakyo Area Health Authority asked a young First Nation woman why there are many suicides in her reserve she replied, “It is simple, no jobs, no future and no hope.” Will Landon explained how “a lot of suicides can be linked to low economic opportunity. They don’t feel there’s a lot for them out there. Sitting on welfare is not a great option for them and it gets depressing.”
In addition to providing a source of income to provide for their families, work can also be an important aspect of developing self-worth and confidence. For instance, Joachim Bonnetrouge from the Deh Gah Got’ie First Nation noted that about half of his community is currently unemployed and that more opportunities would substantially benefit the community, “If you have a family and a father, and they could give him a job, holy man, you’d see that would make a big difference in anybody’s life.”
This passage from the parliamentary committee report emphasizes lack of employment as the key factor associated with suicide. But like the cultural continuity cited by Chandler and Lalonde, employment is not the sole cause of high community suicide rates. In a recent Statistics Canada study that attempted to identify the role of several socioeconomic factors, Mohan B. Kumar and Michael Tjepkema conclude with respect to First Nation adults:
After adjusting for age and sex, the risk of suicide… was twice as high as that among non-Indigenous adults. Adjusting for household income resulted in a decrease in risk by 35%. After further adjusting for labour force status, level of education and marital status, First Nations adults were still at a higher risk of suicide than non-Indigenous adults. Together, these factors accounted for 66% of the excess suicide risk. Further adjusting for living on and off reserve resulted in a HR of 1.2, which was not significantly different from 1.0. Together, all these factors accounted for 78% of the excess suicide risk among First Nations adults.4
Not only are multiple socioeconomic factors relevant, but the factors are also interdependent. For example, higher education improves the probability of employment, which improves family income. It’s important to consider which socioeconomic factors are most subject to policy intervention. Employment and education stand out as obvious candidates.
That employment yields social benefits beyond the direct value of income for the worker is hardly a new idea. Historically, employment as a strategy to address poverty and social pathologies is associated with harsh poor laws in Elizabethan England. In current social policy debates, many – on both left and right – argue that whatever the excesses of poor laws and workhouses, high unemployment is a fundamental factor in explaining high rates of social pathologies. Social policy that ignores employment will not succeed.
Among those who have insisted on increasing employment among marginalized groups, William Julius Wilson figures prominently. Wilson is an American sociologist much of whose early research analyzed the role of unemployment in the context of American inner-city ghettos. Writing in 1996, he summarized:
The disappearance of work and the consequences of that disappearance for both social and cultural life are the central problems in the inner-city ghetto. To acknowledge that the ghetto still includes working people and that nearly all ghetto residents, whether employed or not, support the norms of the work ethic … should not lead one to overlook the fact that a majority of adults in many inner-city neighborhoods are jobless at any given point in time.5
Wilson’s research has inspired recent studies on the decline in employment rate and working conditions among working-class Americans over the last quarter-century. Prominent in this literature is research undertaken by the husband-wife team of Angus Deaton (winner of the 2015 Nobel economics prize) and Anne Case. In several recent publications, they have analyzed increases in U.S. age-adjusted mortality rates due to suicide, alcohol abuse and drug abuse among populations defined by race, education level and geography. These three proximate causes of premature death they label “deaths of despair.”6 Following Deaton and Case, the second pathology to discuss is alcohol.
Large-scale surveys of alcohol abuse have found that excessive alcohol consumption is more prevalent among Indigenous than non-Indigenous Canadians.7 Rather than a summary of epidemiological studies, a better introduction to the consequence of alcohol is the memoir of Harold Johnson, a First Nation lawyer who, for two decades, acted as defence counsel and crown prosecutor in northern Saskatchewan. The RCAP commissioners concluded, “The widely held belief that most Aboriginal people consume excessive amounts of alcohol on a regular basis appears to be incorrect.”8 Johnson bluntly retorts, “The Royal Commission obviously got it wrong.”
He traces the link between alcohol and employment to the disappearance over the second half of the 20th century of traditional employment opportunities in the north: logging, trapping, freshwater fishing. The disappearance of such jobs exacerbated alcohol abuse. At the core of his memoir is a harrowing description of multiple cases in which alcohol figures prominently.
Johnson advances four interpretations of alcohol abuse in First Nation communities, each of which he finds wanting because each denies the obligation of First Nation leaders to assume responsibility and address the problem.
He first analyzes the victim model: present problems are the consequence of colonization. Obviously, White settlers were colonizers; they expropriated land and introduced alcohol. However, argues Johnson, “If we believe that the only reasons for our problems rest with colonization, we can never fix our problems, because we cannot go back and fix colonization.”9
The second interpretation is that the psychological trauma of colonization, and of residential schools in particular, induced destructive drinking habits. This, he concludes, is a variant of the first interpretation: “Many people who attended residential schools were severely traumatized. But traumatic events did not end when the residential schools were closed. Alcohol creates its own trauma. More often than not, the trauma our relatives experience occurs as a result of excessive drinking.”
He is equally dissatisfied with the medical model, which treats alcoholism as a disease similar to others, such as smallpox or tuberculosis. Once again, he concludes, the medical interpretation denies any responsibility within Indigenous communities to introduce social reforms.
The fourth interpretation is reliance on the law to resolve problems arising from abuse of alcohol:
On the northern court circuit, the judge and the prosecutor and the defence lawyer … fly into remote communities once or twice a month … We hold court all day and often late into the evening … After a day in court, after doing what the Law Enforcement Model requires, after hearing over and over again that, “when he’s sober, he’s a good guy; it was just the alcohol”, we are driven back out to the airplane by the RCMP.
Reliance on the law, concludes Johnson, is “insane.” Asking judges to weigh partial conflicting evidence presented by defence counsel and prosecutor requires that judges choose one side or the other and ignore complex reality:
Law can never solve our problem with alcohol in our communities and the devastation it causes, because law is not rational. It refuses to look at the whole of the problem, even though alcohol and its aftermath are the primary matters that the courts deal with every day, all day long. In its deliberate blindness, law is actually quite insane.
His tentative short-term solution turns around “sober houses”:
If you have a sober house, if you are one of the 35% of our people who never use alcohol, you put a Sober House sign on your door and people will know that you welcome sober people to come and join you … A safe place, a cup of tea, someone to talk to, some who understand: the experience of what a healthy life and a healthy home look like would be, for many of our relatives, something superior to any treatment centre.
Sober houses may be a weak reed on which to rely. Johnson has much to say about cultural revival of Indigenous values and employment as means to restore community health.
The causes of homicide are similar in many ways to those of the three deaths of despair analyzed by Case and Deaton. The recent report on murdered and missing Indigenous women (MMIW) is the most prominent official acknowledgment in Canada of the high homicide rate among the Indigenous population. Like the RCAP analysis of alcohol, the MMIW analysis of homicide is woefully inadequate. The report notes that in recent years nearly one quarter of female homicide victims have been Indigenous, a share far higher than the Indigenous share of the Canadian female population. The explanation for this state of affairs, MMIW concludes, is straightforward: White settler colonialism and continued White racism:
The violence the National Inquiry heard amounts to a race-based genocide of Indigenous Peoples, including First Nations, Inuit and Métis, which especially targets women, girls, and 2SLGBTQQIA people. This genocide has been empowered by colonial structures evidenced notably by the Indian Act, the Sixties Scoop, residential schools and breaches of human and Indigenous rights, leading directly to the current increased rates of violence, death, and suicide in Indigenous populations.10
If past colonialism and allegedly persistent White racist attitudes are the only relevant factors to explain contemporary pathologies, perhaps the RCAP agenda of parallel societies is the only option to pursue. However, there is a great deal missing from the MMIW report – beginning with the absence of any discussion of homicide among Indigenous men, both as perpetrators and victims (see tables 1–3). Here is a summary of recent statistics11:
While a quarter of female homicide victims are Indigenous, male Indigenous homicide victims are also a quarter of all male homicide victims (table 1). Since the total male homicide victim rate is much higher than the female rate, three quarters of Indigenous homicide victims are male.
In terms of perpetrators of homicide, the overall rate is much higher among males than among females, and the rate is much higher among Indigenous males than among non-Indigenous males (table 2).
The distributions of relationships between perpetrators of homicide and their victims are similar among Indigenous and non-Indigenous victims (table 3). In both cases, the relationship is overwhelmingly one of spouses, family members, intimate nonfamily members and friends. In the case of Indigenous homicide victims, only 10 per cent of perpetrators are strangers to the victim.
Consistent with the data on relationships between Indigenous victims and homicide perpetrators, over a third of all homicide perpetrators are Indigenous (table 2), which implies that a large majority of homicides of Indigenous women are perpetrated by Indigenous men. Which brings us back to the discussion of pathologies associated with low employment.
The link between “deaths of despair” and employment
What is the relevance of employment to this discussion of suicide, alcoholism and homicide?
In Canada, there has been no detailed linking of community-level First Nation employment conditions and “deaths of despair” comparable to the research undertaken in the United States by Case and Deaton and others. However, fragmentary evidence does exist. The Statistics Canada study discussed above reaches a firm conclusion that “labour force status” is a significant socioeconomic factor associated with high suicide rates among First Nations. I introduced the Community Well-Being Index (CWB), constructed from four subindices (per capita income, housing quality, education level, labour force status).12 The community employment rate is a second-order statistic that enters into calculation of the labour force status subindex.
Since the initial CWB based on 1981 census results, the employment rate in First Nation communities has remained at two thirds the rate in non-Indigenous communities. Regional employment rates, however, have diverged. In Atlantic Canada, Quebec and the Territories (one fifth of the total First Nation population), 2016 employment rates are higher than in 1981 by over 10 percentage points. In Ontario and B.C. (over one third the total), rates have risen at rates similar to those of the non-Indigenous population. In the Prairies (nearly half the total), employment rates in 2016 are either the same as in 1981 or slightly lower (see Figure 1).
Correlation is a crude measure to assess causality. But, in the absence of more detailed evidence, correlation conclusions should be addressed. The Statistics Canada study quoted above reports provincial-level statistics on suicides, in the form of ratios of First Nation to non-Indigenous suicide rates. Nationally, the ratio over the years 2011–16 is 3:1 (First Nation 24.3/100,000 vs. non-Indigenous 8.0/100,000). At the provincial level, the range of ratios is from 1.9 to 4.6. The three highest ratios are in Manitoba (ratio 4.6), Saskatchewan (4.5) and Alberta (3.5). There is a negative correlation between regional First Nation / non-Indigenous suicide ratios (highest in Prairies) and First Nation regional employment rates (lowest in Prairies).
There is also an obvious negative correlation between Indigenous homicide rates, for both victims and perpetrators (highest in Prairies) and First Nation regional employment rates (lowest in Prairies). Over the years 2016–18, two thirds of all Indigenous homicide victims and Indigenous homicide perpetrators were in the Prairie provinces. Indigenous homicide rates in the Prairies, for victims and perpetrators, are roughly three times comparable Indigenous homicide rates elsewhere in Canada (tables 1 and 2).
Strenthening employment and education
If past colonial relations and present White racism suffice to explain the incidence of suicide, alcoholism and homicide among the Indigenous, why are there such dramatic regional differences? If we exclude the Prairies, the Indigenous homicide rates (as victims and perpetrators) and suicide rate are approximately three times the respective non-Indigenous national rates. In the Prairie provinces, the Indigenous homicide and suicide rates are approximately three times the respective Indigenous rates elsewhere in Canada. This is strong evidence that addressing social pathologies requires addressing low employment among many Indigenous communities.
First Nation families that want to live in their First Nation communities should be able to do so with reasonable employment prospects. That is seldom the case at present. For it to be feasible, successful out-migration must become an option for those who want to “go to town.” At present, those living in a First Nation community with weak education outcomes face severely limited employment options – whether in their community or “in town.” Hence, many stay on-reserve and on welfare.
In the medium term, successful out-migration requires K–12 education outcomes that are similar to those among non-Indigenous children. Historically, on-reserve band-controlled schools have not performed well. The core obstacle is not inadequate government school financing. With honourable exceptions, First Nation leaders have not made sufficient commitment to strengthening student outcomes in their schools – which does not excuse provincial education ministries. Most First Nation secondary school students attend provincial schools and provincial governments vary widely in terms of the priority attached to successful First Nation student outcomes.13
For a small minority of First Nation communities, the RCAP agenda is succeeding in the creation of jobs. Thanks to the courts having strengthened treaty rights, communities with rights bearing on resource projects are now able to strike beneficial partnerships with resource companies, which generate income and employment for community members. We can get a picture of where these more successful communities stand by looking at the top decile, in terms of employment rate, among the more than 600 First Nation communities included in the CWB. It is well above the First Nation average, but still six percentage points below the average rate for non-Indigenous communities. In other words, fewer than 60 First Nation communities enjoy employment rates above or reasonably close to the non-Indigenous average.14
In the short term, affirmative action is justifiable. There should be no illusions: there is a long history of mixed results from past affirmative action initiatives. One avenue is decentralization of relevant federal administrative offices from major cities to small towns, which would increase the probability of Indigenous employment. Another avenue is to further strengthen treaty rights that engender sustainable employment, such as First Nation fishing and logging rights. An important, highly controversial precedent is the 1974 Boldt decision (named after the trial judge) in Washington state. It awarded American Indian tribes along the Columbia River the right to half the allowable salmon catch, a share far more generous than the equivalent allocation among First Nations in B.C. Over the decades, Washington state tribes have developed significant employment in processing salmon and managing an intertribal regulatory regime.15 Other controversial quota options exist: Ottawa could impose quotas regulating the minimum number of First Nation workers to be hired by firms wanting to hire temporary foreign workers.
None of this will happen as long as the dominant discourse is one of colonialism and White settler guilt.
Among high-income OECD countries, Canada currently has one of the highest proportions of foreign-born individuals in its population. While Canadian immigration rates have risen substantially over the last three decades, Canada has long been a “country of immigrants.” Figure 1 shows the foreign-born share in Canada since Confederation. After hitting a low point of 13 per cent in 1901, the foreign-born share shot up to over 20 per cent through the next three decades. It then dropped and stabilized at 16 per cent until late in the 20th century, when it began to rise. In the 2010s, it once again surpassed 20 per cent.
Perhaps the most important distinction between the two periods of high immigration is geographic dispersion. In the early 20th century, immigration rates were highest in the western provinces, largely as a result of rural settlement in the Prairies, while rates were also high in British Columbia, Ontario and Quebec. In sharp contrast, over the last three decades, immigration has been concentrated in a handful of large cities. Over a third of 2019 immigrants settled in Toronto (35 per cent). Another third settled in four cities with population over a million – Vancouver (12 per cent), Montreal (10 per cent), Calgary (6 per cent), and Edmonton (5 per cent). The final third settled elsewhere.
To date, Canada has avoided the serious conflicts that have taken place in the United States over immigration levels and rural/urban political divisions. Whether we can extrapolate present-day immigration trends over the next two decades and avoid serious political divisions deserves discussion. In the latest poll on public attitudes, opinion was not enthusiastic about government projections of higher immigration levels: 17 per cent favour higher levels; 36 per cent favour lower levels; 40 per cent favour the status quo (340,000 immigrants in 2019).1
In this issue, we are publishing two articles on immigration. Mark Stobbe writes on the excessive resort to international visa students as a “back door” immigration route. Increasingly, colleges and universities are relying on visa students paying high fees (at least four times those charged to domestic students). From his experience as an instructor, he finds that most visa students are not much interested in his lectures, while university and college administrators are primarily interested in the fee revenue.
Anne-Michèle Meggs dissects the complex channels whereby immigrants achieve “permanent residence” and citizenship. Over a third of the 340,000 immigrants accepted in 2019 did not come from abroad but were already in Canada, most under student or conditional work permits. She discusses the declining role of the “points system” in determining immigration, and expands on Stobbe’s concern over the unintended consequences for postsecondary institutions of the growing number of international students. In a second article on immigration in the Summer/Fall 2021 issue of Inroads, Meggs will examine temporary worker programs.
Harold R. Johnson, Firewater: How Alcohol is Killing My People (and Yours).
Regina, SK: University of Regina Press, 2016. 180 pages.
Harold Johnson is a member of the Montreal Lake Cree Nation in northern Saskatchewan, son of a Cree mother and a Swedish father (who assimilated into Cree culture). He has lived a very full life. Before pursuing his present “job” as both fiction and nonfiction writer, he undertook many careers. In his youth, he was a logger, miner, trapper and fisher. He joined the navy; later he decided to be a lawyer and got a law degree from the University of Saskatchewan, and subsequently a master’s degree in law from Harvard. For two decades he was a senior crown prosecutor in northern Saskatchewan. He insists on describing himself as “Indian” as opposed to other labels, and enters into the debate over the origin of the word (Columbus’s confusion as to where he landed in 1492 vs. evolution of the Spanish in Dios – with God). Currently, he lives “off grid” with his wife, near his family home.
I was aware of this book, but did not read it until recently. It deserves a review in Inroads, even if four years late. Incidentally, Firewater was shortlisted in 2016 for a Governor General’s literary award.
Johnson’s thesis is straightforward: alcoholism is the key dysfunction in First Nation communities. To date, he concludes, the Canadian elite – both Native and non-Native – has avoided discussion of its seriousness. In discussing the 1996 report of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples (RCAP), he writes that alcoholism “was too blatant a subject to ignore … The commissioners argued back and forth about this study and that study and which might be correct … They said, ‘the widely held belief that most Aboriginal people consume excessive amounts of alcohol on a regular basis appears to be incorrect.’” Johnson’s response: “The Royal Commission obviously got it wrong.” From his experience as crown prosecutor he describes many harrowing cases involving alcohol. To give a sample:
I know a young man from a community near here who had a girl friend. The two of them were having a few relationship problems and had walked away from the community … They were standing on the bridge consuming alcohol. The girl decided to punish the young man by committing suicide – she jumped in front of a semi-truck that was passing by just then. The young man was devastated and confused … The experience haunted him, and he went to talk to an aunt for advice. She told him, “Go get good and drunk and let it go.” … He drank as much as he could for as long as he could. He woke up one morning in his car. The police were knocking on the window. They were investigating a hit and run. They found the victim’s DNA under the young man’s car. Sometime during the night he had run over his cousin and killed him … At that moment, he quit drinking. Trauma, grief and drinking seem to go together in our communities.
Is this case representative? There is no definitive evidence on the prevalence of abuse of alcohol in First Nation communities and the extent of negative consequences. Johnson thinks the case studies he raises are representative; I agree with him. There is also a great deal of anecdotal evidence. Johnson refers to conversations with police, probation officers, judges and a forensic anthropologist, and personal experience with Indigenous friends, primarily those who do not drink. He cites the indirect evidence arising from coroners’ reports of proximate causes of death in northern Saskatchewan, where roughly two thirds of the population is First Nation. In the north, the leading cause of death between 1998 and 2007 was “injury” (at 23 per cent). In the province overall, “injury” was far less prevalent (at 6 per cent), and would have been lower yet (at 4 per cent) were the north excluded.
“Injury” (which includes suicide) is one of a dozen standard causes of death listed in coroners’ reports. It is, admittedly, an ambiguous residual category. One of the few comprehensive studies to make use of “injury” statistics is a study nearly two decades old, undertaken by the First Nations and Inuit branch of Health Canada.1 This study analyzed the difference in distributions of proximate causes of death between on-reserve First Nation and non-Indigenous Canadians. The study used the concept of potential years of life lost, a measure that accords a higher weight to death at early ages. The overwhelming difference between causes of death in the two populations is the dramatically higher importance of “injury” among First Nation relative to non-Indigenous Canadians. To my knowledge, no subsequent comprehensive study has been undertaken.
As evidence that non-Indigenous elites are also unwilling to address alcoholism, here is the conclusion of a (highly negative) review of Firewater in Quill & Quire, a representative organ of respectable literary opinion in Canada: “Johnson’s basic argument – that alcohol is killing so many indigenous people – is flawed from the start … He offers no supporting research, no police reports, coroner reports, or medical records, to back up his claim.”2
Johnson has pursued many careers, but statistician is not one of them. He realizes, as does the author of the Quill & Quire review, the need for better statistical evidence. He describes in some detail an unsuccessful attempt to persuade a statistically competent colleague to research evidence on the role of alcohol among First Nation people in Saskatchewan:
I wanted to find out many things. How many deaths were the direct results of alcohol? What percentage of accidents? How many cancers? How many heart attacks? How many suicides? Could he determine how much shorter a child’s life would be because the parents were drinking and not providing proper nourishment during the child’s formative years? What is the cost to society for one child with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) during that child’s life?
Johnson rejects various explanations that make deterministic arguments based on historical wrongs: “If we believe that the only reasons for our problems rest with colonization, we can never fix our problems, because we cannot go back and fix colonization. We cannot go back and change residential schools.” His tentative short-term solution turns around “sober houses”:
If you have a sober house, if you are one of the 35% of our people who never use alcohol, you put a Sober House sign on your door and people will know that you welcome sober people to come and join you … A safe place, a cup of tea, someone to talk to, some who understand: the experience of what a healthy life and a healthy home look like would be, for many of our relatives, something superior to any treatment centre.
“Sober houses” may be a weak reed on which to rely. Johnson has much more to say than advocacy for sober houses. He hopes that a cultural revival of Indigenous values will restore community health.
In thinking about potential policy to realize reconciliation, I have been influenced by the late Allan Blakeney, a politician much ahead of his time in his concern about the condition of the Indigenous population. Many would now dismiss as inadequate his attempt as Premier in the 1970s to create Native-run municipal governments throughout northern Saskatchewan. At the time, they were valuable innovations. Given Blakeney’s longstanding engagement, Brian Mulroney appointed him to RCAP as a commissioner. Prior to publication of the report, Blakeney resigned. Why, I asked him? I take the liberty of summarizing here his response in a personal conversation:
In my opinion, roughly a quarter of those who identify as Indian or First Nation truly want a communal lifestyle available on self-governing reserves, and that should be acknowledged and respected. Another quarter are reasonably well integrated in mainstream Canadian society. The half in the middle are migrating between reserve and town and facing many difficulties in both contexts. For two years, I travelled with other RCAP commissioners across Canada and could never generate a serious discussion about education and employment. My frustration was such that, finally, I thought it preferable to resign.
Blakeney placed more emphasis than Johnson does on formal education and employment, and the desirability of most – not all, but most – “Indians” opting to go to town. Maybe Johnson is right, and Blakeney wrong. Whatever the ultimate explanation of excess Native death by “injury,” Johnson makes a very convincing case that both Indigenous and non-Indigenous elites are ignoring a fundamental social scourge.
In February of this year, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) won its third mandate to govern the Indian state of Delhi, comprising the city of that name and its immediate surroundings. The AAP is a maverick political party born in the wake of a decade-old anticorruption campaign. To the surprise of many, it defeated the Hindu nationalist anti-Muslim campaign waged during the election campaign by the BJP, Narendra Modi’s governing national party. Survival of the AAP government is more than a regional election in a (relatively) minor state with a population of 20 million; potentially, it is a major event in Indian politics. But first, a digression on Hamlet.
Shakespeare wrote Hamlet in the tradition of the unreliable narrator. For four centuries, people have debated what he intended as the “something rotten” in Denmark to which the guard Marcellus alerts Horatio after the appearance of the Ghost of Hamlet’s father. In the next scene the Ghost denounces his brother Claudius who has usurped the throne:
Ay, that incestuous, that adulterate beast, With witchcraft of his wit, with traitorous gifts – O wicked wit and gifts, that have the power So to seduce! – won to his shameful lust The will of my most seeming-virtuous queen: O Hamlet, what a falling-off was there! From me, whose love was of that dignity That it went hand in hand even with the vow I made to her in marriage, and to decline Upon a wretch whose natural gifts were poor To those of mine!
One interpretation of rot in the state of India is that Modi is a “beast” who has “seduced” the “seeming-virtuous” people of India. “What a falling-off was there” from religious tolerance as preached by Gandhi, now abandoned by the Hindu majority, who are indulging a “shameful lust” that entails persecution of Muslims. The rightful king of India (whoever is the present leader of the Congress Party) has been assassinated – literally in the case of Rajiv Gandhi (killed in 1991), figuratively at other times.
More or less, this is the interpretation of Indian politics among cosmopolitan liberals. A good example is Asim Ali, writing in the New York Times under the headline “Modi lost the Delhi Election. It Doesn’t Matter.”1 Why doesn’t it matter? Because Modi’s Hindutva and intolerance of Muslims define the present state of Indian politics. The fact that the Delhi election winner chose not to challenge Modi’s discriminatory citizenship law and instead campaigned on quality of public services is proof that Modi has won the ideological debate over religious tolerance.
Shakespeare’s villains are never one-dimensional. Claudius may have assassinated Prince Hamlet’s father and usurped the throne, but he is portrayed throughout the play as a competent ruler. Perhaps Hamlet’s father (the assassinated king) and the usurper Claudius are both rotten. Shakespeare lived in the 16th and early 17th centuries, a time of religious wars across Europe, which resulted in multiple acts of regicide in a context of rampant papal corruption. The usurper was usually neither better nor worse than the usurped. In 20th- and early 21st-century India, Congress tolerated political corruption on such a massive scale and for so many decades that a plurality of Indians have become as disgusted with it as 16th- and 17th-century Protestant Europeans were with the papacy. Apparently Indians are willing to be governed, at the national level, by the BJP, which may – or may not – govern the country more efficiently. Worth noting, the AAP not only defeated the BJP’s attempt to mould the Delhi election into an affirmation of Hindutva and opposition to Islam, but also decimated the Congress. Of 70 seats in the Delhi legislature, the AAP won 62, the BJP 8 and Congress 0. For many, the BJP’s introduction of a discriminatory citizenship law that grants citizenship to all religious refugees other than Muslims is a minor matter relative to the abysmal state of public services in much of India.
A government focused on public services
Soutik Biswas, the BBC correspondent in India, interprets the AAP victory much as I do. In one of several stories he wrote on the AAP reelection, he summarized: “Rather than being seen as a vote against the BJP, Kejriwal’s comfortable win owes more to the triumph of welfarism and effective governance – revamping state-run schools and health clinics, and providing cheap water and electricity.”2
Asim Ali acknowledged that “Mr. Kejriwal, an anti-graft activist turned politician, focused the electoral campaign of his party on his record of governance – the significant improvement he made to the delivery of services in public hospitals, the quality of education and infrastructure in schools, and the cost of electricity in Delhi.” Nonetheless, the victory “doesn’t matter” because the rot in India is simple: it is Hindutva and hostility to Islam. As an aside, Ali would be more convincing in affirming that the rot in India is primarily religious bigotry if he generalized his thesis to include criticism of Pakistan and – with more qualifications – Bangladesh.
Biswas and Ali agree on one thing: the AAP is a party led by earnest middle-class professionals primarily interested in better social services. Kejriwal is a former accountant. Atishi, the most prominent AAP spokesperson on behalf of better government schools, has a degree from Oxford. If readers want a Canadian parallel, the 1944–64 Saskatchewan government of Tommy Douglas and his successor Woodrow Lloyd (minister of education for 17 years before becoming premier and successfully implementing medicare) comes to mind. It was an earnest government led primarily by a charismatic preacher and several very smart teachers and farmers. For two decades it pioneered multiple social programs that were adopted across Canada in the 1960s. The progressive movement in the United States prior to World War I, largely motivated by middle-class disgust with the post–Civil War era of corrupt Tammany Hall politics, is another parallel.
The heart of the AAP’s raison d’être is better schools. The AAP has spent much more on schools than its predecessors but, more important, most of its senior leaders are obsessive about improving and decentralizing school management, empowering teachers as professionals and assessing school outcomes. In 2019, AAP leaders trumpeted the result, unthinkable a decade earlier, that students in Delhi government secondary schools were marginally ahead of the average performance in Delhi private schools.
The AAP victory over the BJP and Congress is encouraging, but its breach in conventional Indian politics is fragile. There is little evidence that the major political parties are willing to undertake self-criticism and constrain, if not eliminate, the complex web of corruption, patronage and electoral intimidation that has characterized politics in the subcontinent for the last half-century. The result of weak governance has been a shamefully weak set of social programs, especially with regard to schools.
The “shameful history” of Indian government schools3
In the century before India became independent in 1947, several commissions assessed the daunting task of organizing universal education in the subcontinent. The last initiative prior to independence was the Sargent Committee in 1944. It recommended an agenda stretching over four decades:
free and compulsory basic education of five years for all children aged 6 to 11, to be realized within four decades;
compulsory senior basic education of three years for four-fifths of the children aged 11 to 14;
secondary education, with a duration of six years, for the age group 11–17 for approximately one out of every five children who completed the primary school.
At the time, adult literacy was 18 per cent and only a quarter of school-age children were attending a school. Post-independence, Indian political leaders scorned the committee’s four-decade timetable. The first Five Year Plan reduced the time for realizing the committee’s first goal from four decades to one.
Far from achieving universal basic education in one decade, India proved the Sargent Committee’s timetable wildly overoptimistic. Seven decades after independence, the Lok Sabha (national parliament) continues to enact legislation and set ambitious targets – which it consistently fails to meet. The most recent major legislative initiative, the 2009 Right to Education Act, stipulates a right to “free and compulsory” education for children aged 6 to 14. In great detail, Rangachar Govinda and A. Mathew discuss the laws, commissions and five-year plans from the 1940s to the present. They reach the depressing conclusion that “through the decades … political leaders set specific targets and time frames … but these remained unmet every time.”4 This conclusion is shared by nearly all who have studied education policy in South Asia.
Following the launch of the United Nations Millennium Development Goals in 2000, India and other South Asian countries responded with improvements in school inputs: more teachers (which allowed for reductions in student/teacher ratios), school improvements (such as toilets, books, electricity) and higher teacher salaries. India, Bangladesh and Nepal claim to have more or less fulfilled the “letter” of MDG2 – universal primary education by 2015 – but they did not fulfil its “spirit.” Enrolment of the primary-age cohort is now over 90 per cent in India and Bangladesh (but not Pakistan), and primary completion rates are about 80 per cent. However, “free and compulsory” education has not led to a better-educated young generation. Governments achieved high completion rates by lowering standards in government schools. In general, the quality of Indian primary education in government schools remains shamefully low.
How low? An indirect measure is the flight from government schools among those with some discretionary income. In the most recent survey by the Indian nongovernmental organization ASER (see box above) in 2018, the share of sampled children attending government primary schools has declined to 64 per cent. In other words, more than a third of all rural children now attend a nongovernment school. In the cities the share is probably higher.
A key ASER benchmark is the share of sampled Grade 3 students “working at grade level.” Nationally, the average is 27 per cent in terms of reading, and 28 per cent in arithmetic. Figures 1 and 2 illustrate progress through the five elementary grades in terms of ability to undertake the reading and arithmetic problems drawn from the Grade 2 curriculum of the relevant state. The ASER statistics illustrated are the national average for all school types. (For reasons explained below I have added the analogous average progress for West Bengal students and for an NGO school in northern Bangladesh.) There is a very large difference between average performance in government relative to nongovernment schools. Among Grade 3 students in government schools, only 21 per cent are reading at grade level, as opposed to 41 per cent in nongovernment schools. With respect to arithmetic, the comparable statistics are 21 per cent in government schools and 44 per cent in nongovernment schools.
There are many qualifications to make, but they do not seriously blunt the conclusion: government primary education in India is, as my colleagues and I concluded in an earlier Inroads article, a “shameful failure.”5 Some of the gap between government and nongovernment student assessments can be attributed to differences in family characteristics. Parents of children in nongovernment schools have higher incomes on average and, more important, are more likely to be literate. Having a literate parent is the most important family determinant of whether children achieve literacy as adults. Also, while average outcomes in nongovernment schools are dramatically better than in government schools, there is much variance among nongovernment schools. For example, Bangladesh national assessments indicate that madrassa students perform below the level of students in government schools.
An NGO school in northern Bangladesh
I am one of several Canadian volunteers who have supported an NGO school adjacent to a “cluster village” in Nilphamari, a remote district in northern Bangladesh close to the Indian border. Cluster villages are a form of social housing in Bangladesh for families of rural labourers who own no land. The nearest government primary school is at a distance of several kilometres. The NGO school began six years ago in an old building with one classroom that, in a squeeze, accommodated 50 students and a second that accommodated 10 students sitting elbow to elbow around one large table in the middle of the room. Enrolment rose, so we operated morning and afternoon shifts. In 2018, we decided to build a new school with five classrooms, a latrine, a teachers’ room and a dedicated recreational area. Someone – I don’t remember who – decided to call it Bluebell.
In February 2020, we organized an in-home survey using the ASER protocol to assess basic reading and arithmetic.6 The sample included 57 children from the cluster village in grades 1–5, roughly two thirds of present enrolment in the school. (The survey found a small number of children who attended a government school. Their performance was very weak.) The sample is minute relative to the large ASER surveys conducted in India. Its primary value is feedback to Bluebell teachers on student progress. And yet, despite being a sample of one small school, perhaps there are tentative conclusions to draw from the school as a case study.
To begin, the relationship between Bangladesh and the adjacent Indian state of West Bengal is somewhat similar to that between Wallonia and France: separate countries with the same language and many shared cultural references. At least in the early primary grades, West Bengal dominates India’s national reading results; for the final two grades the regional and national results converge. In reading, Bluebell’s performance clearly outpaces the outcomes in West Bengal and India overall, in all grades. In arithmetic there are inversions: West Bengal and Indian students overall outperform Bluebell in Grades 1 and 2; West Bengal and Bluebell are essentially equal in Grade 3; and Bluebell students progress more quickly in Grades 4 and 5 than do students in West Bengal or India overall.
Why are Bluebell students faring better than the average student in West Bengal?
On average, children in nongovernment schools in India come from families with higher incomes than children in government schools, and that partly explains the superior nongovernment outcomes in ASER surveys. That cannot be the explanation here. The majority of children in our sample live in families where neither parent can read. There is also no doubt that family incomes in our sample are below the average in West Bengal.7
The NGO school has benefited from consistent donations by Canadian volunteers, which have enabled hiring an appropriate number of teachers. With five teachers for the 85 students in the primary school, there is an attractive student:teacher ratio of 1:17.8 Nevertheless, it is hard to make a case for generous foreign donations as the explanation. The NGO pays teachers at only half the level of government primary teachers. Hence, annual Bluebell per-pupil costs, including overhead costs, are under US$200 – which is roughly 25 per cent below comparable government spending per primary school student.
If pressed to explain Bluebell’s relative performance, I resort to the old saying among education administrators: “The three most important factors in any school are teachers, teachers and teachers; everything else is minor.” Bluebell has benefited from its ability to attract teachers motivated to teach. The NGO leadership of Bluebell has tried to follow the Bangladesh school curriculum while treating teachers as professionals. Bluebell should not rest on its achievement. It has outperformed ASER’s West Bengal statistics, but the ASER reading and arithmetic thresholds are hardly demanding. A good school is more than ASER expectations.
To conclude, if the BBC Delhi correspondent and I are right in our interpretation of what is “rotten in the state of India,” and if electorates in the rest of South Asia want to replicate AAP outcomes – both assumptions are debatable – citizens must tackle the ongoing damage wrought by conventional politicians.
I am writing in Vancouver four days after our desultory general election. By coincidence, Greta Thunberg is in town. Ten thousand paraded in the city centre today and cheered her stern Old Testament sermon delivered on the steps of the Vancouver Art Gallery:
If the adults really loved us, they would … do everything they possibly could to make sure that we have a safe future – a future to look forward to. But they are not doing that … It feels like they are doing the exact opposite, that they are desperately trying to change the subject every time the climate crisis comes up … They are trying so hard to delay the actions required for preventing this crisis from getting worse. Because they are so afraid of being unpopular and making uncomfortable decisions. It is like they are selling our future for their comfort and profit.1
Perhaps she should have devoted a few words to China. China has now surpassed the United States as the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases (GHGs). Thanks, in part, to a massive increase in electricity production, primarily from coal-fired plants, the average Chinese citizen now enjoys an income level that, a generation ago, was available to only a tiny minority. There is a case to be made that the Chinese had the right to pollute in order to put an end to dire poverty. My generation of Canadians – I turned 75 this year – cannot use that argument. Basically, Greta is right: my generation has enjoyed a living standard better than any in human history, but at the cost of massive environmental damage, with worse to come. An item on the news tonight was mass evacuations caused by half a dozen fires raging along the California coast.
Relative to Greta’s sermon, along with David Attenborough’s lament on vanishing wildlife and the experience of families abandoning their homes in suburban Los Angeles, our debates on climate policy during the campaign were tepid affairs that soon will be forgotten. A short review is in order, if only to impress how parochial the Canadian political debate on climate change is.
In December 2015, shortly after his election victory, Justin Trudeau attended the UN “Conference of the Parties” on climate change (COP21) in Paris. On our behalf, he committed Canadians to adopting the target proposed by Stephen Harper a decade earlier, namely a 30 per cent reduction of Canadian GHGs by 2030 relative to 2005 levels. It was a commitment to do something, although obviously not enough to impress Greta.
The government estimate of 2005 emissions is 730 megatonnes of CO2 equivalent. A 30 per cent reduction implies that our emissions would fall by 2030 to 511 megatonnes. Emissions in 2017 were 716 megatonnes. Commissioned by the CBC, Navius Research took a stab at modelling the GHG reductions by 2030 that would arise if the promises of each of the four major parties were implemented. As figure 1 illustrates, only the Greens would successfully lower emissions below the promised 2030 target.
Here, in summary, is how the Greens intend to realize their GHG reductions by 2030:
reduce fossil fuel production immediately and drastically;
impose a carbon tax with a promised annual rate of increase;
regulate to reduce energy consumption across all sectors;
scrap new pipeline projects and build a trans-Canada electricity grid;
invest immediately and substantially in renewable energy production; and
undertake significant reforestation and afforestation.
Supporters of the “progressive” parties (lumping together all except the Conservatives and Maxime Bernier’s People’s Party) might reply to Greta that they had voted for a party cognizant of her message. If Greta looked at figure 1, she would probably spare the Greens – who won 7 per cent of the vote and elected three MPs – but say something rude about the rest of us, Conservatives and progressives alike:
You who voted Conservative, especially those in Alberta and Saskatchewan, want to perpetuate Canadian dependence on oil and gas. You want to change the subject and talk about pipelines to tidewater. You who voted for a “progressive” party are smug because you promise to do somewhat more than the Conservatives. In terms of the impact of your parties’ promises, the differences are trivial: Conservatives would lower Canada’s 2030 emissions to 1995 levels, Liberals and NDP to early 1990s levels. Except for the Greens, you Canadians are all guilty of delaying the serious initiatives required.
There are many arguments raised by the 93 per cent who rejected the Greens and opted to do very little:
To realize significant GHG reductions via a carbon tax, the rate needs to be six times higher than the present proposal of $50 per tonne of CO2. At $300 per tonne, the redistributive impact would be too great for any government to tolerate – even if the losers were generously compensated.
Maybe aggressive regulations on major emitters can substitute for an aggressive carbon tax and the Greens’ other disruptive policies. But aggressive regulations will quickly generate significant increases in many prices and disruption of many industrial sectors. Hence, aggressive regulations may well become as politically unpopular as an aggressive carbon tax.
Maybe Bernier is right: We are only 2 per cent of the problem. Let’s wait and see what technological innovations the rest of the world can come up with before we disrupt our way of life.
And even the Greens have yet to acknowledge what is probably required if Canada ever aspires to be a leader in containing rising temperature. The International Panel on Climate Change wants midcentury GHG reductions to be over 50 per cent, and high-income countries to make more aggressive reductions than developing countries. Modelling of the Green agenda implies reductions of nearly 40 per cent by 2030. If Canada aimed to, say, double its reductions, from 40 per cent to 80 per cent, what then? Presumably, any government rash enough to propose such an agenda would experience an electoral fate similar to the destruction of the Mulroney-Campbell Progressive Conservatives after they imposed the GST.
Many environmentalists believe that benign renewable energy sources (wind and solar) could completely defossilize our economy in a generation, with minimal increases in energy costs. The costs per megawatt-hour of wind and solar power have declined dramatically this decade, but neither is a source of “base load” (“dispatchable”) power. To provide power when the sun is not shining and/or the wind is not blowing requires either massive increases in storage capacity for renewable sources or power plants powered by fossil fuels, nuclear or hydro.2 Traditionally, Green parties have opposed major new infrastructure investments in nonfossil “base load” sources and have glossed over the limitations of wind and solar. Incidentally, those European countries that are reliant on nuclear base load power (such as France and Sweden) have per capita emissions less than half that of Canada.
Inroads has not published much on climate change but we did, two years ago, publish Chris Green’s incisive critique of Trudeau’s promise in Paris to implement Stephen Harper’s GHG reduction commitment.3 Green quoted Thomas Schelling, a Nobel economist, on the 1992 Kyoto Agreement:
I cannot help believing that adoption of such a commitment is an indication of insincerity … A serious proposal would specify policies like taxes, regulations, and subsidies and would specify programs (like research and development) accompanied by very uncertain estimates of their likely effects on emissions.
Until we find our own Greta capable of drawing 10,000 to a more-or-less spontaneous demonstration in Vancouver – and a much larger number to an earlier demonstration in Montreal – Canada will probably continue with our parochial preoccupations. We will fiddle while California and many other places burn.
Even though one of the major party leaders represents a Vancouver riding – Jagmeet Singh comfortably won reelection in an inner-suburb riding on the east side of town – British Columbia is probably the region least interested in national elections. Nobody here gives a damn about Quebec’s Bill 21, because nobody here speaks French and Muslim immigrants are rare. Vancouver is increasingly a city in the Chinese sphere of influence. If the election had featured a major debate on the implications of Chinese real estate purchases – which it didn’t – we would have stirred ourselves and been involved.
Our provincial government has opposed the proposed expansion of a pipeline from Alberta to the Pacific, but opinion polls conclude that a small majority in B.C. favour its construction. The provincial government has no intention of elevating its opposition into a major matter.
We are in favour of reconciliation with First Nations but we are unsure of what that means. It means different things in liberal downtown Vancouver – where Jody Wilson-Raybould won reelection as an independent MP – than it does in the interior, which shares Prairie misgivings about too many Trudeau apologies. The B.C. legislature is currently debating legislation that would ensconce the UN Declaration of Indigenous Rights as the basis of provincial policy. We are legislating that “States shall consult and cooperate in good faith with Indigenous peoples in order to obtain their free and informed consent prior to the approval of any project affecting their lands or territories and other resources.” Does that mean a First Nation veto on pipeline and similar resource proposals? We’re not sure.
We are in favour of a strong environmental policy but not enough to discuss the disruptions to our lifestyle implicit in the Green Party platform. We reelected the two Green MPs representing Vancouver Island ridings, but the Greens made no further advances.
The popular vote distribution in B.C. was 34 per cent Conservative, 26 per cent Liberal, 24 per cent NDP and 12 per cent Green. In terms of seats, the Conservatives won 17 (an increase of eight), the Liberals 11 (a decrease of seven), the NDP 11 (down two) and the Greens two (no change). On a map painting B.C. ridings with the winning party’s colour, most of the province looks to be an extension of the Prairies – all blue. The coast and all of Vancouver Island except for a very small Green patch in the southeastern corner are red or orange – no blue. The Liberals and NDP shared the urban seats in the two major cities, Vancouver and Victoria; the Conservatives won a few suburban Vancouver ridings.
Green support in B.C. peaked in the summer. In August, the CBC poll tracker placed the Greens (at 19 per cent) marginally ahead of the NDP (at 18 per cent). The prediction at the time was five NDP and five Green MPs in B.C. However, in the intervening two months, the NDP recovered and the Greens faltered. The Greens’ failure to do better is my major disappointment in this election.
In thinking about Brexit, Canadians instinctively draw a parallel to Canada’s free trade arrangement with the United States and Mexico. President Trump’s threat to scrap NAFTA prompted anxiety in many potentially adversely affected sectors, and most Canadians sighed with relief when a compromise was reached – a compromise that Congress has admittedly yet to ratify.
The European Union (EU) entails many more constraints on national sovereignty than the new U.S.-Mexico-Canada agreement. The EU is a customs union that maintains common tariffs with nonmember states, and not merely an internal free trade area; the Schengen agreement guaranteeing free movement of EU citizens applies to virtually all EU members; the majority of EU countries agreed to a common currency; various decisions by Brussels constrain national human rights jurisprudence, employment regulations and so on. Ever since the U.K. joined in 1973, the majority of its leaders have been sceptical of the attempt by Eurofederalists to take the EU beyond a customs union and construct an “ever-closer union.” Britain is the only major country exempt from Schengen, and among the minority of countries that have preserved their own currencies.
From the U.K. perspective, the Brexit fiasco is an acute manifestation of the ambiguity about “ever closer union” prevalent among most EU citizens. Immigration from Africa and the Middle East during this decade has served as a catalyst for the evolution of “illiberal” democracies in eastern Europe, election of a populist anti-immigrant government in Italy and the rise of anti-immigrant populist parties in France, Germany, Sweden and other member countries. Unfortunately for the British, David Cameron forced U.K. citizens to vote on a simple in/out referendum question – and not continue with the pragmatic incrementalism at which the British are skilled.
Far from resolving U.K. ambivalence over EU membership, the 2016 Brexit referendum (52 per cent Leave, 48 per cent Remain) has exacerbated the Anywhere-versus-Somewhere divisions that pervade domestic politics in most EU states. At the time of writing (April 2019), U.K. polls suggest there is no U.K.-EU relation able to command a clear majority. Potential variants range from “crashing out” of the EU with no agreement to restoration of the prereferendum status quo.
Many advocates of a “soft Brexit” compromise, something between crashing out and the 2016 status quo, want a version of the “Norway model.” However, very few in the U.K. – and even fewer in Canada – have any solid knowledge of Norway’s status as a member of the European Economic Area (EEA) but not of the EU. John Erik Fossum’s article is an excellent introduction to the complex compromises required to make the Norway model work.
There are only five million Norwegians and, as Fossum describes, over time they have negotiated their way partially into the EU without actually becoming a full-fledged member. It is much more complicated for 66 million British to negotiate their way out. Is the “Norway model” an appropriate option for the U.K.? I am doubtful.
Christian Rioux, correspondent in France for Le Devoir, and Kamel Daoud, journalist (and occasional novelist) writing from Oran, Algeria’s second city, are – deservedly – two of the most read journalists currently writing in French. Here, we reproduce in translation a column from each.
Rioux writes about the Gilets Jaunes, a spontaneous revolt of David Goodhart’s “Somewheres” against President Macron, symbol of Parisian “Anywheres.” The imposition in fall 2018 of a new tax on fuel, justified as a response to climate change, was the catalyst. In searching for historical parallels, Rioux goes back to the Jacquerie, a brief peasant revolt in the mid-14th century. The catalyst for that uprising was a new law obliging peasants to defend the châteaux of their deeply hated noble overlords. From the 14th century he jumps to the the early 19th century and the Luddites in England, who smashed textile machinery – new technology that was destroying the traditional lifestyles of weavers. Apparently, the Gilets Jaunes have destroyed 600 radar units deployed to catch and fine vehicles exceeding the speed limit.
The revolts of the jacques, the Luddites, and the Gilets Jaunes share a great deal: incoherence, spontaneity and opposition to new technology that is destroying a way of life. Few countries, Rioux concludes, achieved the sophistication in the art of conviviality displayed by the French in small towns and villages. Is Macron’s goal of “ever closer union” in a European Union committed to free trade and freedom of movement among 28 (perhaps soon 27) countries worth the cost? Rioux does not answer.
The first Gilets Jaunes street demonstration took place in October 2018, and it became a weekly event over the last six months. Finally, in late April, Macron gave his policy response. What the Gilets Jaunes dislike most about their government is the power of the technocratic elite, most of them “énarques” – graduates of the prestigious École Nationale d’Administration. Macron has promised to close it down and introduce a law on decentralization of authority to the regions. (Incidentally, Macron himself is an énarque.) If there is one consistent economic demand by the Gilets Jaunes it is lower taxes for the typical taxpayer. Macron has offered a €5 billion income tax reduction targeted to the middle class. The number is impressive, but bear in mind that it is about 0.2 per cent of national GDP. Overall, the initial media response has been harsh: Macron’s response is more symbolism than substance; it will not resolve la morosité nationale.
Daoud is writing about the fin de regime of the nominally secular postcolonial government in Algeria. Abdelaziz Bouteflika, President from 1999 until his recent abdication in the spring of 2019, is an octogenarian who rose to prominence in the 1960s liberation war against the French. Since his stroke in 2013, he has been a figurehead. Power is exercised by an elite coalition of the military and business elites. Coinciding with the revolt of the Gilets Jaunes, young Algerians have for the last six months organized repeated demonstrations in major cities against the status quo. As with the Arab Spring at the beginning of the decade, the prospect in Algiers is not optimistic. For many, the present interlude is the ideal moment to flee Algeria’s repressive society dominated by gerontocrats and Salafist imams. Hence the old taxis rolling to the coast and the waiting boats of the traffickers who will take Algeria’s Somewheres to France. The traffickers sell orange life vests for €25.
John Judis, The Nationalist Revival: Trade, Immigration, and the Revolt against Globalization. New York: Columbia University, Columbia Global Reports, 2018. 157 pages.
Oklahoma!, the musical, opened on Broadway in 1943, as the major Western democracies were engaged in a brutal world war.1 Set in rural Oklahoma at the turn of the 20th century, it opens with Curly, the cowboy hero, approaching the farm of Laurey’s family while singing,
Oh, what a beautiful mornin’! Oh, what a beautiful day! I’ve got a beautiful feelin’ Ev’rythin’s goin’ my way.
The musical reflected Americans’ confidence in their collective destiny at a time of global crisis. Overcoming the inevitable obstacles, Curly wins Laurey’s hand in marriage. The one cloud in the prairie sky is Jud, a rejected suitor who crashes the wedding and starts a fight. Jud conveniently falls on his knife. His death is a minor incident.
Last year, a revisionist Oklahoma! opened off-Broadway. It is no longer a beautiful day; ominous clouds hover over this version. The dialogue and the songs remain largely intact but, instead of Jud falling on his knife, in the climactic encounter Curly shoots him at short range. Blood splatters Laurey’s wedding dress. This new dystopic Oklahoma! reflects the views of its times, or at least its audience. New York’s educated, cosmopolitan theatregoers (overwhelmingly “Anywheres” in David Goodhart’s terms) have a much darker understanding of life than the Oklahoma “Somewheres” of a century ago. The new production has received lengthy, positive reviews in the New York Times, the New Yorker – and the Observer in London. Online I couldn’t find a review in the Tulsa World. Not surprising. The new Oklahoma! is not likely to appeal to Oklahomans. Nor, I expect, to John Judis.
The Democratic Majority Fails to Emerge
Judis is a prominent journalist and public intellectual, an Anywhere formed in the 1960s New Left – now Old Left – at Amherst and Berkeley. He was a founding editor of a socialist journal in the 1970s. In time he became more eclectic in his choice of publishing venues and, by the 1980s, was a senior New Republic editor. He has published eight books on subjects ranging from an analysis of William Buckley, Jr., to a critique of George W. Bush’s war in the Middle East. In The Emerging Democratic Majority, co-written with Ruy Teixeira in 2002, he predicted that demographic change would give the McGovern coalition that was thrashed in 1972 a lock on American politics in the future. This coalition consists of mostly white cosmopolitan elites (the Anywheres) and ethnic minorities.
Obama’s victory in 2008 seemed to vindicate the prediction, but Judis has revised his thinking in light of the backlash by the white working-class Somewheres who put Trump into the White House. The McGovern coalition thesis is wrong, he concluded in a 2017 New Republic article. Intergenerationally, most ethnic minorities assimilate into the amorphous American middle class. Electoral victory is not to be found in a coalition of urban cosmopolitans and self-defined marginalized minorities. Democrats must respect core middle class interests among those who have become “white” – even if their skin colour is black, yellow or brown. In other words, the Democrats must become nationalists. Judis’s latest book, The Nationalist Revival, is an elaboration of why he has abandoned his earlier thesis.
At 150 pages, it is a blessedly short book. His fundamental conclusion is that a necessary condition for a successful society in an industrial age is a meaningful measure of shared national identity – how much is open to debate. A secondary theme is his critique of the idealistic pacifism of the 1960s New Left. Like Judis, I am of the generation formed in the United States by the New Left of the 1960s, and I am probably more sensitive than those younger to his critique of our 1960s naiveté. Has he defined a better, more realistic agenda? I am not persuaded. I return to this second theme below.
The first chapter contains a balanced discussion of academic debates on the origins of nationalism. Cases of protonationalist group solidarity that overcame class, religious and ethnic divisions to resist an external threat can be found over several millennia of recorded history. However, most historians accord a privileged role to the French Revolution and realization of universal literacy in the 19th century as the key factors enabling the rise of nationalism as understood in the 20th century. Judis readily acknowledges that leaders who employ nationalist appeals range from monstrous demagogues like Stalin and Hitler to pacifists in the tradition of Gandhi. There is no certainty in politics, concludes Judis, and the – hopefully minute – possibility of electing a despot is not reason enough to subsume nationalism in multinational institutions. An irrefutable argument for nationalism, he insists, is the need to generate public support for what are, relative to the pre–World War II era, very high levels of taxation:
The modern welfare state has been built upon shared nationalist sentiments. Governments had to secure citizens’ commitment to pay taxes to help their fellow citizens when they became sick or disabled, too old to work, or lost their job … Citizens had to be able to identify themselves with the fate – “it could happen to me” – of other citizens they did not know … This willingness to identify with others assumed … that, for instance, were or had been willing to work; that if they were immigrants, that they had entered the country legally and were committed to staying and working and that in extreme circumstances, they would fight to defend the nation …
When this trust and feeling of reciprocity has broken down, the support for the welfare state has dissipated, as it did in the US, amidst suspicion of what Ronald Reagan called “welfare queens”, and in Europe, as suspicion has arisen that immigrants or refugees are free riders or “welfare tourists”.
Here, Judis is correct. Among the states belonging to the OECD – sometimes described as the world’s rich country club – three quarters collect taxes that exceed 35 per cent of national GDP, most of which are devoted to funding their respective welfare state programs. Even in the United States, with a relatively weak set of social programs, national, state and municipal governments collect 33 per cent of GDP according to latest OECD data. In comparison, income redistribution by international organizations, such as the European Union or official development aid, is trivial.
Undeniably, nationalism has experienced a revival during this decade. Why? Judis’s answer is that cosmopolitans in Washington, London, Paris, Berlin and Brusssels distanced themselves from their respective Somewheres. The cosmopolitan ideal in Europe over the last quarter century was an “ever closer union” leading to open borders among EU member states, coordination of tax and monetary policy in Brussels, and some form of European federalism. On “ever closer union,” U.K. Eurosceptics got it right. The prospect of European electorates entrusting Brussels with tax decisions over one third of European GDP and generating faith in open borders has collapsed. In both Europe and North America, cosmopolitan elites favoured multilateral free trade agreements, and paid inadequate attention to the implication for the Somewheres as manufacturing jobs shifted to Mexico, South Asia, Southeast Asia and, above all, China.
In castigating political elites, Judis casts a large net: his definition of cosmopolitan leaders extends from Bush (father and son) to Jean-Claude Juncker in Brussels. His major foils are Bill Clinton and Tony Blair, two prominent centre-left politicians of the two decades pre-2008. According to Judis, Clinton and Blair got almost everything wrong. They supported an undue expansion of free trade agreements culminating in the World Trade Organization, which has exacerbated income polarization and loss of middle-class jobs (in places like Oklahoma). They may not have been the initiators of financial market deregulation, which began in the early 1980s, but they participated in its excesses. They invited China into the WTO, naively believing that it would evolve into a rules-respecting future member of the OECD. By allowing moral righteousness to overwhelm realism, they endorsed every eastern European anti-Russian revolt post-1989 and admitted former Soviet colonies into NATO, thereby accelerating Russia’s return to czarism.
The cosmopolitans’ errors continued into the new century. They wasted treasure and lives in attempting to reform the Middle East by toppling Saddam Hussein. As Keynesians, they admittedly saved the “too big to fail” banks and prevented 2008 from being a repeat of 1929, but they did little to support millions of “Laurey and Curly” families faced with foreclosed mortgages and personal bankruptcy. However, their most egregious error, for Judis, was to minimize public concern over immigration and refuse to address the case for immigration controls. George W. Bush advocated a generous temporary foreign worker policy to satisfy business desire for cheap labour. Clinton “felt the pain” of illegal Mexican immigrants. Blair championed easy access to the U.K. for “Polish plumbers” as a humanitarian gesture toward eastern Europeans finally free from Soviet colonialism.
Whatever their motives, these leaders ignored the potential loss of social trust due to large scale immigration. Judis cites the overwhelming polling evidence in the U.K. that identifies immigration as the principal factor motivating pro-Brexit voting in the 2016 referendum. He explains the success of “illiberal” democrats in Hungary and Poland as, primarily, a response to the combination of massive illegal immigration from the Middle East and sub-Saharan Africa and Brussels’ insistence on the Schengen agreement, which stipulates free movement of all residing within the EU.
Judis’s interpretation of the many post-2016 academic studies attempting to explain Trump’s success is that the key factor is immigration and Islamic terrorism. Loss of middle-class jobs and stagnant incomes matter, but “of all the issues immigration/terrorism was the most important.” He admits, “That conclusion is based as much on interviews and the political history of the last three decades as on polling.”
He doesn’t mention Canada’s immigration policy, but his proposed “solution to the conflict over immigration and national identity” in the United States sounds a lot like ours: a points system heavily weighted to education and ability to speak English (or French in our case) and explicit policies of assimilation. (In Canada, outside Quebec, cultural assimilation is an implicit goal.) However, he is not optimistic that a U.S. equivalent could ever get through Congress. The solution, he argues, requires two impossible things:
The first is blocking illegal immigration through stiff employer penalties, while giving a path to citizenship for the roughly 11 million illegal immigrants already here. These immigrants cannot simply be deported, and if they remain in the US illegally, they will continue to constitute an inassimilable underclass. The second … is to reduce the annual number of immigrants, and to narrow the conditions for family reunification, while giving priority to skilled immigrants … Regardless of how these proposals are framed, they likely cannot get through a Congress that is divided into conservative nationalists and liberal cosmopolitans.
Unfortunately, in a book constrained to 150 pages, there is not much space for nuance. As Judis sketches the sins of Clinton and Blair, I start asking: What would he have advocated as trade and immigration policies pre-2008?
U.K. acceptance under Blair of large numbers of eastern European immigrants no doubt contributed to Brexit support a decade later, but it did strengthen eastern European economic and political ties to western Europe. In the 1990s, no one knew that two decades later Xi Jinping would undo the relatively liberal domestic policies pursued by Deng Xiaoping. At the time a good case could be made that U.S. trade openness was an effective Marshall Plan for all Asian countries. U.S. support for export-led development over the last three decades facilitated the rural-to-urban migration of hundreds of millions of peasants formerly living in dire poverty who, while not wealthy, have become far more prosperous than their ancestors. While income distribution within high-income countries has become more unequal over the last three decades, thanks to Asian progress income distribution on a world basis has become less unequal.
Military Intervention from Korea to Iraq
Like all of us who came to political maturity in the 1960s, Judis adamantly opposed the ideological Cold War obsession among American elites that led the United States to pursue the wars lost by the French in Southeast Asia. On the Vietnam War I agree. However, Judis more or less argues that every war pursued by the United States since the Korean War in the 1950s was counterproductive. He makes little allowance for uncertainty and no allowance for the idea that military force is sometimes the least bad option. If the post–World War II multilateral conventions and institutions, with the United States as the “indispensable” nation, were preferable to the post-2008 reality, there is a need to acknowledge that in some instances use of military force, usually led by the Americans, was an essential ingredient.
Not all U.S.-led wars should be equated with Vietnam. Clinton intervened against Serbia in Yugoslavia’s civil war out of a legitimate fear that Slobodan Milošević would inflict a slaughter on his Muslim neighbours analogous to the fresh-in-mind Rwandan genocide, a tragedy that no colonial European country or the United States had intervened to halt. In Iraq, surely the major U.S. error is to have “tilted” toward Saddam in the 1980s on the realist rationale that the enemy of my enemy (Saddam as enemy of the Iranian ayatollahs) is my friend. By 1990, the war Saddam had launched against Iran had caused a million deaths. Saddam had gassed Kurdish villagers, invaded Kuwait and butchered 50,000 Iraqi Shia who revolted against him. He was a dictator in the same league as Stalin, Hitler and Pol Pot.
Poorly prepared diplomatically, poorly executed militarily, the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq nonetheless came close to victory by 2010. Obama’s opposition to the war led to the United States pulling out and leaving in power a sectarian Shia leader beholden to Iran, who in the 2010 election had won fewer seats in parliament than the Sunni-Shia moderate alliance. Nouri al-Maliki alienated Iraq’s Sunni elites sufficiently that they allied themselves with the Islamic State. What would Judis want Reagan to have done in the 1980s, George H.W. Bush to have done in Iraq in 1990, Clinton to have done in Serbia in the mid-1990s, or George W. Bush to have done about the decade-long no-fly zones established post-1990 to preserve lives among Kurdish and Shia Iraqis? Was Obama’s withdrawal from Iraq post-2010 wise?2
What About Canada?
Among OECD countries, Canada’s foreign-born ratio is near the top; our immigration/population ratio is also among the highest. Why have we not experienced an equivalent Somewhere-vs.-Anywhere conflict? Perhaps because, historically, our major domestic conflict has been reconciliation of francophones and anglophones. Perhaps because, relative to the United States, our social services are of higher quality. Universal Canadian medicare is not the only difference. Probably more important is that our ranking among OECD countries of 15-year-old secondary school student performance (based on the Program for International Student Assessment) is consistently near the top, whereas U.S. ranking is mediocre. And unlike most OECD countries with large immigrant populations, Canada and Australia stand out in terms of high performance among children of immigrants.
Australia is surrounded by two oceans, Canada by three oceans and a land border with a high-income neighbour. Thanks to geography, both countries can readily impose a points system heavily weighted to education and language skills, and thereby restrict immigration by those with poor education and no ability to speak English (or French).
In 2018, Angus Reid undertook a comprehensive survey of Canadian attitudes on immigration. Since 1975, pollsters have asked whether Canadians want higher or lower immigration levels. Prior to 2000, the average wanting lower levels was about 40 per cent, from 2000 to 2014 about 35 per cent. The 2018 result was 49 per cent. The dramatic rise in the share wanting lower immigration is presumably due to 40,000 illegal immigrants crossing from the United States in recent years. And, as elsewhere, differences in attitudes toward immigration are essentially determined by education levels. Among those whose highest education level is high school or less, about 60 per cent favour an immigration level lower than at present – twice the rate among those with a university degree.