Thursday, April 21, 2011

Confederation

Two articles I read this morning that suggest, to me, that the end is nigh:

Paul Wells on Stephen Harper's not-so-hidden agenda
William Johnson on radicalism in Quebec

The two points are obviously related. Harper is dismantling the nation-building (or sustaining) parts of government and the PQ will be happy to demand and receive ever more concessions from his "Conservative" government.

The dream of Canada is more or less dead. There are a few of us romantics hanging around still, believers in the idea that John A. MacDonald had when he was working on the national project, but we're not even outliers. The nationalist cause doesn't register in Canadian politics anymore. It's far more fashionable to accept a new neoliberal Canada, one where Laurier is held up as Canada's greatest Prime Minister, transformed into a Canadian Reagan.

I haven't commented much on this election. I had previously suggested that Ignatieff would surprise folks, that the media had been premature in writing him off. I was wrong. I still like the guy, I think he would make a very good Prime Minister (though the Liberal platform is less than attractive), but I guess I'm just not an "average Canadian". I think he campaigned well, but that apparently doesn't matter much anymore. So we're looking at another Harper government, and I think anyone who believes that an opposition minority government is possible is way off mark. The idea is toxic now, it would be political suicide for anyone to attempt it. Harper succeeded in lying to Canadians about how their government works.

And so we'll continue down the road towards true confederation. Canada will exist as a prison manager and a military that, ironically, is focused on building nations overseas.

13 comments:

  1. Actually, with any luck it is the Liberal party that is dead.

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  2. "And so we'll continue down the road towards true confederation. Canada will exist as a prison manager and a military that, ironically, is focused on building nations overseas. "

    And that is exactly what I want. The Liberal view of a big, central government that has a role in every aspect of our lives should die. It is no great morality for you to take my money to pay for your dreams.

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  3. Not just my dream idiot, and certainly not the dream of the Liberals. It was the dream of our first Prime Minister and his party until Mulroney. It's a dream that created this country and made it what it is today. Canada was made through serious effort, it didn't just happen.

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  4. It is no great morality for you to take my money to pay for your dreams.

    Indeed, one must wonder when all that public money went into Dominion agencies to build the West at the turn of the century, the MacDonald government along with strong Tory support were just depriving those poor persecuted newly minted British subjects of the Dominion in Ontario. It had nothing to do with Loyalist descendants willing to create a nation with a distinct heritage from British and buffer against creeping Manifest Destiny by the Classic Liberals from the South. Who would have thought that Post-Confederation was just a socialist, cynical ploy with a soulless vision? At least MacDonald had the temerity to challenge the structural decentralized feature of our geo-political landscape. Today, it is sort taken as an article of faith to somehow decentralize even more (though as Sir Francis has stated, that is quite uproductive).

    Anyway, Shiner, I say enjoy your time over in the United Kingdom because the ghost of colonial mentality will come right back when you return here and realize just how we are running around adorned in continentalist dress and Ayn Rand high pumps, clutching Atlas Shrugged and continuing this kabuki dance of interpolating neoliberalism into Canada's history as if though Tory Founding Fathers at that time all really, really, and secretly wanted to follow in the footsteps of their liberal cousins to the South.

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  5. My god, Shiner, you are much too young to be arguing like this. You sound like an old geezer who looks at the world around him, concludes he can't understand a thing about it and so decides to just go home and die.

    As a former fervent Red Tory who spent too many years swooning at Grant's prose and asking myself "What would John A.think?" in response to every issue, permit me to offer some advice. It ends in one of two ways: either you pledge allegiance to the tiny group of has-beens that has declared undying loyality to Joe Clark or you make your peace with the modern world. Which do you think John A. would counsel?

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  6. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  7. I've made my peace Peter, that's sort of what I was getting at here. I've dropped a few comments at various spots along the lines of "just wait and see! Once Canadians see the real Ignatieff, they'll come around!"

    I was wrong. I'm obviously not Joe Canadian. I have no clue what's going on in Tim Horton's apparently. Can't begin to tell you about the hockey rink chatter. Just have to resign myself to the fact that my views are matched by an extremely small group of people within my immediate social circle and internet personalities who mope about over at Red Tory's place.

    I'm at peace with how my Canadian dream is dead, doesn't mean I have to be cheery about it. I mean Jesus, I voted for the NDP and I support the Liberals, I'm not dressed in 19th Century costume hounding voters outside a primary school.

    By the way, jkg, see that the producer of Atlas Shrugged is considering backing out of parts 2 and 3? Pissy about rotten reviews from the liberal media... and that nobody went to see it.

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  8. Peter, this 'talk' is not old at all, and in fact the topic is just as contemporary now as it was in the 1880's. What kind of nation do Canadians wish to build? Do we follow our founder's Tory sensibilities and balance the collective good with classic liberalism while ensuring the protection of our institutions and sovereignty; or do we say the hell with it and celebrate with the neo-liberals to the south, consider the border to a simple line on the map, and just let the global market take care of everything?

    This is not an outdated concept, this is very real. Canada as a nation has been seriously compromised by a succession of governments from Laurier to Harper. Do we attempt to preserve what's left of it, or just say fuck it and join in even deeper integration so the wingnuts to the south can feel safer thinking they are now protected against jihadists floating in on icebergs?

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  9. in fact the topic is just as contemporary now as it was in the 1880's.

    In the 1880's, both the U.S. and very British Canada were in an expansionist mode--not of box store market shares, but of actual territory. The Ontario farmer who supported MacDonald did not do so because he preferred his nation-building vision and abstract philosophy of government, he did so because he had a real fear of losing his farm to the Americans. Nor was Macdonald trying to build a Canadian sovereign nation standing in solitary, isolated counterpoint to the dangerous freedom-talkin' Rapacious Yankee Trader. His vision was inextricably linked to the Imperial venture. Throughout the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the argument was North American free trade vs. Imperial Preference, not vs. autarcky. The railway was a race for B.C., not an expression of a higher socio-economic philosophy.

    The nation-building efforts of Conservative Canadian governments that Red Tories wax nostalgically about were either efforts to keep a measure of control over public discourse(CBC)that would be both futile and unacceptable today, or holdovers from the settlement imperative the private sector could not fulfill (Air Canada). Many government initiatives were created at a time of a steadily expanding economy, scientific and technological optimism, strong international competitiveness and favourable demographic conditions. The great social programmes of the mid-20th century (EI, Medicare, CPP, healthcare, etc.) were created in response to real, visible and palpable want and destitution.

    My point is not that these were statist mistakes, which I most certainly don't believe. Nor, despite my sympathies for Harper, am I anxious to unravel them all to prove some abstract libertarian point or satisfy cranky Westerners. My point is that there is a creakiness in the system and that public. v. private arguments should be judged on their own merits in response to today's demographic (read too many old folks), economic (read global competitveness) and cultural(read high-tech) realities. Some social programmes have been total or partial successes, others are approaching their sell-by dates or are badly in need of creative tinkering at least (healthcare). To effectively forclose debate by referencing 19th century visions and accusing reformers of anti-Canadianism in defence of the status quo is not progressive, it's reactionary.

    Finally, the Americans. Whatever one thinks of them personally, today's fear is not territorial annexation, it's whether Ben Mulroney will lose the ratings war with Ryan Seacrest or Canadian Tire can withstand WalMart. Objectively speaking, I see neither much to fear from them nor any desire in Canada to integrate politically or fiscally, and I'm getting bloody fed up with being accused of selling out the patrimony by pompous, humourless Toronto writers and intellectuals. We're not even close to EU levels of surrendering sovereignty. But the Empire is long gone and Europe is structurally hard to access, so who the hell else are we supposed to trade with? That trade equates with prosperity is now a proven fact and I really think you are going to have a very hard time convincing most Canadians they should gladly lower their standard of living to help fufill the promise of Charlottetown. MacDonald promised prosperity too.

    Finally, an ironic example of why rote anti-"continentalism" is so reactionary. When NAFTA was first enacted, I remember feeling real angst at the prospect that our beloved Molson's and Labatt's would be obliterated and we would drown in a sea of pissy Buds and Millers. Not only did they survive just fine (admittedly by intermarriage), the attendant deregulation led to a plethora of far superior products from micro-breweries that our host here is pleased to celebrate and feature regularly. So you see, Shiner, your fame and glory is based directly on the success of economic intergration with the Yankees. I trust you are suitably ashamed. :-)

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  10. It’s a pity I arrived so late to this party and missed hearing Peter intone lugubriously, in person, that our founding precepts are now irrelevant and that the only viable conservatism is a “modern” (i.e. liberal) one, philosophically anchored, I presume, by quadrennial GST cuts and a preposterous rhetorical libertarianism veneered over massive deficits, an Orwellian national surveillance apparatus, and a bloated warren of somnolent bureaucracies.

    Most fascinating here is the ostensible way in which the concept of “viable conservatism” is virtually indistinguishable from the concept of “conservatism ideologically acceptable to the greasy, ethically penurious CPC hacks who formulate squalid attack ads over prime rib at Hy’s and to the vast mass of apolitical Southern Ontario suburbanites who consider themselves basically liberal”.

    Fascinating also is the old continentalist canard that NAFTA meaningfully lifted our standard of living, as if Canadians were mud-hut dwellers until 1993. I think someone needs to peruse the UN’s Human Development Index, which ranks us as having fallen about eight rungs over the last few years and now places us below the States for the first time in the HDI’s history. At the moment, I can’t think of anyone in my familial, fraternal, or professional circle who would say that they are living better than they were fifteen years ago; in fact, the anecdotal consensus seems to be that key aspects of Canada’s physical plant, from our roads to our schools, have been deteriorating steadily and rapidly. Free-trade fundamentalists just adore abstract indices of “prosperity” like per-capita GDP ratios, but they mean little or nothing to the non-CEOs among us, who are more likely to notice our crumbling sidewalks and rotting inner cities than the impact made by minute TSX fluctuations on investment portfolios.

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  11. SF, intially I never recognize myself in the targets of your tirades, but then I remember I am arguing with a man who believes a vacation to Disneyworld or a fondness for NFL football is dangerously subversive and a betrayal of the memory of Sir Issac Brock. As I have suggested to you before, your argument is not so much with HarperCons, neo-Cons, Obama-cons or whichever other kind of con puts you off your biscuits, your argument is with modernity and especially historic levels of prosperity. I certainly agree there is much to second guess and fret about, and I really do wish you would reactivate your site and turn your purple prose towards mega-trends in modern culture rather than the relatively minor and mundane world of Canadian electoral politics. Any man with the courage to declare his hatred of both the Charter and the Group of Seven at Dr Dawg's site (how that must have perplexed the Young Turks) is a bird of paradise in my book, but he should be thundering at Israelite sins from a mountaintop, not doing heated post-electoral analyses of Canadian elections on blogs.

    I must comment on the amusing irony of your selective use of the UN HDI. We have "fallen" below the States? Why have they not "risen" above us? In either case, are you suggesting the cause is the old fashioned Tory corporatism the Americans are so faithful to? In truth, that index involves the same annual jockeying for position in a very tight race among Anglospheric and Northern European countries as it always has. The only trend, if you subtract oil-rich Norway, is the gradual overtaking of the latter by the former. And if you check out the stats on long-term general improvement in baseline indices, you will see we rank fifth over time during a quantum historic leap in general prosperity in the West. I'm sorry you and your friends got left behind, but perhaps you should have shorted Nortel when you had the chance.

    Finally, I agree we should repair our "crumbling" sidewalks. I hadn't noticed, because over the past couple of years I've actually cursed Harper and his surplus spending many times as I sat caught in traffic gridlock because of massive roadwork and infrastructure improvements in Ottawa. But we can't have you inner city misanthropes stumbling at crosswalks, so in the interests of bridging the ideological divide, I will temper my fanatic neo-con, annexationist, fundamentalist, anti-science, Canada-hating principles and support a $2 across the board increase in property taxes to be devoted exclusively to sidewalk maintenance and repair. Hey, don't mention it.

    BTW, you're the scholar. Was John A.'s electoral success based upon his repeated invoking of the legacy and memory of someone who lived 130 years previously?

    Heh. The word verification for this comment is "impuncon".

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  12. …but then I remember I am arguing with a man who believes a vacation to Disneyworld or a fondness for NFL football is dangerously subversive and a betrayal of the memory of Sir Issac Brock.

    I hope you weren’t smoking when you wrote that, Peter. I don’t think the Ottawa Fire Marshal would be too pleased to see a lighted cigarette in the vicinity of a straw man as huge and as dry as that one.

    …your argument is with modernity…

    Indeed—a rather odd thing for a conservative, I dare say.

    ..that index involves the same annual jockeying for position in a very tight race…you will see we rank fifth over time during a quantum historic leap in general prosperity in the West.

    One could argue that the race among the top twenty nations is very tight, but it wouldn’t change the reality of Canada’s current (relative) downward trend. The “historic leap in general prosperity” you speak of is not new; it’s been ongoing for about two centuries, and yet Canada had the highest relative human development rate until about six years ago, and we’ve been falling behind other nations ever since. The historic leap you speak of does not apply only to the West, by the way; it also applies to much of Asia, especially China. In fact, the two trajectories are very much interdependent. Whatever particular endowment Canada has enjoyed as a consequence of that leap has much less to do with NAFTA (the object of my original comment, may I remind you) than with those broad, long-term, and interlinked processes.

    More importantly, though, you and I appear to have very different notions of what “prosperity” means, and it’s a difference that used to be a key component of the distinction between conservatism and liberalism before the former conceded to the latter an exclusive explanatory jurisdiction over the nature of things. The liberal notion of prosperity is fundamentally materialist and finds itself fulfilled by the multiplication of commodities and services (as does the Marxist notion of prosperity, incidentally: there is very little difference among materialisms, as Anglo-European conservatism has long understood). The conservative notion of prosperity is fundamentally cultural and finds itself fulfilled by a certain way of life, one where order, justice, and loyalty serve as the bases of national institutions and as tangible personal aspirations. Conservative values are not entirely discarnate and abstract, of course; they can be embodied materially, but those embodiments need a foundational character—an essential solidity or seminality—rather than just an ephemeral half-life as “stuff”.

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  13. Thus, the conservative is hardly going to be impressed by his ability to watch Brady Bunch reruns on any one of a thousand cable channels after coming home from a meeting at which management announced the conclusion of a hostile take-over by an American equity firm that has decided to halve the company's staff and move its HQ and R&D facilities to Austin, Texas. Nor is the conservative likely to believe that being granted a wider choice among a dizzying array of over-priced Chinese-made chunks of plastic manufactured by sweatshops within blocks of one another is worth having a family-owned business that paid a living wage and helped send kids to university supplanted by a Wal-Mart that pays indentured servants' wages, helps kids grow into adult Wal-Mart greeters, and sends untold millions out of the country and into the pockets of American shareholders. I doubt if an Ottawa conservative can walk through the downtown's dense phalanx of panhandlers, crack addicts, prostitutes, vagrants, and gangsta wannabees and believe that this represents some kind of new “prosperity” unknown to Canadians until the last few years. I remember Ottawa in the late '80s and early '90s. There were so few panhandlers and vagrants then that I knew most of their names. Graffiti was hard to find. The Ottawa of twenty years ago was parochial, but it was also livable and fit for humans. I'll take a placid hamlet over a metropolitan sewer any day.

    Was John A.'s electoral success based upon his repeated invoking of the legacy and memory of someone who lived 130 years previously?

    Of course it was. Macdonald's most famous electoral refrain was “A British subject I was born, and a British subject I shall die”; this bold affront to the inveterate anti-imperialism of the Grits and their fervent constituencies in Quebec and Eastern Ontario was meant to invoke the particularist, anti-American spirit of the Loyalists and their ideological descendants, the Family Compact. Was it successful? I think most historians consider Sir John's record to be on the good side of not too shabby.

    Alas, my dear Peter, you'll simply need to get used to my conservative habit of anchoring my belief system in the creative soil of tradition (which, lamentably for the rock 'n' rollers among us, lies in the past) rather than in the clever-sounding trivia smart-asses with expensive degrees and fake think-tank “fellowships” are pulling out of thin air today: the former has stood the test of time and helped to build this great nation; the latter have not and did not. Now, if conservatives have decided that it is philosophically and ethically easier to be liberal at this stage of our society's development and that the only meaningful index of cultural success is Canada's total per capita number of IPods, quite regardless of how many of our teenage daughters are placing escorts ads in the Sun's back pages in order to afford to buy a new machine every week, I can do little to convince them otherwise. I can, however, continue to insist that we call things by their proper names. I know conservatism when I see it, and I know when Smith's Invisible Hand is being woven into a fig leaf to provide a respectable cover for the lesion-scarred flaccidity of a slothful, acquisitive venality. Present company excepted, of course, as always.

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