Prime ministerial pal Tom Flanagan

Perfesser Tom Flannigan — wiki-sanction advocate, Stephen Harper confidante, Firewall sovereignist and proud member of the taxpayer-supported “Calgary School” of loony right-wing political “science” — recently wrote a sarcastic letter purporting to advise progressive academics on how to be as successful pushing their agenda as market fundamentalists like him have been.

Notwithstanding its smarmy tone, the Illinois-born Flanagan’s letter to the December 2010 edition of the Literary Review of Canada actually contains some pretty good advice for all of us on the progressive left, not just academics, which may be summarized as follows:

–    Write more clearly
–    Write about things that matter to people
–    Get involved in politics
–    Suborn your students into supporting your politics
–    “Have a long term plan for world domination”

Of course, Flanagan leaves out some things the right has done well, too:

–    Cultivate billionaire neo-fascists to bankroll your efforts
–    Have total control over all opinions expressed in the billionaire-owned mainstream media (and whine continually about its “liberal bias”)

–    Make a concerted effort to “defund the left”

Leaving aside the effort to drum up billionaires willing to finance our work as a waste of time, we should do the things on Flanagan’s list, and the remaining two on the other one as well.

We’ll leave the complex topic of how to compete with the mainstream media for another day to concentrate on the need to “defund the right.”

Now, the notion of “de-funding the left” has been around at least since Ronald Reagan was president of the United States in the far-right American circles that so clearly influence the thinking of people like Flanagan and his fellow Calgary Schoolmates Prime Minister Harper and would-be Alberta governor … pardon me, premier … Freddy Lee “Ted” Morton.

The Wikipedia defines “De-fund the Left” as a U.S. term “to describe efforts by conservative activists to eliminate government financial support for non-profit groups deemed to be ‘liberal.'”

Naturally, the notion goes farther than merely depriving supposedly “liberal” organizations of funds from government sources. Ultimately, neo-liberal governments who want to shove their policy nostrums up the noses of a skeptical population will attempt create legal barriers to anything that makes groups that represent the interests of ordinary voters more effective.

This is what is behind Harper’s current campaign to undo Canada’s election financing legislation, the historic compromise by former Liberal prime minister Jean Chrétien to base political parties’ financing on capped citizen donations and popular support, rather than access to the corporations and plutocrats with the deepest pockets.

Now, Chrétien was a wily old fox and he included an element of de-funding the right in his legislation. After all, so-called conservatives — who are nowadays seldom conservative and usually dangerously radical — have a steep hill to climb in spreading their pernicious ideas to the general population.

They have succeeded over the past 30 years largely because they control essentially all of the media and the lion’s share of the money needed to market their destructive economic bromides. Thus, their strategy of subverting democracy relies heavily on their ability deprive the public of information inputs via the media, replacing those with their own spin and deception through advertising and bloviation of various kinds.

Indeed, we can observe both sides of this equation played out in Harper’s campaign against “subsidies” to federal political parties.

However, the same reasoning animates the prime minister’s legislative program to eliminate Canada’s long-form census questionnaire — a scheme viewed as insanity by professional statisticians, but which makes perfect sense from the point of view that solid facts can only harm the neo-liberal agenda that is pushed with appropriately religious fervour by Harper.

Likewise, the same motive underlies business assaults on Internet neutrality, because a key goal of the right is inevitably to choke off the flow of competing ideas in the so-called “marketplace of ideas.”

It is also what is behind campaigns among supporters of both the Alberta Progressive Conservatives and the Wildrose Alliance (who are often the same people, unsurprisingly) to put legal barriers in the way of unions using members dues for anything except “labour relations purposes,” extremely narrowly defined. They argue that members who pay union dues may not support all their leadership’s political program, as if all corporate shareholders also share the political views of corporate executives and all citizens share the opinions of the publicly subsidized nuts at the Calgary School.

In other words, these people intend to make it possible for provinces to explicitly make it illegal for unions to finance political campaigns by parties that represent the interests of working people at the same time as Ottawa throws the door open to corporate donations of any size, including donations from foreign companies laundered through their Canadian subsidiaries.

Arguably, this is even behind the Conservative campaign to de-fund the arts, since you can never be too sure just what kind of dangerous left-wing mischief artists might get up to.

Now, guided by the principle that what’s bad for the goose should also be bad for the gander, clearly it’s time for progressive voters and activists to turn their minds seriously to the idea of de-funding the right.

We can do this through a vigorous defence of fair election financing laws, and by continuing to push for some form of proportional representation in the way we select our democratic representatives. Where we lose those fights, well-funded progressive groups such as unions should pour money into political campaigns by centre-left parties with the abandon of foreign multi-nationals.

Where provincial labour laws and their penalties stand in the way, they should be ignored, as these laws can be effectively challenged on Constitutional grounds only once charges have been laid. Let a province that enacts such a law go to the Supreme Court to be taught that the Charter of Rights and Freedoms means something in this country, for now, anyway.

But it would be richly satisfactory as well, to take aim in public campaigns at other sources of funding for the right, including tax breaks for those billionaire-financed “think tanks” that are nothing but advertising agencies for the Shock Doctrine.

Moreover, it is time to take note of the direct subsidies to extreme right-wing propaganda through public universities. The “Calgary School,” for example.

It as an absolute disgrace that this profoundly un-Canadian coterie — whose members work tirelessly to undermine our society’s social safety net and freedoms of expression and association — do so while enjoying public salaries and generous pensions paid by taxpayers.

There’s never been a better time to start speaking aloud about de-funding the right, and there’s never been a better place to begin than by demanding that taxpayers no longer have to finance the anti-social activities of the “Calgary School.”

If this malevolent drivel is so important, let the corporations and political parties that benefit from it pay for it all!

This post also appears on David Climenhaga’s blog, Alberta Diary.

David J. Climenhaga

David J. Climenhaga

David Climenhaga is a journalist and trade union communicator who has worked in senior writing and editing positions with the Globe and Mail and the Calgary Herald. He left journalism after the strike...