Mulroney’s Revenge: The Breakup of Canada

harperbushA combination of the incompetence and arrogance of the governing Liberal party, the unprincipled ambition of the Conservative and Bloc parties, and the fatal flaws in the Canadian electoral system, is conspiring to threaten the continued existence of Canada as a nation, and the majority of Canadians are both unaware and helpless to do anything about it.

For those not up on Canadian politics, here’s a quick recap of where we stand and how we got there:

  • In 1992, then Conservative Prime Minister Brian Mulroney sent a constitutional amendment called the Charlottetown Accord to a national referendum. He had coerced Canada’s provincial premiers into supporting the Accord by including in it the transfer to them of vast powers previously held by the federal government. At that time former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau correctly warned Canadians that this Accord would so weaken federal authority that it would inevitably lead to thedisintegration of the federal government and the breakup of the country. Mulroney arrogantly threatened English-speaking Canadians that if they did not approve his Accord in the referendum, Quˆ©bec would see it as a rebuke and separate. Canadians, not partial to bullying, rejected the Accord both in English-speaking Canada and in Quˆ©bec.
  • Mulroney’s arrogance and brinkmanship so infuriated Canadian voters that in the 1993 election his Conservative party was eliminated as a political force in Canada, winning only 2 of 295 seats. After a decade of floundering, the party was taken over three years ago by a right-wing extreme group, an offshoot of the bizarre fundamentalist Social Credit party, which had successfully preyed on Western Canadian alienation. The current leader of this party is Stephen Harper, pictured above, who in a speech a couple of years ago to the secretive right-wing Civitas coalition made clear that he supports the dismantling of the “welfare state” and “rediscovering the agenda…of state values“. His public record shows him to be a Straussian neocon in the Bush/Thatcher/Reagan mold (he has often stated his admiration for these three extremists). His positions have been sufficiently unambiguous that a recent editorial from the US right-wing Cato Institute fawned over him as a “pro-free trade, pro-Iraq war, anti-Kyoto, and socially conservative Gift from Canada”. This editorial played so badly in liberal Canada that Harper (perhaps at the behest of his spin-doctors) quickly attempted to distance himself from this characterization — the one encouraging sign that perhaps Harper is not as much of a wingnut as many of us fear. Harper still proposes to reverse the new Canadian law allowing gay marriage, to close down the Liberals’ new day care program, and to “rethink” Canada’s commitment to Kyoto and to universal single-tier medical care. He believes longer prison sentences (not gun control) is the solution to gang violence, and is personally opposed to abortion.
  • The old bible thumping Social Credit party that morphed into two new parties before taking over the Conservative Party of Canada has never been able to muster more than 30% of the popular vote, and their brand of social conservatism has rarely received more than 25% support in Canada, about the same percentage as the socialist New Democratic Party and the Green Party combined. But Liberal Prime Ministers Jean Chrˆ©tien and successor Paul Martin have squandered their party’s dominating (for most of the past half century) 50% centre-left support, by allowing an embarrassing fraud by a small group of civil servants and greedy corporations with ties to the party to occur, and to go undetected. Canadians are justifiably uneasy about any party having such a stranglehold on power for so long, but until this scandal broke they weren’t willing to opt for either of the too-extreme alternatives. Since the scandal, support for the Conservatives has broken above 30% — to as high as 35% — for the first time since Mulroney’s demise, despite Canadians’ clear distrust of Harper. What seems to be at work is the awareness that no party in Canada has anywhere near enough support to form a majority, so, as one poll interviewee said “We can punish the Liberals for their arrogance and still be comfortable that the Conservatives won’t get enough seats to govern without the moderating support of one of the other parties”.
  • There are two wild cards in all of this: The separatist Bloc party has a stranglehold on almost all of Quˆ©bec’s seats thanks to the fact the Liberal fraud was perpetrated in that province and the virtual non-existence of the Conservatives in that province. The Bloc, aside from its desire to break up the country, is solidly left-of-centre both economically and socially. The second wild-card is the 47% undecided vote, which is not counted in polls showing the Conservatives and Liberals neck and neck at about 33% each, the NDP at 17%, the Bloc at 11% and the Greens at 6%. The undecided vote skews heavily in favour of the Liberals, and if (a big if) they decide to hold their nose and vote, the result will be a virtual repeat of the last election — another Liberal minority government. This will also happen if left-leaning NDP and Green Party supporters are sufficiently frightened at the prospect of a right-wing government to vote ‘strategically’ for the Liberals. This is precisely what happened in the last election, but it is unclear whether it will happen again.
  • Canada has an outmoded first-past-the-post electoral district system that allows regional parties like the Bloc to get 20% of the seats with only 11% of the votes, and underrepresents national ‘third’ parties like the NDP whose 17% popularity consistently yields only 5% of the seats. Proportional representation would fix this, but the parties in power, who benefit from the first-past-the-post distortions, are understandably reluctant to introduce a system that would benefit their political opponents, no matter how fair that would be.

So that’s where we stand, going into an election in two weeks.(January 23rd). If party support doesn’t change, Canada’s 308 seats are likely to go as follows: Liberal 114 (a loss of 19), Conservative 118 (a gain of 20), Bloc 58 (a gain of 5), NDP 18 (no change), Independents/Vacant 0 (a loss of 6). Because of the first-past-the-post skew, the Conservatives and Bloc with a combined 44% of the vote will have 57% of the seats. If these two parties are unable to form a coalition, we will soon have yet another election — there is no other viable coalition. The previous Liberal/NDP coalition was 7 seats short of a combined majority, but governed by the moral authority of their 55% combined popular vote until the witless leader of the NDP, Jack Layton, was hoodwinked by the Conservatives into withdrawing support for the Liberals and forcing this election.

The TV is flooded with commercials, heavily skewed in favour of the Conservatives (who is paying for all their ads?, he asks rhetorically). But factor in the ‘leanings’ of the undecided and nothing has had any real effect on the voters, except on moderates’ distaste for all the parties and their unlikelihood to vote at all. This always plays to the extremists’ advantage.

So why am I talking about the breakup of the country? When Mulroney was Conservative leader, his Quˆ©bec wing was substantially separatist. Separatists saw the Conservatives as their allies. Western alienation is not all that different from Quˆ©bec nationalism, except that until Harper came along it was less virulent. Now, 14 years after they last governed, the Conservatives and the Bloc separatists are again poised to take power. As I mentioned, the Bloc is strongly left-of-centre, while the Harper Conservatives are strongly right-of-centre. The only thing they have in common is the same desire to shift power from the federal government to the regional (provincial) governments that Mulroney tried to impose on Canadians with the Charlottetown Accord. The only difference is that this time there will be no referendum — the Conservatives and Bloc will try to use their 44% ‘majority’ to do the only thing they can agree on, the very thing that Pierre Trudeau warned against: weaken the federal government to the point of gradual disintegration, leading to the eventual, substantive breakup of the country. Once federal powers have been given away to the provinces they can never be taken back.

The four ‘have-not’ Atlantic Provinces are the only part of Canada with the sense to realize this and the only ones who instinctively care about it (their weak economies depend heavily on federal transfer payments) — which probably has a lot to do with the fact that they will vote overwhelmingly Liberal on January 23. Most Quˆ©becois are indifferent to Canada, and don’t think the idea of Quˆ©bec as a separate nation is a big deal one way or another. Ontario, which has been solidly Liberal for years, is arrogant enough to believe that, as the ‘centre’ of Canada, it’s where all the action is anyways, so a weakened federal government wouldn’t change much. They’re wrong, but the argument that Trudeau made is just too complex for the media to digest and explain to the electorate (it will be interesting to see if Martin will try in the debates this week, and if so whether he will succeed), so most Ontarians have no idea what’s at stake. And Western Canada feels it has been shafted by the ‘Eastern establishment’ for decades, and has more affinity (sometimes anyway) with its provincial governments than with the ‘feds’.

Canada won’t end with a bang. We don’t do anything suddenly — that’s not in our nature. We’ll just wake up one day and realize that our federal government, which has given us a social safety net, a solid national education system churning out the world’s most innovative workforce, a functional universal health care system, a remarkable national transportation system, a place of refuge for conscientious objectors from our southern neighbour’s warmongering administrations, and a consistently responsible balanced budget, all far from perfect but all better than most of the rest of the world has been able to produce, has ceased to function. A Harper government, like the Bush and Mulroney governments, will use tax cuts for the rich, and irrational defence spending to bankrupt the federal treasury and impoverish future Canadian generations so they won’t be able to rebuild the social safety net even if they want to. A Harper government, like the Bush and Mulroney governments, will sell off the federal government’s assets to corporate friends at obscene discounts, and deregulate us into a laissez-faire nightmare where corporatist social and environmental destruction will spiral untrammeled and out of control. Even under the weakened Liberals this has already begun.

We will then be America Lite — still bristling at the thought that we’re just like Americans, but with our assets even more substantially owned by Americans than they are today, an economic colony with the fading illusion of relevant political independence. Instead of being the potential role model for the 21st century, we will be the country of great promise that was never realized.

Last year Canadians voted Tommy Douglas, former leader of the NDP, as the greatest Canadian of all time (Terry Fox was second, Pierre Trudeau third). It was Douglas’ vision, of a country that cared for the weak and where we were all responsible for each other, and his courage in fighting the forces that see all government as evil, that helped make Canada unique, different, proud, independent, and admired in almost every country in the world except, ironically, our own. If he could see what we are about to do, with all that we have and all that we have done, he would be filled with despair. And Mulroney must be grinning from ear to ear to see Harper, who charged Mulroney with abandoning true conservatism and who fought the Charlottetown Accord for not going far enough, and then stole Mulroney’s broken party, now painting himself into a corner that could leave him no alternative but to implement the essence of the dreadful Charlottetown Accord and advance the separatist agenda just to keep himself in power.

I still think it’s possible that Canadians will stumble out of this on January 23rd with a result very similar to the last election’s. We have good instincts, and 18 months ago we decided at the last minute that the devil we knew was better than the devil we didn’t. I’m a diehard Green, but even I am wavering, thinking seriously about voting Liberal. Unfortunately our memory is short and our appreciation of complex issues is feeble, so we are easily exploited by the politically ambitious, and our political system perversely facilitates this. I’ll report back on January 24th with my analysis of what happened the night before.

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15 Responses to Mulroney’s Revenge: The Breakup of Canada

  1. Jon Husband says:

    This article should be on the fromt page, or as the major editorial, of the Globe and Mail. I doubt that the National post would consider it. And sent to all major community newspapers across Canada ….

  2. Canada Is Finished says:

    I do agree that this outcome is a possibilty if the Liberals aren’t reelected but consider this possibility if they are…Western Alienation at an all time high. Western voters see separation as the last option for them to get the kind of government that they want and vote in separatist mp’s. Enough mp’s to form a coalition with the Bloq, seize power and use the laws of Canada to ‘legaly’ break up the country. A recent poll showed that upwords of 40% of western voters believe separation should be seriously considered as an option. I think that number will surge tremendously with a Liberal win, even a minority one, giving this ‘separation alliance’ theory life.

  3. darcy says:

    Straussian now-cons trying to take power in Canada? This is really awful. Having lived in Canada for a year and a frequent visitor, I have always hoped that Canada would remain a beacon of what is possible in North America – while being terrified that it would become completely corrupted by the greed and narrowmindedness of the JesusLand regions to the south. My personal theory is that the main agenda of the Straussians is (and always has been) to dismantle any semblance of a decent public education system ASAP; an undeducated populace is an easily manipulated one. Do you think one of the main reason’s western reactionaries are willing to conspire in this breakup is because they want a playing field in which they have got carte blanche to loot Canada’s considerable resources – er – pristine wilderness lands? I am thinking a Canadian ANWAR. And might “southern interests” have something to do with all this ad $$?

  4. medaille says:

    I’m not Canadian by any means (Minnesotan) and don’t know enough about its political history in any detail to make accurate assessments, but what comes to my mind is that there seems to be a lot of similarity in how our countries are degrading (from what you’ve said).I get that impression instinctively, so I’m unsure of where its coming from. One thing that I’m certain of is that it seems like the government just operates on its own, with little regard to the population as a whole. The neocons are playing a game with everyone. They just tease everybody with little bits of glitter and while they’re distracted push through what they need to. The liberal politicians don’t seem to be even in the game at all. They’re just there to get elected when the conservatives push too far and the public reacts poorly, and they’ll just lose again in the near future.I also know that the conservatives are gaining power, because they are actively pushing in their direction (whatever their motives are???) but the liberals are just trying to maintain the status quo rather than pushing equally hard in a different direction. The conservatives use fear (as opposed to prudance or responsibility) and other negative tactics extremely heavily, which most people react unconsciously to. I’m worried that without any real alternative, the liberals are going to have to use fear to balance out the power.Its too hard to discern whats important because the smokescreen is so large that the important stuff can’t be discerned by even an intelligent individual, although maybe someone trained in politics and familiar with both parties tactics could see what needed to be seen. Regardless, that still leaves the dilemma that no one else knows what is going on, so the voting comes down to advertising, rather than intelligent choices. The media, expecially here in the states, is absolutely worthless at distributing stuff that’s relevant to us. There’s no real dominant public forum for actual intelligent debate that could be used to inform the public.I think this is where personal KM has to come into play. My broad knowledge of blogs is limited, so feel free to correct me. Blogs are good for some purposes. They are good for allowing a user to publish their ideas and opinions. They are good for allowing popular blogs to be viewed by their populace. The drawbacks I see, as a limited blog reader, is that it is incredibly difficult to find blogs that are relavent to me. There is so much of the same, that anything unique and worth reading gets drowned out and that prevents me from continuing to search out anything because I can never get a satisfactory answer in the limited time that I have, so why try? They are also bad at providing meaningful discussion between parties. People seem to seek out the blogs they already agree with, rather than having an issue that can be debated between sides. No ones mind can be changed, because no one is present, and even when they are present their ears are closed.Personal KM should enter the arena to supercede blogging at the very least in the case I’m discussing, although its potential is much vaster. It would have to be peer-to-peer in the sense that it is all located on the persons computer, rather than on “the internet” where someone has to go find it. The backend stuff could be wherever though, but from a user standpoint it needs to be on their computer. The user would have his/her own little portal to the KM network, and it would directly link them with other people, getting rid of the middle man, because without a middle man, corruption would be more difficult as only persuasion could be done due to the incredibly even distribution of power. Another huge flaw in the internet/bloggin world is that despite the vast amount of technology invested in it, it is only as useful as a telephone/radio. Meaning, it still is only a distribution medium. The power of computers is in their ability to process large amounts ofinformation, but the internet doesn’t have any information processing going on. It still uses humans for that, which results in a lot of redundant information.If you were to describe the all the information in the world as a collective, what you would see is that it should look like an upside down pyramid. At the bottom you have a relatively few core ideas that form the foundation of what people know (either individually or collectively). Then as you move upwards ideas combine and merge to form new ideas. You could visualize this as if you connect each idea to a different idea you could output a different idea or concept. Right now all the easy connecting has been done and progress is slowing down because it is too difficult to find unattached ideas to connect to in any meaningful way. Meaning that we’re not developing or learning stuff as fast as we could be on the whole. More relevantly, it also means that since there is so much information, we can’t progress our own knowledge as fast because its harder to find unique stuff. We can randomly seek out information and some new information comes to us if we just have our ears open, but if we focus our efforts, its like traversing through a rainforest. You can’t see where your going and the jungle is so dense to prevent you from moving forward.There absolutely has to be a way to use computers to do the seeking and sorting for you. Period. Until that happens, I don’t see any significant progress being made. The only exception is social networking. Social networking is just a tool that allows better conversation between like minds, but I just don’t see it helping me too much. I would still have to know who I was talking to and why they were relevant to me before we started conversing. The two concepts need to work hand in hand to really be effective and Personal KM needs to embrace both of them to impact the population as a whole (not just webheads).

  5. Jordan Mechano says:

    Please don’t strategically vote. If you like the Greens, vote for them. At least they’ll get more money.

  6. theresa says:

    I almost always learn something from reading your blog but I’m afraid the idea of the strong central government was never something that caught my fancy (or sense of delight, if you prefer). It always seemed bound to our collective fear of becoming too “American”. I am rather moved more by a vision than by a fear. Two thoughts did emerge as I read your post and its comments: that Canadians still want their social safety net but are open to the idea of separatism (at least when their province does not need the transfer payments).While I still have some sentimental attachment to the idea of “Sea to shining Sea,” some of the other ideas from your recent posts are much more exciting. Forgive me for quoting:”Leadership of all kinds is a dysfunctional vestige of an era in which that collective wisdom could not readily be tapped.”and:”To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.”and:”

  7. theresa says:

    I almost always learn something from reading your blog but I’m afraid the idea of the strong central government was never something that caught my fancy (or sense of delight, if you prefer). It always seemed bound to our collective fear of becoming too “American”. I am rather moved more by a vision than by a fear. Two thoughts did emerge as I read your post and its comments: that Canadians still want their social safety net but are open to the idea of separatism (at least when their province does not need the transfer payments).While I still have some sentimental attachment to the idea of “Sea to shining Sea,” some of the other ideas from your recent posts are much more exciting. Forgive me for quoting:”Leadership of all kinds is a dysfunctional vestige of an era in which that collective wisdom could not readily be tapped.”and:”To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.”and:”

  8. medaille says:

    Theresa, your post reminds me of something. It seems that no one really thinks that they have an actual input in their own government, meaning if the government got too strong then it could start to harm them. Kind of like, if you make a robot thats too smart, it will eventually try to take control and hold you as a slave or kill you or something (matrix or terminator). Shouldn’t the government be a tool, where its just an extension of its populace? More importantly, how come no one cares that the government isn’t a tool to serve the populace? I feel that only a few people are concerned that only the elite have any say in government.

  9. It’s spelled “bloc”, not “bloq” btw.

  10. darcy says:

    It’s spelled “bloc”, not “bloq” btw.D’accord. C’est US illiteracy!

  11. Dave Pollard says:

    Mikhail/Darcy: OK, c’est corrigé. I call them the ‘bloq’ because they are always trying to block (fr: bloquer) legislation, even if it is good for the country. I guess the play on words was too subtle.Jon: Thanks, even though it’ll never happen.CIF: I grew up in Western Canada, and I appreciate their perspective, but outside of Alberta most Western Canadians are fierce nationalists at heart, even though they despise ‘the East’ and Toronto especially for their arrogance. Westerners also realize that their provincial governments are no closer than the feds to the heart of the people, and shifting powers from the feds, while weakening our already-limited ability to voice our opinion on things like the Iraq War and the environment on the global stage, will accomplish absolutely nothing. And despite all the blather about federal government corruption, the record of provincial governments on corruption is many times worse.Darcy: When it comes to power struggles between the feds and provinces, it’s always about money, papered over with arguments about principle. As oil prices rise, Alberta doesn’t want to share — once its oil runs out, it will have nothing except beef (and perhaps if beef scandals continue, not even that) to fall back on, so it wants to hoard what it makes from natural resources now. Albertans are paying a huge environmental price for their ‘wealth’ that their children will have to pay.Medaille: Ideally that’s right but most (80%) of the population everywhere has neither the ability nor the inclination for personal KM. There is no sense of urgency about being truly informed, which is why so much of the news is just entertainment, filler, while the real news goes unreported. And: re: your second comment, it’s all about learned helplessness. If we’re told we’re individually powerless often enough, we believe it.Jordan: I’m a Green Party member. They get my membership fee, my campaign donation (a lot more than the $1.75 my vote gives them) and when they want it, my advice. I hate voting strategically, but in the current system I have little choice.Theresa: I don’t want a strong federal government to protect us from the US (it would be absurd to believe that we could do so even if we wanted to). What I don’t want is twelve (mostly) large, autonomous provincial governments, each as distant and indifferent to the needs of their communities as a federal government, each doing something different, and each vulnerable to bribes and corruption. Better one monster to keep track of and keep tamed than ten. And sometimes in the global arena we need someone to speak up about things that other countries can’t legitimately (or won’t) speak up about: the environment, peace, civil liberties and minority rights etc. Our voice on these matters is too small now, representing only .005 of Earth’s humanity. The voice of a bunch of balkanized Canadian states will not be heard at all.

  12. “Mikhail/Darcy: OK, c’est corrigé. I call them the ‘bloq’ because they are always trying to block (fr: bloquer) legislation, even if it is good for the country. I guess the play on words was too subtle.”How incredibly reductionist. Sad to read it here, but then, if anglo-canadians understood quebec, we wouldn’t be in this mess.

  13. Martin-Eric says:

    Animals know no border and no citizeship and righfully so: countries are artificial constructs meant to keep the proles focused in their servile position based upon purported moral imperatives like “preserving the country from ennemies within or without” and to ensure that the populace will consistantly give “leaders” of any kind what they want. Shouldn’t we instead be focusing on the individual’s sense of belonging to a nation-tribe, which is something quite localized and far more meaningful than citizenships and citizenry?

  14. Martin-Eric says:

    This blog entry describes quite well what I meant about the pointlessness of governments.

  15. Dave Pollard says:

    Martin-Éric: Exactly. But trying to explain this to people who want an ‘ownership society’ or want ‘property rights’ entrenched in the constitution is futile. The idea that we belong to nature, rather than the other way around, is unfathomable to them.

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