Harper Flakes Out On Populism
On February 28th of this year, Stephen Harper gave a speech at the Standford Graduate School of Business on the rise of populism and nationalism in the West, claiming that he believed Canada was not “immune” to such “polarization”. Interestingly enough, this speech, while implicitly referring to populist nationalism as a divisive disease, made some rather unusual concessions for a “progressive conservative”.
Harper claimed that
“To the extent that in the globalization age, that I like to think we as conservatives brought about, globalization, freer trade, free markets, freer migration around the world, we’re now seeing a backlash to that”.
Harper also made an unusual concession to nationalist populism by claiming that
“Way too many ordinary people are not doing well enough … When you look at some of the things populists complain about, in terms of trade policy or market policy or immigration policy … I do think that in some cases, while we’re generally on the right track, we’ve pursued policies that haven’t really thought hard about the actual impacts on ordinary people.”
At face value, these claims would seem to be contradicted by the conclusions from a recent report released in April by Statistics Canada, which concluded wage growth was at an all time high and joblessness was at an all time low over a six year period of time. Ironically, this is being reported despite longer term trends and predictions of increasing unemployment and low rates of real wage growth.
According to recent Statistics Canada data,
“While Canada has undergone important economic, social and technological changes since the 1970s, the minimum wage and the average hourly wage are essentially unchanged … Taking inflation into account, the minimum wage peaked in 1976 at just over $11 and hour in Canada. The following year — 1977 — average hourly earnings peaked at close to $24.”
This is a testament to the fact that the kind of wage and GDP growth brought about by outsourcing and importing cheap, foreign labour ultimately seems to only impact the upper class, while the GINI coefficient increases, the rate of real wage growth for the middle and lower classes seems to stay low, costs of living increases, and the GDP growth rate decreases. This touches on a tactic that is often used by neoliberals against nationalism, claiming that “through immigration, average wages have gone up” while failing to break things down in terms of the CPI, neglecting longer term trends, neglecting increasing unemployment, failing to look at the rate at which wages have gone up, and failing to regard changes in wealth distribution. These neoliberals also undermine the very mechanism by which immigration oversaturates the labour market, the demand for labour decreases, the unemployment rate increases, and wage growth stagnates.
It should come as no surprise to anyone that the further back one goes, the better things seem to be. If we compare Canada in the 1950s (often ironically regarded as the Golden Age of Western “Liberal Democracy”) to the present day, much can be ascertained. Crime has gone up, the unemployment rate has increased, there has been inflation, and we are loosing the primary and secondary sectors of our economy to the absolute advantage other countries have gained in trade by giving themselves a competitive edge. It should come as no surprise that this process has occurred in tandem with the privatization and multiculturalization of Canada and the West. The further back you go, the more nationalized and monocultural the state of affairs becomes.
Harper concluded his speech by noting that he could have been the one to cure these ails of Canada, as many thought he was originally going to do with the Reform Party, “But that was not my goal. My goal in political life … was not just to win an election and govern, my goal was to establish a long-term institutional conservative force that would be a long-term contender for power and government.”
The question is, at what cost has he accomplished his goal? And what is being conserved?
Under Harper, Canada couldn’t even hold on to Tim Hortons, let alone the National Policy.
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