Wrongs of the Right

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Canada has the most right-wing government of the Western liberal democracies. For some years we have had the most right-wing media, with only the Toronto Star (and its limited reach outside the GTA) for balance. The right-wing media has featured extreme right-wing commentators regularly, while censoring voices with critical perspectives.

In no other country has organized business had more control of the public agenda than in Canada. And in no country outside the United States have American multinational corporations had more impact on public policy.

So just how well do right-wing ideas hold up today, one year after the world financial crisis? So poorly, you would think the Harper government, the corporate press, right-wing commentators and multinational corporations would be ashamed to be peddling their propaganda. Unfortunately, despite the evidence of things going wrong, the Canadian right accepts no blame, and recognizes no shame.

The idea that market prices allocate resources efficiently and productively without the need for government intervention has been shown to be spectacularly wrong. Following the failure of Lehman Brothers, all but major financial institutions themselves now recognize the need for regulation of financial markets.

After the sub-prime mortgage market collapsed, the idea that markets were forward seeing, and did not make mistakes, that they "rationally expected" whatever comes next, was shown to be totally without foundation.

Such right-wing ideas became predominant in Canada following the 1982 recession, when the Trudeau government appointed the MacDonald Commission, to assess what had happened. The Commission bought into the corporate agenda: replace postwar Canadian practices with the American economic model. Rule out national ownership of resources (potash) or transportation (CN, Air Canada), limit social wages (pensions, minimum wages, U.I., welfare payments), force people to "adjust" to market forces aka corporate priorities, so that investor freedoms trump social and economic rights of citizens.

The overarching right-wing idea trumpeted by the Globe and Mail, the National Post, CTV and (sadly) the CBC was that Canada was regionally confined. We were North American, and geography was destiny. The only ideas worth considering were American ideas, and the only way ahead was to imitate U.S. success. The centre piece of this thinking was the promotion and adoption of so-called free trade, a charter of corporate rights and freedoms that over rides the Canadian Constitution, and negates building a social and economic democracy in Canada.

While Conservative Brian Mulroney brought in the trade deal, the real fathers (no women) were the 150 chief executive officers who made up the Business Council on National Issues (today renamed the CCCE). Despite the change in government from Mulroney to the Chrétien Liberals the right-wing economic agenda progressed as before, and indeed, right-wing attacks on health care, aid to secondary education, transfers to the provinces for welfare payments, and U.I. intensified under the Liberals.

Today, 25 years after the election of Mulroney, corporate Canada celebrates 25 years of uninterrupted control of public affairs. As the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives has shown conclusively in a series of studies, Canadians are worse off economically than they were before free trade in 1988.

While many Canadians look to Denmark for ideas on greening our cities, and hope for a positive result to the Copenhagen summit on global warming, our government leads the Western world in climate change denial. While most Canadians reject the Afghanistan mission as a military failure, our government prepares to sign us up for new military duties, when it should be bringing the troops home. While Canadians worry about job and income insecurities, the government prepares to reduce needed spending, on the spurious grounds of the need to reduce the deficit, which is directly related to tax cuts and revenue shortfalls brought about by the recession.

The key right-wing idea about government spending is wrong. Program spending is not too big, it is too small. True enormous amounts are wasted on the military and corporate subsidies, but in the main government spending is far from generous, especially for those in need.

Much of what the right has championed has been good for the super wealthy, and corporations. But, rejecting government by discussion, aka democracy, and relying on fictional reason, only works so long. What the right fears the most is open debate. Bring it on.

Duncan Cameron writes from France.

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