The People's Party of Canada
I had someone come to me recently asking about Maxime Bernier's new "People's Party of Canada", and after spending a solid few hours writing the response email, I want to share it here as well. Besides, there's an election coming up.
I decided to politely (but thoroughly) disagree.
Here's my problem with Bernier and his PPC: they're effectively a smiling mask over something very ugly, attempting to legitimise a position that's culturally toxic, a slippery slope bending toward hate and fear.
I know, that's a stark claim, so allow me to back it up. Before I get into why I think they're terrible though, let's start with the stuff I think they've got right.
It's a boneheaded idea and it's costing Canadians money every day. Effectively we've taken a few select Canadian industries out of the global economy and chosen to shelter them from the realities of the market and consumer demand. To my mind there's no excuse for this. It necessarily makes them complacent and drives up the costs for people at home. As far as I know, the PPC is the only party talking about it. Indeed, I understand that it's this issue more than anything that got Bernier kicked from the Conservative caucus.
It's a dumb policy, and it should die -- if for no other reason than the fact that it hinders trade negotiations with other countries. The recent CETA agreement (EU free trade deal) had a big problem with this one. Jen Gerson has a fantastic column on this in the Guardian if you're interested, where she talks about how our dairy industry has soured (see what I did there?) relations with the US for years.
It should be noted though, that the biggest drivers behind supply-side management are rural farmers, the same demographic the PPC is courting all over their platform so... I'm not sure what anyone can honestly expect here.
Corporate welfare is a serious problem and has been as far back as I've read into Canadian history. Generally speaking, it's bad policy because it makes business dependent on a hand-out, and even after an industry is performing well, it generally continues to receive those government benefits for fear of job losses being tied to the removal of said benefits.
Specifically though, (and convenient that Bernier doesn't appear very vocal on this point), there's a whole whack of oil, gas, car, and aerospace companies on the government teat. Not on that list of top 25 corporate welfare recipients: a single green energy company.
So it's all fine and good to be opposed to corporate welfare, but again, the PPC is courting a demographic that's widely dependent on said welfare, all the while I hear people speaking for the party claiming that the real problem is subsidy for green energy.
End Barriers to Trade Between Provinces
It's dumb, and this is a popular idea -- even between the leading parties. I don't know a lot about the reasons behind why this exists, but I'm willing to bet that it's the provinces themselves behind these barriers rather than any limitations imposed federally. So, while I agree it's a good idea, I'm not convinced that a federal party can be the one to fix it.
He talks a good game about principles, and I'd like to believe him. Indeed, one of the perks of being a new party is that you don't have a record to run against, but rather an idea of who you would be. I like the idea of a man and a party that want to run on unpopular ideas (I tend to vote Green after all). It's the ideas that should win out, and not one's willingness to pander to all sides.
So let's have a look at some of those ideas.
"Unity is our Strength"
Famously, Bernier ranted about "diversity vs. unity" on Twitter in one of the greatest dog whistles of his career to date. At the root of his argument is that Canada is a country built by the French & English (conveniently ignoring the millions of immigrants who helped build the infrastructure, fought for the country, and died for it, but whatever) and that somehow these two groups have exclusive rights to unique Canadian values like rule of law, equality, and freedom of speech.
What's fascinating about these sorts of statements is that they at once bolster how you feel about who you are, and your country, while simultaneously insinuating that "the other" is somehow too foreign to possibly understand why you would think things like the rule of law are worth having. The reality however is that the vast majority of immigrants come to Canada from countries that have all of these things, and that those who weren't lucky enough to grow up in a country with them are coming to Canada because of them. He is painting a picture of an "evil other" that exists at worst, only on the fringes, but makes it sound like a serious threat.
The word for this is Nationalism which, in Europe at least, is mostly a dirty word because they know where that road leads.
The reality is that Canadians have more to fear from other Canadians of so-called "European decent". Historically it's been white people blowing up more stuff and killing more people in Canada than people of any other background. Have a look here for some details if you like. Note also that historically police in Canada have been slow to label violent attacks against civilians as "terrorism" when the instigator is white. Notably, Toronto's Incel van attack isn't listed among the incidents of terrorism in Canada.
The part that really gets to me though is this suggestion that unity is somehow better than diversity. This statement is objectively false. In every conceivable situation, unity is terribly weak in the face of a diverse system:
- In biology, a diverse microbiome helps you fight off disease.
- In ecology, diversity improves resistance & longevity while a unified ecosystem is so fragile that it must be artificially protected.
- A unified economy is susceptible to market forces, while a diverse one can weather any storm.
- Even metallurgy recognises this: alloys are infinitely stronger than homogeneous metals.
It's just wrong on its face -- that is, unless you're playing to an audience you've already convinced to be afraid of different people. Where exactly does this line between "us" and "them" get drawn? What happens when you find yourself on the wrong side of this line? History is full of answers, and none of them are good.
Bernier is a man who in one breath tells a story about him chastising a woman for referring to herself as "Chinese Canadian" and in the very next sentence refers to himself as a "French Canadian". He is tone-deaf to his own biases on one hand, and dog whistling to racists on the other.
Have a look at their immigration platform with the above in mind. Note the boogeyman they've created there, suggesting that somehow the UN is helping "the immigrants" change the cultural character of the country. There is zero evidence for this claim, but people like this don't need evidence when they have a story.
The man laughed at the mention of the topic. As far as I'm concerned, that alone is enough to discount his opinion on anything, but I like to be thorough.
In his words, the PPC will have no action on climate change at the federal level. Any parent of a child who will have to grow up in this world should be enraged by this. For 50 years we've been peddled this lie that the individual is responsible for their own impact on the earth, while we allowed governments and corporations to literally get away with murder to keep their profit margins up.
Here's what we know:
- Climate change is real
- It's driven by human action
- Just 100 companies are responsible for 71% of global emissions
- Corporations don't respond to individual action.
- They do respond to government policy.
Given that we know the above to be true, any party that would state that the federal government has no business sticking its nose into climate policy must be rejected immediately. This isn't political opinion, it's science. The PPC has an official policy of inaction on the single most critical problem of our generation.
Even if they were to win only a few seats, holding the balance of power would be enough to derail any climate policy by any government, making our country further complicit in making the world uninhabitable for the next generation.
It's easy to feel powerless on the issue of climate change. It's hard to try to find any sense of power when you're faced with massive economic forces bent on doing the wrong thing when it comes to climate, but this is absolutely your opportunity.
Any party without a strong climate policy must be soundly rejected. If you want to lend your vote to the PPC because "they have good policies" you are personally acting to defeat our best hope at combatting climate change.
One last note on this file though, given that the PPC is all about principles and all. It's interesting that they're opposed to having a climate policy at a federal level, but Bernier was happy to say that he'd push to get Trans Mountain (and other pipelines) built. In this, he's basically said that he's willing to leverage the federal government to further damage the planet, but will actively oppose any action to fix it.
He is reprehensible.
He wants to drastically reduce foreign aid. There's only 2 possible reasons for any politician to support this:
- He thinks it'll win votes
- He's an idiot
Study after study tells us the same thing: the money that goes into foreign aid inevitably leads to more and better economic development for Canada. I've seen numbers as high as a 10:1 ratio in terms of payback.
Here's how it works, using Bernier's colourful "build roads in Africa" line (note it's always "the shithole countries" that he'll refer to when talking about undesireables):
- Canada sends money to Kenya to help in the construction of roads, wells, and schools.
- That money goes to Canadian organisations that either do the work themselves or have relations with organisations already there.
- The work gets done, the local economy improves.
- That newly growing economy now has (a) a means to buy Canadian goods, and (b) relations with Canadian organisations to facilitate that exchange. They may also allow for expansion of Canadian business into their area for resource exploitation.
It doesn't always work out exactly like this and the system isn't perfect, but this isn't charity. Foreign aid is a smart, long-term means of developing your own economy.
There's also the fact that in a global civilisation (and economy), improving the health and economy of others counter-intuitively improves your own quality of life. Watch this video for a great break down on this subject. Bernier is pandering here, either out of political savvy or economic naïveté. In either case, his argument is terrible.
That was my reaction to his interview with The Sun, and it overlaps with a lot of what I have to say about their platform, but I also went through their platform for a few choice responses:
Equalisation is Unfair
Equalisation is what keeps Canada together. It's the basis for any country (or economic union) with diverse backgrounds. As economies fluctuate through recession and market forces, it's equalisation payments that keep whole swaths of the Canadian public from being plunged into poverty. We help the other now, because tomorrow we may need their help. This is how you build a union -- even the Americans get this. The fact that the PPC doesn't is not a reason to support them.
Get Ottawa out of Health Care
The PPC are unabashedly right-wing, free market capitalists. All of their economic policy speaks to this and their characterisation of Medicare as "abysmal" is exactly what I'd expect.
You have to read between the lines on this one: they want to "get Ottawa out of health care" and delegate powers to the provinces. However, health care is already in provincial jurisdiction and has been ever since the Canada Health Act was signed in 1984. They explicitly say that the problem is that the provinces have grown dependent on funding from the federal government for health services -- but of course they are, health care is expensive and the provinces don't have the sources of funding that the federal government does. To delegate the financial responsibility to the provinces is to download responsibilities (via the CHA) to the provinces without giving them the means to do the job.
What they're really saying here is that they intend to de-fund Medicare to the point where anyone with means will be willing to pay. I refer to it as "Health care for the poors" and it's what's happened to the NHS here in the UK. Health care is done on a shoestring budget, funded by political bodies incapable of doing better, while the rich fund the services for themselves through private insurance.
Frankly, I don't see it as being possible under the Canada Health Act, but if you starve the provinces long enough, you might manage to convince Canadians that Medicare isn't worth fighting for -- and of course that's the goal.
Both of my parents got serious medical treatments in the last year, and it's a certainty that they never would have been able to afford it without the federal government subsidising their ability to be alive. So no, these people can fuck right off with this kind of bullshit.
Privatise Canada Post
This is just annoying, and it's brought up all the time with these types. Somehow, privatising something will always fix it, like letting someone take a profit out of something is the way to make it more cost efficient. It's shortsighed at best, and just dumb policy at worst.
Private companies care about profits, not political ends. That's why finding a private courier to deliver a package to far flung communities in northern Québéc is damned near impossible. Canada Post was founded to bring Canadians together, so that anyone in the country could send a letter or parcel to anyone else in the country -- a political goal meant to facilitate community and an inter-dependent economy. Private companies exist to make a profit, and aren't concerned with political goals, so to suggest that we privatise Canada Post is to say that they don't believe in that political goal, that somehow rural Canadians aren't deserving of access to the same privileges as the rest of us.
While they're at it, maybe they should privatise the police and the fire departments. I'm sure some efficiencies can be found in seeing what happens when only people who can afford to pay out of pocket can get basic services.
Abolish Capital Gains Tax & Cutting the Federal Income Tax to 15%
They say that in the US, the poor support the right-wing because they don't see themselves a "poor", but as "temporarily embarrassed millionaires". This (along with xenophobia) is at the root of support for parties like the PPC.
The thing about taxes is that you have to think about them as a question of national policy as opposed to your personal pocket book. I know that that's not how they want to you think about it, but consider for a moment the size of the bank accounts of the people wanting you to think this way and you begin to see my point.
Say for example that you, as a person of modest means, own a (portion of) your house, and take home a median salary. The suggestion that a party would "put money back into your pocket" by cutting capital gains taxes and lowering the income tax is appealing because it would inflate your paycheque and make selling your house more profitable.
But that's thinking too small. Enlarge the picture to think about the national level and things get a lot more interesting.
In Canada, like most of the world, the vast majority of wealth is held by a few Very Rich People. There is of course a spectrum, and modest-means-you is probably somewhere in the middle, but have a look at what "middle" means in the context of this income chart:
While you may take home 2 or 3 times what the people on the poorer side of the spectrum do, the people on the rich end are wiping their ass with enough cash to buy every house on your street. CEOs in Canada make more money in their first hour of work than most of Canada's poorest earn all year.
In a just society, we try to even things out a bit by levying higher taxes on the rich than on the poor. This means that the super rich are taxed in the area of 50% or even 75% in some countries. If you make $10million a year, you only get to keep $2.5million -- it's still a mountain more than most Canadians ever see, and those taxes go to fund things like health care, roads, and education -- things most of us couldn't afford to pay for on our own.
With this picture in mind, while lowering federal taxes to 15% may mean a small bump to you, it's an epic win for the rich. More importantly though, it's a death blow to social services. Without that $7.5million from that one rich guy, your unemployment cheque has to be a lot lower, veterans affairs offices have to close, and schools get fewer teachers. These are services you can't afford to cover personally, even with that bump from the lower tax rate.
High taxes on the rich are about fairness to everyone, and while there's definitely room to consider moving the tax brackets around to support the low and middle class, calling for a 15% flat tax amounts to robbery of the commons by the rich.
The danger of populists is that they campaign not on facts, but on a story. To paraphrase a favourite US "president":
We have serious problems to solve, and we need serious people to solve them. And whatever your particular problem is, I promise you Maxime Bernier is not the least bit interested in solving it. He is interested in two things, and two things only: Making you afraid of it, and telling you who's to blame for it. That's how you win elections.
Bernier is painting a picture of a Canada under siege by lawless immigrant terrorists, pointing to them (in the absence of any serious evidence) as the true threat while ignoring the realities of failed fiscal policy and climate change. His economic platform is phrased to appeal to the poor and middle-class, but will overwhelmingly benefit the rich and cut the social safety nets that keep the rest of us alive.
He and his party are at best a convenient way to guarantee another Liberal party victory through our borken electoral system. At worst, they're the vanguard for the tumour that is nationalism and even fascism in Canada.
Already you see the racists and yellow jackets lining up to support him -- ask yourself what these people see in him. I promise you it's not a conscious reflection on economic policy. They're responding to that dog whistle.
Update: The party has since removed the entire section on immigration from their website -- read into that what you will. The link I provide here has now been updated to reference the last available copy before it was taken offline thanks to Archive.org's Wayback machine.