Tens of thousands of pro-democracy demonstrators protested Brexit throughout the United Kingdom yesterday (Photo: Twitter).

If there are riots in Britain after the hard Brexit Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his Conservative Party cronies have scheduled for Halloween, will mainstream media in Canada describe them as “pro-democracy demonstrations” as they do when similar violent outbursts take place nowadays in Hong Kong or Moscow?

On the face of it, there would be a good case for such a description. Prime Minister Johnson, the entertainer formerly known as BoJo who got his job thanks to the vote of less than 2 per cent of Britain’s population, has already prorogued the Mother of Parliaments to prevent the by now largely theoretical democratic mechanisms of the Westminster Parliamentary system from upsetting his Brexit applecart.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson (Photo: Annika Haas, Creative Commons).

To wit: there will be no time for a vote of non-confidence to bring down Mr. Johnsons government before Britain crashes out of the European Union, and even if there is one, the prime minister’s strategists have a plan to ignore it, pretty well putting paid to everything we’ve been taught up to now about how Parliamentary democracy is supposed to work.

Mr. Johnson did this, it must be noted, with the willing connivance of Our Sovereign Lady the Queen, nicely illustrating that notwithstanding the traditional folderol about the role of the monarch in a “constitutional monarchy,” in the United Kingdom’s version, ruling-class consciousness is thicker than water, and certainly has higher priority than the functioning of mere democracy.

Canada’s fundamental law, slightly more enforceable than the U.K.’s because slightly more of it is written down, states that we will have “a constitution similar in principle to that of the United Kingdom.” Think about that when you watch Mr. Johnson and the Queen channeling Stephen Harper and Michaëlle Jean using prorogation to thwart the will of their respective countries’ elected legislators.

Of course, despite the apparent reasonableness of calling post-Brexit demonstrators pro democracy — especially considering the obviously fraudulent nature of the pro-Brexit campaign in the U.K.’s 2016 referendum on leaving the European Union — we all intuitively understand that Canadian media will never do that, even if we haven’t thought about the reason why.

It’s the same reason Canadian news organizations never identify France’s Gilets jaunes demonstrators as being pro democracy, though in most ways they are, or note the brutality of the assaults on them by French authorities, as they invariably do when the people wielding the batons and firing the rubber bullets are in China, Russia or any other country resisting parts of the neoliberal imperium.

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

Since the Gilets jaunes protests against President Emmanuel Macron’s program of neoliberal austerity began in October last year, about a dozen people have been killed, 2,000 have been injured, close to half of them seriously, and more than 9,000 arrested. Some reports say French police have fired more than 6,000 rubber bullets and 1,500 shock grenades at protesters, with barely a mention in Canadian media.

It must be noted here that the French demonstrators, who have an almost classically Marxist analysis of the flaws of France’s marketized economy, are a different breed entirely from so-called Canadian Yellow Vests, many of whom are outright neo-Nazis.

The reason for this schizophrenic coverage is that the people who run Canadian mass media do not define “freedom” the same way you and I do, and therefore do not define democracy the same way either.

To the market-fundamentalist cultists atop most Canadian political parties and the media-astroturf-academic complex that ensures the hegemony of their ideology, freedom means only economic freedom — the “right” of the bosses’ class to exploit workers, cheat consumers, avoid taxes and accumulate vast wealth. To them, democracy means only the mechanisms of the state that uphold such freedom.

Being pro democracy, in this worldview, certainly doesn’t include the right of working people to bargain collectively, or necessarily even to elect leaders who might support such rights. Nor does it include the notion that, as Franklin D. Roosevelt famously put it, citizens have the right to freedom from anything, least of all fear or want!

If you are a worker who doesn’t like the way your boss treats you, in this view, you have the freedom to quit. That is all. In other words, when they talk about freedom, as a friend of mine puts it, they’re not talking about yours.

Former Canadian governor general Michaëlle Jean (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

That is why, year after year, Canadian media happily parrot the Fraser Institute’s fatuous claim Hong Kong enjoys more freedom than Canada. Of course, this is only true from this perspective when the men with the truncheons are defending the perfect market, not the goals of the People’s Republic next door, which changes the spin dramatically here in Canada. (It will be interesting to see how the Fraser Institute deals with the conundrum presented by recent developments in its next “freedom index” this winter.)

This mindset partly explains the glee with the result of the Brexit vote by Canadian Conservative figures like Alberta Premier Jason Kenney, who distrust the European Union’s instinctive tendency to let human rights trump economic rights for the same reason they dislike the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Mr. Kenney, alert readers will recall, tweeted on the night of the Brexit vote: “Congratulations to the British people on choosing hope over fear by embracing a confident, sovereign future, open to the world!”

If it turns out that confident, sovereign future includes food and medicine shortages, Scottish separatism, and the return of guerrilla war to Northern Ireland, as now seems likely, Mr. Kenney and his ilk will doubtless be delighted anyway. After all, it will nevertheless allow the return of unfettered Thatcherism to what’s left of the United Kingdom.

Regardless, here is one more media question to ponder as we observe the unravelling of representative democracy in Britain:

In a rambling panegyric in Friday’s National Post, Conrad Black, founder and chief ideologue of that organ, heaped praise on Premier Johnson’s prorogation gambit for, of all things, its ingenuity. Given the status Mr. Black enjoys, this is bound to become the prevailing collective wisdom in Canadian media.

So will the Post and the others bestow the same assessment of democratic ingenuousness on the government of Scotland if it unilaterally declares independence in the wake of a Brexit catastrophe that wipes out 100,000 or more jobs north of a Hadrian’s Wall?

Join the Conversation


  1. If Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party were in power, Conrad and his gaggle of right wingers would be trumpeting any demonstration in Britain as “pro-democracy.” Come to think of it, as a former member of that country’s House of Lords, Lord Almost should whisk himself back home permanently and enjoy the company of the ingenious Bojo and his Queen. Like, we’ll miss him.

  2. I’d say “with the willing connivance of Our Sovereign Lady the Queen” is a bit rich, and I’m no monarchist. Unusually, I detect a bitterness in this blogpost, not usually a DJC characteristic. There is, I believe, a somewhat more level-headed discussion of this monarchy issue on prorogation by an Australian commentator:


    Note that no one I’ve read outside of Canadian media even mention harper’s similar first successful run at the complete perfidy of prorogation in our nominal Wesminster parliamentary system.; they are oblivious of it, because nobody ever notices anything happening in our country. We’re puny on the world stage, and of zero consequence in normal discourse. As Canadan tourists may have come to notice.

    The rest of the opinion expressed by DJC I entirely agree with. A no-deal Brexit will cement autocratic rule in the UK, a takeover to “keep order” as things turn to ratsh!t in short order. Mark Carney will want to come home and get a job with Morneau-Sheppell running pension funds and company health plans. As for Conrad Black, I cannot state publicly what should be done with that pompous ghoul lest my comments fall afoul of some backroom-boy spying op digital filter, establishment-minded by tradition and funding, followed by stolid establishment investigation of my thoughts by the polished riding boots of the no-imagination common or garden variety Mr Plod. Removing himself to the UK, where he presumably is still a citizen, would be the second best option. There, Conrad could resume his crowing over the deficiencies of the lesser human souls of mere serfs unacquainted with Napoleon’s tactical errors at the Battle of Waterloo, while continually haranguing social democrats from his mountain-top of privilege and disdain. He’s free, Boris, you blighter, no charge. What’s better than free? You can have him, and as a bonus, his always one-step-behind understudy and bumboy, well-known amateur piano player and off-key singer Little Stevie harper, front for the Kenney Prairie Premier Trio. Nobody wants Doug Fraud. Let the self-identified neoliberal (as originally defined by Hayek and ilk) idiots congregate in England in an aristocratic well-bred echo chamber, and drink sherries proffered by scurrying obedient waiters at the inevitable social gatherings of the elite to complain about the proles and workers always asking for more money and what can be done about it.

  3. Perhaps if May hadn’t been so incompetent in negotiating leaving the very undemocratic EU this wouldn’t be an issue. The people spoke they voted to leave and should leave, protesters would actually be anti-democratic given this fact. Must not fall for the narrative that the EU is some sort of democratic institution when it really isn’t.
    Remember also the French yellow vest protests started out as a protest against a fuel tax, apparently aimed at lower CO2 emissions. Same sort of goal as the Canadian yellow vests. Of course in Canada it is similar to the Occupy movement in that it was created by a marketing and media company.

  4. This is a *keeper* blog post. Well said.

    I like some of George Lakoff’s takes on the same subject are regarding USA conservative political leaders/movement:

    A lot of the #UCP and #CPC agenda can be appreciated in this one by Lakoff, ‘What Conservatives Really Want’.


    EXCERPT: ‘The central issue in our political life is not being discussed. At stake is the moral basis of American democracy.

    The individual issues are all too real: assaults on unions, public employees, women’s rights, immigrants, the environment, health care, voting rights, food safety, pensions, prenatal care, science, public broadcasting, and on and on.

    Budget deficits are a ruse, as we’ve seen in Wisconsin, where the Governor turned a surplus into a deficit by providing corporate tax breaks, and then used the deficit as a ploy to break the unions, not just in Wisconsin, but seeking to be the first domino in a nationwide conservative movement.

    Deficits can be addressed by raising revenue, plugging tax loopholes, putting people to work, and developing the economy long-term in all the ways the President has discussed. But deficits are not what really matters to conservatives.

    Conservatives really want to change the basis of American life, to make America run according to the conservative moral worldview in all areas of life’

    EXCERPT: ‘Above all, the authority of conservatism itself must be maintained. The country should be ruled by conservative values, and progressive values are seen as evil. Science should NOT have authority over the market, and so the science of global warming and evolution must be denied. Facts that are inconsistent with the authority of conservatism must be ignored or denied or explained away.

    Freedom is defined as being your own strict father — with individual not social responsibility, and without any government authority telling you what you can and cannot do. To defend that freedom as an individual, you will of course need a gun.

    This is the America that conservatives really want. Budget deficits are convenient ruses for destroying American democracy and replacing it with conservative rule in all areas of life. ‘

  5. Freedom as conservatives define it, re FDR freedom from want and other freedoms as per Lakoff (below).

    Again, Lakoff’s take on USA con’s seems relevant to #UCP, #CPC agenda in Canada, e.g. CPC/Scheer evasiveness on LGBTQ marriage, abortion legislative agenda.

    Noticed this news today re CPC and abortion:

    ‘Anti-abortion activists are planning to win 50 ridings for their cause in the upcoming federal election’


    LAKOFF EXCERPT: ‘Progressives: There should be a freedom to marry. The government should not be able to decide who can marry whom.

    Conservatives: “Freely elected” government officials should determine who can marry whom. That’s what a “free country” means.

    Progressives: Social security, the minimum wage, universal healthcare, college for all are ways to guarantee freedom from want.

    Conservatives: Giving people things they haven’t earned creates dependency and robs people of their freedom.

    Progressives: The 45 million working people who can’t afford healthcare cannot all pull themselves up by their bootstraps. An economy that drives down wages to increase investor profits creates a cheap labor trap. The trap works against freedom from want.

    Conservatives: Economic liberty comes through the free market; government gets in the way. Government works against economic liberty in four ways: regulation, workers’ rights, taxes, and class-action lawsuits.

    Progressives: Freedom of religion includes freedom from having a religion imposed on you.

    Conservatives: Freedom to practice religion for fundamentalist evangelicals means spreading the good news of the truth of the gospel, which implies school prayer, “under God” in the Pledge, the Ten Commandments in courthouses, and the teaching of intelligent design.’


  6. As the famous quip goes, one man’s terrorists are another’s freedom fighters, so as always what you call them depends on your perspective.

    The Chinese should have known to just leave Hong Kong alone and stuck with the spirit and wisdom of the one country two systems model they agreed to, but imperialism seems to be making a big comeback there and they seem to want more control.

    However, there is no shortage of stupid leadership in the western world either and I think to some degree, one country’s stupidity destabilizes or encourages it elsewhere. Much like a bad driver can cause a chain reaction of accidents on a busy road. So, in the UK, we have another country’s leadership that also seems to have taken leave of its senses.

    The right wing in the west is very good about exploiting the rules to their advantage, whether it be the outdated electoral college or proragation of parliament to avoid or delay an unwanted democratic verdict. All this, while the left seemingly impotently bleats that it is unfair. It makes me wonder who is really playing checkers and who is playing chess.

    I suppose it remains to be seen in both the UK and Hong Kong whether popular will will prevail or if it will be subverted by those in power. However the danger in both the west and elsewhere is if the ruling elites continue this sort of strategy, people will become more frustated, desperate and decide not to continue to play the game that seems rigged against them and resort to other means.

    We sort of already see this in Hong Kong in what started off as fairly peaceful protests become increasingly violent. Perhaps that will be the future of a post Brexit UK, where the leadership also seems determined to ignore the people and rush forward with its stupidity.

  7. With the exception of the Toronto Star, Canadian media owned and/or substantially staffed (hello CBC) by outright fascists. Everything they do and say needs to be understood as being calculated to further the political agenda of their owners/corruptors’ political objectives. These objectives are a permanent fascist government elected (in a great show of democracy) by a minority of christianist foetus-fondlers, libertarians, authoritarian followers, and the just plain dumb and mean. But the end game is simply theft on a spectacular scale.

  8. The only real definition of democracy is rule by the people ( see Encyclopedia Britannica: https://www.britannica.com/topic/democracy). Anything else is a lie bestowed upon us by the corporate media and governments which want to maintain a grip on the people. Our corporate media hates democracy. At best our political system can be described as an oligarchy or a 4 year dictatorship.

    To have a true representative democracy, the people must be given the legalized right to vote on bills before the “House” along with citizen initiated legislation. People representing themselves- rule by the people.

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