“The Donald Trumps of the world, the Nigel Farages of the world — one can disagree with them, especially a conservative like myself can disagree with them on some things. But they are at least trying to fix what they see ails democratic, capitalist, market-oriented societies and my fear is if they don’t have success or if conservatives do not adapt to the political pressures that are driving these movements, my concern is we will have the left-wing version of that, which will be anti-market, which will be socialist or Marxist economics, which I believe would turn us in an irreversible, downturn direction.”
- Stephen Harper on Global News when being Interviewed by Global News’ Mercedes Stephenson and repeated by Amanda Connolly of Global News in the article “Stephen Harper on why it’s Bernie Sanders and Jeremy Corbyn, not Donald Trump, who scare him (published by Global News.ca, October 12, 2018 11:08 am) (https://globalnews.ca/news/4541470/stephen-harper-donald-trump-bernie-sanders-jeremy-corbyn)
When I was in University, I had many a conversation with several student politicians. Some of them attended my alma mater, York University. Other conversations were with student politicians who attended Queens’s or Western or Carleton. With that being said, one conversation stood out in my mind. It was with a Progressive Conservative who attended York University.
This man, his name lost to time and my poor memory, was a rabid conservative. He would be the type of person who would cause me to be apoplectic. We would have conversations about the issues of the day but we always knew two things: firstly, the conversations would never be short; and, secondly, we would disagree. However, this one time, he said something to me that stuck.
When talking about the York Federation of Students –at the time, the main student government at York University – he said that we were on the same team. How could that be, I wondered aloud. His answer was simple: we both believed in private property rights. I was stunned. Private property rights? How could that be our unifying issue? In Canada, private property rights were not even an issue. It was then that my Progressive Conservative colleague noted that many of the people who were on the York Federation of Students had issues with private property rights and many other things that I took for granted. This rabid conservative and I were on team, he continued on.
Now for context, let me be clear. Since it was the 1990s, this conservative was deep in the fight to reunite the conservative parties, supported Ralph Klein and doubly supported Premier Harris. He likely would have jumped to the Reform Party, if it was a viable option in Southern Ontario at the time. Yet, he said that we were on the same team. Later, research proved him right; and so I come to the words of Stephen Harper from that context: I, as pragmatic political thinker who can talk to, and listen to, the moderate right and the moderate left. In that context, the words of Stephen Harper are troubling.
To those who might ask how our former Prime Minister’s words are problematic, let me explain. Mr. Harper is arguing that some populists are acceptable because they won’t use or support “socialist or Marxist economics”. However, using that strain of argument could legitimize all sorts, or forms, of government that have or would commit other moral wrongs. General Augusto Pinochet, as an example, ran a very anti-communistic regime. Influenced by the Chicago School of Economics, Pinochet’s military government implemented economic liberalization, including currency stabilization, eliminated tariffs, abolished trade unions, privatized the Chilean social security system and hundreds of state-owned enterprises.
In the same breath, the Pinochet regime robbed the Chilean government and acted in unthinkable ways against its people. Or put differently, a non-communist country had a leadership which famously evaded taxes, embezzled, disregarded human rights and committed many other horrid, morally objectionable acts. Under that regime, thousands of people were tortured, killed or “disappeared”. The Human Rights abuses were so bad that people fought the constitutional amendment which allowed him to be senator-for-life and provided some clemency. By the time of his death, he was indicted for some 300 charges including corruptly amassing at least 28 Million USD. For, this General Pinochet was under house arrest.
Now, let me be obvious and crass for a second. Please note that I choose General Pinochet as my example. I could have easily have chosen a Fascist or Islamist Government to point out the fallacy of the Rt. Hon. Stephen Harper’s words. Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy or Franco’s Spain could have made the point. The Islamist Government of Iran could have done the same. However, the Government of General Pinochet shows how problematic an uncontrolled capitalist government can be. For, an authoritarian capitalist government is no better at solving the ills of a “democratic, capitalist, market-oriented” society.
The Donald Trumps of the world and the Nigel Farages of the world are only interested in remaking the world in their narrow images; and as we have seen, those narrow images are as damaging as those of socialist or Marxist economics. If you don’t believe me look at their record. The Trump Administration’s fiscal policy has been highly inflationary. The fiscal policy has been so inflationary that that the FED has had to act. Yet, even with that action, inflation is higher than wage growth. Additionally, the US has spent the last two years leading the world into an all-out trading war. The US has launched trade actions against Canada, the European Union, China and a whole bunch of other countries. There are billions of dollars of new tariffs and the IMF has downgraded the world’s economic outlook next year because of higher interest rates and high tariffs. Nigel Farage is just as bad as he, almost singlehandedly, caused the Brexit referendum which is now projected to cause much political and economic harm to the UK, if not Europe as a whole. So, if Bernie Sanders and Jeremy Corbyn are the operational equivalent of Donald Trumps and Nigel Farages; we, as a society, would be best to ignore the lot of them.
Accordingly, the same lessons we learn in a Kindergarten class are the same solutions which provide awesome outcomes in the real world. Sharing, talking, understanding, empathy and acceptance of diversity has always provided the best political, economic and social outcome. One might think that I would turn to Canada’s history to prove this point; and, I could. But let’s not be obvious today.
The European Union came about because various countries who were democratic, capitalist and market-oriented decided to find a solution among themselves. After World War II, it turned out that solutions which were inclusive provided the best outcome for most, if not all concern. An outcrop of the Marshall Plan, the European Union is just one example of the success that comes from inclusion. Canada, the United States and Australia came together on those same principles; and each has become better as they have included marginal and marginalized groups. This truth is so self-evident that one can see that older homogeneous models have often been overtaken by newer heterogeneous ones.
Consequently, Stephen Harper should learn from history. We need more inclusion and more discussion. We need to ensure that the voices of all are heard. Canada came to be because of a unity government. That’s right; Sir John A MacDonald included George Brown – the leader of the Liberal Party – in government to make a dream come true. When the market was willing to run from the bankrupt Syncrude in the 1970s, Premier Lougheed reached out to the Liberal Prime Minister of Canada, Pierre Elliot Trudeau, and Bill Davis – the Progressive Conservative Premier of Ontario – to save it. From Borden’s Union Government to the CCF transformation into the NDP to Sovereignty debate, Canada has always shown that conversation and inclusion provides the most benefit for the most people with the least amount of harm to individuals and minorities. Therefore, in conclusion, excluding extremism and ideologies provides the “Other” & democracies the best possible outcome.