Ron Paul and Preston Manning

Last weekend, the priests and priestesses of the Canadian branch of the international market fundamentalist religion gathered in Ottawa and called, as they always do, for more human sacrifice.

I speak, of course, of the annual networking conference of the inaptly labelled Manning Centre for Building Democracy, named for Preston Manning, founder of the Reform Party that now governs in Ottawa and Canadian pontifex maximus of the cult of market fundamentalism.

“Conservatives” at the Manning conference — who virtually to a man and woman are not conservative at all, but adherents of an extreme and radical ideology that borders on theology — didn’t need to elect a pope. They already have one, in the body of former Texas Congressman Ron Paul. So they invited Dr. Paul (he’s a physician by profession) to be their keynote speaker.

Hearing Paul droning on about the coming fiscal apocalypse if the world does not adopt his nutty ideas — the gold standard, no central bank, no income tax, pure market ascendancy and all the rest — plus similar things from many other speakers, one was struck by how the modern North American conservative movement is not really very far removed from the Christian millennial dispensationalism of Manning’s father, Alberta premier and radio evangelist Ernest Manning.

Apocalyptic imagery runs through Canadian conservative discourse nowadays, as conservatism is infected with the Tea Party virus that is destroying the Republican Party in the United States. Like the Prophet Jeremiah, participants in the Manning conference warned us repeatedly that if we do not immediately adopt the sackcloth and ashes of austerity, their angry market god will rain destruction down upon our heads.

Indeed, like Paul — “It’s coming to an End! This debt is unsustainable!” — they seem to relish the idea of destruction, especially when it’s us, the deserving unbelievers, who are the ones about to be destroyed. 

“I believe we’re in a period of transition from a system of economics and politics that’s ending,” Paul rambled, comparing the coming destruction of insufficiently market fundamentalist North America to the end of the Soviet Union, to the cheers, whistles and stomps of his enthusiastic Canadian acolytes.

What Paul called “government planning, welfareism, inflationism, central banking, deficits” will be the death of us, he warned. But worry not! Something new is coming!

“In almost every country in the West … debt is the big problem because it was taught for many, many years, the Keynesian theory of economics, that deficits don’t matter, that if you come up short, you know, you keep taxin’ the people to the point where they can’t be taxed any more, then you keep borrowing till you can’t borrow any more, then they think, ‘Well, it’s magic!’ All you have to do is print the money and it’s going to work out,’ and you can do that for a while. …

“My approach to all this is that’s all completely wrong,” Paul proclaimed, “and it’s coming to an end, there is a replacement, and it can be found in the Cause of Liberty…” (Cheers.)

OK. Enough of this pish-posh. If you’ve got a stern constitution, you can watch the rest for yourself courtesy of the Sun News Network. Suffice it to say that Paul’s thumbnail assessment of the Keynesian school of economics is neither strictly fair nor accurate — but, hell, it grabbed his audience’s attention.

Never mind that the even the most modest predictions of doom by this crowd never seem to come true — as pointed out recently by Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman, from whom I have gratefully borrowed the metaphor of the right’s demand for more human sacrifice to appease an angry market god.

Never mind that the prescriptions of neoconservative capitalism do not work, have never worked, and have spread destruction and woe throughout our planet. “The neoliberal hypothesis has been disproved spectacularly,” wrote George Monbiot in a wise essay last summer. “Far from regulating themselves, untrammelled markets were saved from collapse only by government intervention and massive injections of public money. Far from delivering universal prosperity, government cuts have pushed us further into crisis. 

“The quest for year zero market purity was dangerous enough in theory,” Monbiot concluded. “Distorted by the grubby realities of life on earth it is devastating to the welfare of both people and planet.”

Indeed, market fundamentalism as advocated at the Manning Centre and practiced by the politicians the group is allied with is the perfect scam: the more its features are adopted, the worse things get; the worse things get, the more the adherents of market fundamentalism blame the vestiges of common sense — be they environmental controls, consumer protections or fair taxation!

This happens, as Monbiot pointed out, because it suits the economic elite. “Thirty years of neoliberalism have allowed the super-rich to detach themselves from the lives of others to such an extent that economic crises scarcely touch them.”

So, of course, while the theme of theological and esoteric market fundamentalism prevailed at the Manning Centre conference, as exemplified by Paul’s interminable sermon, not every individual at the event was a starry-eyed market fetishist.

Many of the Conservative Party’s leading political strategists were there as well, and so, through the blather, we could begin to see emerging the outlines of the right’s strategies for the next election and the continued marketization of Canada.

Having had the unexpected opportunity to attend the conference and listen to many of its sessions, over the next couple of days I hope to bring progressive readers a summary of some of the major themes that mainstream media were content to leave behind the closed doors of the Ottawa Conference Centre.

Next on this theme, though not necessarily the next post on Alberta Diary: “Green Conservatism” and marketing energy exports to Canadians.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day! This post also appears on David Climenhaga’s blog, Alberta Diary.

David J. Climenhaga

David Climenhaga, author of the Alberta Diary blog, is a journalist, author, journalism teacher, poet and trade union communicator who has worked in senior writing and editing positions with the Globe...