Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Canada at the Crossroads?

          After the election, back to the Liberals after an unpleasant 10 year cohabitation with the (neo-)Conservatives.

          Times have changed. Justin Trudeau is not his father: he's admitted as much - to his advantage. The last thing he needs is comparison with the past: "big shoes to fill" and all that.. Less still does he need the practices and values of the recent political past, Liberal or Conservative. He needs to have the space to start over again, from ground zero, to think outside the box, to think outside the past..

          The father, Pierre Eliot, was conventionally "progressive" in some areas: decriminalization of homosexuality, promotion of the French language and culture immediately spring to mind. But the legacy is not all postive and the son needs the elbow space to think things anew. For example: Pierre Trudeau accelerated the already emerging trend toward centralization of power in the Prime Minister's (PM) office. Centralization and bureaucratization, of course, emerged as forces during the last few centuries as populations swelled, industrialization destroyed older decentralized, locally autonomous economies and as increasing knowledge and specialization required centralized coordination of effort. Pierre Trudeau was not the author of centralization of power, he merely rode the crest of a wave that was rising. The effect of his government was to make our government more ressemble the American presidental system.

           Harper, in his turn, merely continued the trend but with a populist, vindictive mean-spirited edge. Harper took centralization of power into authoritarian micro-management and cultivated a hostile relation with the press reminiscent of authoritarian regimes. His government actively suppressed environmental science and earth scientists who they suspected supported a pro-Climate Change "agenda". In doing so, they weakened some of the major democratic checks on centralized power: freedom of the press, of speech, of opinion, of assembly (footnote 1). One can only refer to as the Paranoid Style in Canadian politics. Anyone who was raised in a Right wing community in the US during the early Cold War years (like yours truly), recognizes that hate and fear driven style of social engineering. Today, one need look no further than Donald Trump in the US Republican primary elections for an example of the (counterproductive) Paranoid Style of politics in practice.

Here are a few examples of the Harper Government's attempts at social engineering in Canada:

internal blog links (keywords: censorship)

           With his evident - and subservient - connection to the "oil patch",  one could argue that under Harper Canada was well on the way to becoming another Petro-State, a state controlled by foreign "extractive industry" companies and investors and their local (bootlicking) clients (note 2). 

           Again, the important thing to keep in mind is that we are - potentially at least - at the end of an era, the start of a new. The signs are written on the wall for all to see. The reactionary Harper "regime" grew increasingly flat, stale, repetitive, meanspirited and philosophically inbred. "Everybody" felt it, hence the strength of the informal - and citizen driven - ABC (Anyone But Conservative) movement during the last half of the campaign. The country needed a transfusion of new blood, spirit and thought. The challenge of the newly elected Trudeau Liberal team will be to deliver..

           Such collective moods, and reactions, are, of course, "symptomatic". They seem to reflect a deeper malaise of the political system (and the dominant classes, their culture and values). At such times, electors will violently reject one party - like the scandal ridden, morally derelict Chrétien Liberals - for another, the Harper (neo-)Conservatives.

           In time, the Conservatives proved to be as morally derelict and intellectually bankrupt as the Liberals. And now the ball has been hit back into the Liberals' court.. (Not quite.. In reality, the "Third Party", the New Democrats, were possibly set to make a breakthrough under folksy charismatic leader Jack Layton. But the rising star was doomed to fall: Layton died of cancer in August, 2011. The new leader, Thomas Mulcair, a recycled Québec provincial Liberal, was not the match for the challenge. In a desperate attempt to win voters on the center-right of the spectrum, Mulcair waffled all over the board on issues such as budget deficits, green energy, pipelines, gun registration, the wearing of religious symbols in public settings.. saying whatever would please a particular audience. In this age of instant information, people saw through the ruse and his support crashed in the latter phases of the election.)

            The task for the Trudeau team is "daunting". The future economy will be dominated by a shift towards decentralization, deglobalization and relocalization. Despite the present glut of shale oil from the USA, in the long run Peak Oil (the end of really cheap energy) will assure this transition. Trudeau will have to play the role of the helmsman steering this country into unexplored waters. So far he has made the right noises: "green energy", restoring Kitimivik (Canadian domestic Peace Corps), investment in infrastructure, social justice for First Nations, greater political participation by women, freedom of speech for environmental scientists, open door to Syrian war refugees.. During the campaign, Trudeau matured as a politician (possibly a dubious gain!) At the beginning, he was bottom man on the totem pole with New Democrat Tom Mulcair leading. Trudeau proved to be an apt campaigner with a steep learning curve (a good sign). He surprised the pundits, I suspect. Will he prove to be as competent a leader as campaigner? Or will he prove to be a disappointment as Obama has been for so many..

The people must hold the Liberals' feet to the fire.

Trudeau's biggest challenge: decentralization, decentralization, decentralization..;postID=989302572390520961;onPublishedMenu=posts;onClosedMenu=posts;postNum=1;src=link 

           Above all, as a leader at a time of transition, Trudeau will have to rise above the cant, rhetoric, hollow formulas and rigidified ideology of the "Old Regime". He will need to replace these with a new, open, science based approach to political organization and economic development. Dare we say, he needs to exhibit - or rapidly develop - Wisdom, the ability to view the world from a high place, to grasp the Big Picture and translate that vision into actions that benefit those living today and our children. 


Edgar Morin: Les Idées, tome IV de La Méthode, Seuil, 1995. My Translation (with slight editing and adaptation):

The difference between theory and ideology / doctrine / dogma

"To recapitulate the elements which oppose doctrine and theory: DOGMA (or doctrine) is closed in on itself, THEORY is relatively open. In both, the (semantic) core resists contradictory evidence but in dogma, internal consistency is the prime directive. In theory, the correspondance between the logic of the theory and the "outside world" is of primary importance. In addition, in dogma the linkages between concepts are extremely rigid (often symbolic or "mythological" in nature). In theory, linkages are of a logical nature. One could say that dogma has a strong "immunological system": it can only accept what confirms the dogma. The theoretical "immunological system" only rejects what is not relevant to its field of investigation.

.. All systems of ideas (ideology, theory, dogma..) tend towards self-closure and self-reference.. However, the fundamental dynamism of science lies in the necessity of a VERDICT, obtained through OBSERVATION or EXPERIMENTATION, which counteracts the tendancy towards DOGMATISATION... At the other end of the spectrum, in the political and social realms, doctrinaire rigidity is the norm, not the exception, and appeal to an external (or objective) verdict is either weak or applied too late.." (One only need think of religious, political or racial ideologues: fundamentalists, climate change "sceptics", neo-nazis, islamophobes..)


1- The irony here is exquisite! In the early Harper years, Haprper and friends delighted in attacking Commie China for "civil rights abuses" which would include, of course, freedom of the press, freedom of speech, association and opinion. Until, however, the Harper gang discovered there was big money to be made for their corporate friends in trade with China (especially in sale of Alberta tarsands derivatives to oil hungry China). It was a bit weird really.. From being a (red) hot button issue, Chinese civil rights abuses just sort of fell off the radar screen.. and dropped into some black hole..

2- Generally, the "host" government - the one whose natural resources are being extracted - is subservient to the foreign companies (and their governments).

ecological effects of oil spills / Nigeria

 Only Saudi Arabia, which controls a large fraction of the world's oil reserves, has a government with enough clout to dictate (to some degree) it's conditions to its petro-clients. 

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