PHOTOS: Guardian journalist Martin Lukacs, moments before his remarks to the 21st annual Parkland Institute Conference in Edmonton yesterday morning. Below: Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau; British Labour Party Leader Jeremy Corbyn and Prime Minister Theresa May (U.K. Photos: Wikimedia Commons); and bestselling Canadian author Linda McQuaig before her keynote address to the conference Friday evening.
Is Canada ready for more Jeremy Corbyn and less Justin Trudeau?
It almost certainly is, according to Martin Lukacs, one of the authors of the Leap Manifesto and now the Guardian’s Montreal-based Canadian correspondent.
Mr. Corbyn is the leader of Britain’s Labour Party, the unrepentant socialist thoroughly reviled by the very finest people in British society and their right-wing echo chamber around the world, who was supposed to have been completely undone by Conservative Prime Minister Theresa May’s brilliantly timed U.K. election just a year after the Brexit vote in the United Kingdom.
Mr. Trudeau, of course, is well known around here.
Instead, Mr. Lukacs reminded about 300 participants in the Edmonton-based Parkland Institute’s 21st annual conference in a biting, often hilarious deconstruction of Prime Minister Trudeau’s “progressive neoliberalism” at the University of Alberta yesterday morning, Mr. Corbyn saved his party, his career and possibly Britain when Ms. May’s best-laid plan went spectacularly awry on June 8.
The theme of the Parkland conference: “Collapse: Neoliberalism in Crisis.”
By way of background, the Guardian is the internationally respected British newspaper of liberal inclination that is despised by billionaires and 1-per-centers around the planet.
For example, in a paean to Donald Trump published by the National Post Friday, former newspaper magnate Conrad Black, who in happier times gave up his Canadian citizenship to become a British Lord, mocked the Guardian as being “on the verge of bankruptcy and reduced to a pitiful variation of crowd-funding.” The Post, which Mr. Black founded in 1998 to advance the cause of neoliberalism, ironically appears to be on the verge of bankruptcy and reduced to a pitiful variation of begging for handouts from taxpayers.
Mr. Lukacs argued yesterday it was Mr. Corbyn’s unabashed advocacy of “the much-older politics” of real socialism that made it possible for Labour to come close to toppling the Conservatives, instead of the other way around as the establishment narrative demanded.
The British media and even his enemies in the Labour Party accused Mr. Corbyn of wanting to turn the clock back to the 1970s, the speaker noted. Young British voters considered the inexpensive education, access to pensions and other benefits of that era before neoliberal dominance and concluded, “The 1970s sound pretty good!”
“The model we should look to in Canada is Jeremy Corbyn,” Mr. Lukacs stated.
Mr. Corbyn may not be a selfie god. His suits aren’t well cut. “Instead of relaxing with the Aga Khan, he goes for bike trips around Europe.” But he does boldly address the anxiety of an age in which it’s increasingly clear neoliberal economics are a worldwide catastrophe, and he’s not afraid to say, “Nationalize it!” aloud.
After 30 years of the same neoliberalization process in Canada under successive Liberal and Conservative regimes, Mr. Lukacs argued, international elites swoon at Mr. Trudeau because his “blandly positive, strenuously empty” rhetoric “puts the best gloss on the bankrupt and corrupt neoliberalism of the 21st Century.” He “rarely lets his cuddly mask slip.”
Like U.S. presidents Barack Obama and Bill Clinton, Mr. Trudeau “airbrushes out any conflict over interests and ideology.”
The “click-bait PM,” as the obsequious British press dubbed Mr. Trudeau, “is the Ryan Gosling of neoliberal politics … onto whom you can project any of your desires and wants.” In other words, said Mr. Lukacs, quoting Marx, our prime minister is telling the world: “These are my principles. If you don’t like them, I have others.” (Hey! That’s Groucho Marx — Ed.)
Such fawning international coverage bolsters Mr. Trudeau and his agenda domestically, Mr. Lukacs noted.
Alas, like the party he leads has done historically, Mr. Trudeau’s role is not to change our system, but to assiduously defend it, and to defend the billionaire class it benefits, Mr. Lukacs argued. So at a moment when it is becoming obvious everywhere neoliberalism is in crisis, no wonder they love him!
The Trudeau Liberals say the right things about women’s rights, gay pride, Indigenous reconciliation, and religious accommodation, all the while advancing a neoliberal economic agenda that has devastated the lives of working people throughout Canada and around the world, regardless of their diversity. What the Trudeau Liberals offer, Mr. Lukacs said, “is really just an accommodation” to the neoliberal order.
Case in point: The Liberals’ pre-election vow to not engage in fiscal austerity to deal with the recession. “His anti-austerity spending pledge has turned into a stealth privatization program.”
The NDP’s response to Mr. Trudeau’s original pledge in the 2015 election campaign was then-leader Thomas Mulcair’s ill-considered “no-deficit promise, which was a big part of why the NDP lost the election.”
The great risk with allowing this Liberals to succeed with this strategy, Mr. Lukacs went on, is that it “creates fertile ground for the new right-wing populism that has so viciously triumphed in the United States.”
“If the left doesn’t start seizing these opportunities, it’ll be the right that starts using them to punch down, rather than up” – just as Mr. Trump did in the United States, and Jason Kenney hopes to do in Alberta.
Mr. Lukacs continued: “The task of every generation of leftists in this country is to get wise to the ways of the Liberal Party!” What we need is a televised Heritage Moment, he added: “The Liberal Party’s history of progressive fakery.”
“We need a Canadian Orwell to taxonomize the way Liberals have managed to use language to serve their ends!”
The good news, Mr. Lukacs asserted, is that Liberals are historically sensitive to pressure from both the right and the left. So just as they’ve used think tanks, media and academics to their right to shift Canada’s centre of gravity rightward, “we need to drag the centre in our direction.”
He acknowledged a key point in Friday night’s conference keynote address by Canadian author and former NDP candidate Linda McQuaig that income inequality matters because with big money comes great political power.
The equity symbolized by Canada’s health care system, Ms. McQuaig suggested, may be why right-wingers in Canada work so hard and consistently to undermine it, despite its overwhelming popularity with Canadians.
Canadian health care, she explained, “enshrines the principle of equality. As a Canadian, you have access to excellent care. … A billionaire can’t get treated any faster in an Emergency Room than a janitor. … No wonder they’re so angry! What a triumph!”
And that’s the point, Mr. Lukacs told his audience the next morning: Politics is rarely if ever the win-win proposition politicians who are trying to sell us a bill of goods would like us to think.
“We need to recognize there are losers in politics.” And under neoliberalism, working families, and democracy itself, have been the losers. “We’ve lost that sense of conflict and we need to regain it politically.”
“Let’s stop asking for selfies and start demanding a whole lot more!”
Alberta Political Update: Right wing jockeying continues
Meanwhile, as Parkland conference participants met in Edmonton, jockeying on the Alberta right for the right to pretend to be in the centre continued apace.
About 400 supporters of the newly Progressive-Conservatized Alberta Party gathered in Red Deer yesterday, resulting in plenty of upbeat rhetoric reminiscent of Mr. Lukacs’s description of the usual federal Liberal folderol.
Jason Kenney, leader of the un-reconstituted conservative brand, the United Conservative Party, dismissed the Alberta Party, the presence of plenty of disaffected former PCs notwithstanding, as really just being Liberals.
And the leader of the real Alberta Liberals, David Khan, has announced, as predicted in this space, that he will run against Mr. Kenney and anyone the Alberta Party manages to agree to put forward in the Dec. 14 by-election in Calgary-Lougheed.
The governing NDP has already picked its candidate, Calgary physician Phillip van der Merwe.
The by-election was called after a PC MLA stepped aside to allow Mr. Kenney to claim a safe seat in the Alberta Legislature.