Neoliberals, like rust, never sleep. So we shouldn’t be surprised Preston Manning already seems to be looking ahead to a post-election go at the new Liberal government, same as the old Liberal government.
Of course, nobody knows for sure what’s going to happen on tonight. Maybe all those People’s Party of Canada trolls will get cold feet and flood back to the lovin’ arms of Erin O’Toole. Maybe we’ll all wake up on Tuesday morning to the progressive reality of prime minister Jagmeet Singh.
But the punditocracy is already starting to act as if Justin Trudeau and his Liberals will squeak back into power, and it sounds to me as if Manning, godfather of the Canadian right, is leaning the same way too.
Leastways, he’s already starting to lay out his arguments about how conservatives should deal with another Liberal government, quite possibly once again propped up by a substantial NDP contingent in Parliament, as soon as the National Post and Globe and Mail are done telling us that Canadians voted for Liberals again because they’re really Conservatives at heart.
According to that old chestnut, which invariably appears in the editorial pages of Canadian newspapers the day after a Liberal or NDP election victory, just elected Liberal (or NDP) governments must, simply must, immediately abandon the platforms they ran on and start delivering Conservative policies.
Well, it’s not quite time for a big Preston Manning thumb-sucker in the Globe making that point. But in the meantime, the back-room architect of the amalgamation of Alberta’s Wildrose and Progressive Conservative parties (how’d that work out, Preston?), is already trying out his post-federal-election arguments before a sympathetic audience.
On Friday, C2C Journal, a publication associated with the now renamed Manning Centre, published a plea by the former Reform Party leader for Canadians to adopt “a more balanced approach to federal-provincial relations and national unity.” (Sea to Sea, get it? The online publication seems to have gotten its start as an organ of the Manning Centre. Now that Manning has retired, his brainchild has become the Canada Strong & Free Network.)
This sounds anodyne enough for Canadians, but Manning has something in mind that is not necessarily all that good for Canada.
First, he argues, we need “balance on the environment-economy front.” That is, he means, if we have to suffer through an environmental assessment every time someone wants to build a bitumen pipeline to the B.C. Coast, then surely we should have to conduct an economic review every time we want to implement a regime of environmental protection.
Never mind that governments, newspapers and the organs of cultural power have always done this and always will. Governments are in the business of economic policy. Any environmental, cultural or regulatory idea is always examined exhaustively in light of its potential economic impact, pro or con.
To suggest governments would ever do otherwise is ludicrous.
But of course an old used-ideology salesman who dreamed of saddling Canada’s Parliamentary democracy with a sclerotic institution modelled on the U.S. Senate, intended to bring any progressive policy no matter who voters elect to a shuddering halt, would love the idea of formalizing an economic review of any regulatory policy intended to protect the environment, human dignity, or anything else that might stand in the way of unbridled capitalism.
This is not balance, of course. It is an effort to tilt a field already massively biased in favour of the capitalist economic side of the equation even further against the environment.
This, if I may be so bold, is the perfect expression of what Manning, back in 2013, was touting as “green conservatism.”
Manning also calls for the same sort of “balance” on health care. There have been, he writes, “hundreds of thousands of cases where jobs, incomes and businesses have been killed by the health protection measures adopted, with no official attempt to measure or report these economic impacts so that a balance could be struck between health protection and the protection of the economy.”
This sounds like a reference to the response to COVID-19 in places outside Manning’s native Alberta. Given the success of the approach here in Alberta of what he seems to be advocating, he might want to tone this down for a few months.
He also claims there are a similar number of cases where the Charter rights of Canadians “have been violated via health protection measures.” Notwithstanding the hysteria of the anti-vaxxers, spurred on by intentional Qonfusion from south of the Medicine Line, this is simply nonsense.
As Manning soon reveals, his argument is really just a sly justification for the same old “freedom” argument for American-style, two-tier health care. He offers up the false promise that we can have all the benefits of a “mixed” health care system, one that provides universal (minimal) care through more privatization, union busting and co-pays.
He goes on to call for more balance in federal-provincial relations — which sounds suspiciously like code for letting conservative provinces dismantle national approaches to health care and other programs in provincial or joint jurisdiction. Ditto, he wants balance for regions — presumably a plea to treat the petroleum-development hobbyhorses of Canada’s Prairie provinces with as much gravity as Quebec’s existential concerns about its language and culture.
If the latter point seems to echo Alberta Premier Jason Kenney’s nonsense about how Alberta is somehow a distinct society, there’s probably a good reason for that. Arguably, Kenney owes his job to Manning’s machinations. (And if he doesn’t hold it for much longer, the call that tells him the gig is up will probably come from Manning too.)
Finally, Manning closes with a call for “unity politics” to replace “identity politics” — which he defines as such qualities as “ethnicity, gender, age or sexual orientation.”
This one is pulled straight out of the Trump Republican handbook. An appeal for fairness by any group of humans who are not white males of European descent, fully committed to market-fundamentalist capitalism, is belittled as “identity politics.” The interests of what in simpler times used to be accurately known as the ruling class is the sole principle around which we all must rally.
In truth, there is no better practitioner of identity politics than the conservative right, the better to activate its lumpen voting base and slough off all arguments for a better world as insinuations of bigotry and impracticality.
“The replacement of Identity Politics with Unity Politics is a prerequisite to achieving the national consensus on key issues required to facilitate implementation of any of the major policy positions put forward by federal leaders and parties in their election speeches and platforms,” Manning wheezes to a close.
He concludes: “A key question to be answered in analyzing which federal leader, party and candidate to support in the upcoming federal election is, who offers the most balanced approach.”
In other words, vote for the guy most likely to put the rights of capital above everything else.
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 at The Globe and Mail and the Calgary Herald.
Image: David Climenhaga/Provided