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Red Teaming the Government of Canada

FSTO

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An excellent piece by Paul Wells.
This government really needs to hear this but I think they are so wrapped up in their own awesomeness that they are actually blind, deaf, and dumb.

I'll put the full article here.


1656440296259.png
In July 2012, the prime minister of Canada was a year past the last election and three years from the next, making small adjustments while Canadians’ frustration with his government grew large. Stephen Harper was his name, and he began the month by adjusting his cabinet in ways that seemed almost to advertise his team’s weakness (Oda out, Fantino and Valcourt up. The names alone conjure an era long vanished, don’t they?).

In a ski village in Quebec, the instrument of the prime minister’s eventual undoing was meeting with friends to plan the incumbent’s defeat.

Justin Trudeau was his name. “We got together at the end of July in Mont Tremblant,” Trudeau wrote later in his memoir. “My family met with a team of people from across the country, whom we had carefully selected for their talent, energy and experience.”

The details of the Mont Tremblant session that laid the groundwork for Trudeau’s candidacy for Liberal leader are interesting. I’ve long thought Trudeau’s memoir should actually be read by more people who own a copy. But the gist of it is that much of the Trudeau group’s reflection was based on keen understanding of Harper’s weakness. That’s how such gatherings go. You enter any fight with strong beliefs. But you deploy your strengths in a way designed to highlight and exploit your opponent’s weakness.

In July 2022, the prime minister of Canada is a year past the last election and three years from the next. He seems trapped inside a tiny vocabulary of thought and action. We’ll get to his ludicrous response to the passport and airport backlogs, which seems as ineffectual as it is entirely characteristic.

Surely by now, somewhere in Canada, there have already been meetings like the Mont Tremblant strategy weekend, in which people with talent and energy imagine a Canadian government without Justin Trudeau. And for how much longer will such meetings be convened only by Conservatives?

Six months ago I speculated about whether Trudeau would still be prime minister at the end of 2022. It was precocious speculation even then, and I couched it in 90 layers of what-if and to-be-sure. In 2012, after all, Stephen Harper didn’t quit, he stuck around and ran again three years later. That’s still a path that’s easy to imagine for Trudeau.

But it’s funny how time slips away from you, and whether Trudeau plans to quit or stay, he needs to be making big decisions right about now.

If he’s going to quit he should quit. Paul Martin, Kim Campbell and John Turner had their flaws, but they also faced electorates too quickly because their predecessors waited until very late to leave the field. Of the three only Martin eked out an initial election victory, and it left him weakened for the rematch.

If Trudeau is going to stay, he needs to start thinking about how to face voters with something more than exhaustion, risk aversion and denial.

Of course the Liberal plan is to face voters with exhaustion, risk aversion, denial and yet another referendum on Canadian values. Trudeau has been running against Donald Trump since Trump was elected. And it kind of works! Warning voters against a regressive apocalypse has kept Trudeau in — sorry, near — 24 Sussex Drive through two re-elections. But the returns on the strategy are diminishing. The Liberals’ share of the popular vote declined in 2019 and 2021. The only leader since Confederation to hold power with a smaller share of the popular vote than Trudeau in 2019 was Trudeau in 2021. He remains the legitimate prime minister, but the trend line isn’t great. And the last time Liberal parties fell out of power in a big theatre in Canada — in the Quebec and Ontario elections of 2018 — they fell to historic lows.

All of these thoughts occured to me when Trudeau wrote to Canadians from Kigali on Saturday to announce he is adjusting his cabinet in ways that seemed almost to advertise his team’s weakness.


This newsletter is subscriber-supported. In the rest of today’s post, I discuss the latest symptoms of a pretty deep malaise in the Trudeau government, and I wonder what would happen if somebody from outside, with a mandate to speak truth to power, got a look inside this government.


Who’s the intended audience for an announcement about improving government services, delivered on a Saturday morning while the prime minister is traveling? Whom is this government seeking to convince? I’m going to guess it’s people who are open to voting Liberal but are currently unnerved and need reassuring. People who’ve written the Liberals off are not worth much marketing effort, though in theory they still deserve to be governed well. People who think the government is always heroic, and that the only people upset about passports are rich snobs who didn’t plan ahead, don’t need any effort, and besides they’re all on Twitter. The Goldilocks zone, neither too hot nor too cold, might be characterized as worried but gettable.

Who in this target audience would be reassured by the news that Trudeau plans to “improve government services” by forming a new cabinet committee?

Say hello to the Task Force on Services to Canadians. This 10-member cabinet committee is co-chaired by a TV journalist who, on entering politics, was spared the indignity of having to campaign for her nomination as the party’s candidate. Its members include the architect of this government’s appointments system, and, well, Harjit Sajjan.

Two names on the list seem solid to me; I won’t wreck their currency in Liberal circles by saying which two. But so what? Who believes this group has the mandate to make any surprising suggestion, or the clout to get such a suggestion implemented if they made it? Does anyone doubt the group will finish every meeting agreeing unanimously to do things that won’t actually change anything? How often will this committee meet? Will we eventually learn that it never met? Will it work more closely with cabinet climate committee ‘A’ or with cabinet climate committee ‘B’? When I ask how, precisely, this new thing is not the same as an Incident Response Group, why do readers across Ottawa suddenly bark out an involuntary bitter laugh? How will this new group coordinate with the “strategic policy review,” already announced, whose goal is to find $6 billion in savings “based in part on key lessons taken from how the government adapted during the pandemic”? When I say the two groups will certainly ignore each other completely and produce work with overlapping contradictory effect, is that the sort of thing that gets me called a cynic? Even though I’m just trying to stop this government from acting like this?

Probably I am underrating at least some of these committee members’ personal capacities. You meet almost any MP, let alone any cabinet minister, and you discover someone who’s done fascinating things, thinks hard about the issues, cares deeply for a great country. It’s just that when you put them together, they come up with things like a national infrastructure assessment that, a year and a half after it was announced, is not yet assessing any infrastructure.

Eventually it becomes impossible to escape the conclusion that it’s the putting them together that’s the problem. That after six years of standing behind Trudeau, staring in the same direction and nodding, they’re a little too comfortable staring in the same direction and nodding. That, far from multiplying human capability, this government now reliably divides it.

How could people inside the government think a committee of cabinet ministers with no deadline, a vague mandate and no hint of real clout would help? The answer is that they’re inside the government. They’ve come to believe anything it does helps. Their problem is that most people are outside the government and they are starting to feel very far outside it indeed.


“An astonishing number of senior leaders are systemically incapable of identifying their organization’s most glaring and dangerous shortcomings,” Micah Zenko writes in his 2015 book Red Team: How to Succeed by Thinking Like the Enemy.

Zenko is a political scientist and former Senior Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations who now consults with large organizations on “red-teaming” — the practice of setting up internal critiquing processes to guard against fatal weakness. Usually the process is embodied in an actual team, independent from regular staff but familiar with the workplace, and reporting directly to the leader. The red team acts like the regular staff’s worst nightmare, probing for weakness and ineffectiveness, trying to find flaws, not just errors of detail but of conception and imagination. Zenko says the practice came from the US military, which learned early that it would prefer to simulate, and learn from, catastrophic failure than to experience it in the battlefield.

Red-teaming can be done in all sorts of contexts. Businesses test whether their production or marketing strategies make sense. A plot in the Aaron Sorkin HBO series The Newsroom focussed on a “red team” testing the assumptions and reporting in a big story. In the tremendously entertaining 1992 Phil Alden Robinson caper movie Sneakers, Robert Redford red-teams bank security systems for a living.

The idea behind red-teaming, Zenko writes, is that “you can’t grade your own homework.” Put less succinctly,

“The dilemma for any institution operating in a competitive environment characterized by incomplete information and rapid change is how to determine when its standard processes and strategies are resulting in a suboptimal outcome, or, more seriously, leading to a potential catastrophe.”
Leaders always tell themselves they have the fortitude to listen to internal critiques, Zenko writes. Unfortunately they’re probably flattering both themselves and their regular staff. Trusting ordinary workplace give-and-take

“wrongly assumes that the people who work for these leaders have the skills to identify emerging problems (highly unlikely), that they will tell their bosses about these problems (potentially career damaging), and that they will face no negative consequences for bringing such issues to their leaders’ attention (rare, since it disrupts the conventional wisdom.”
You probably see where I’m going with this. I don’t run into anyone who, having left the near orbit of Justin Trudeau’s PMO, describes it as a place where dissent is welcome, people feel free to report problems up the ladder, and questions aren’t punished. It’s noteworthy that when Trudeau parted company with Bill Morneau, the preliminary news leaks all portrayed Morneau as the kind of guy who dissented from monolithic consensus. You really need to be inside a bubble to think it will hurt somebody’s reputation to be thought of as somebody who questioned herd instincts. “Insufficiently lemming-esque” is normally viewed in healthy workplaces as a quality, not a defect.

A few times Trudeau has seemed to seek advice from outside Trudeau-land on improving the government’s functioning. There was the whole deliverology business, which just kind of faded away. There was the surprising extended second transition exercise, after the difficult 2019 election. Anne McLellan, a former deputy prime minister, and Quebec Inc. business personality Isabelle Hudon spent weeks considering directions for a second-term Trudeau government. But the second Trudeau government turned out to be substantially the same as the first, because McLellan and Hudon left and the usual suspects stayed. Now McLellan works full-time for an organization whose message to the Trudeau government could be summed up as, “I didn’t mean like that.”

What would an empowered, fearless Trudeau red team tell the boss? Basically all the stuff I’ve been trying to tell him since 2018, I like to think. That when he believes he knows what will happen next he is always wrong, so he needs a government that multitasks better and plans for contingencies. That he is over-announcing by multiples of ten times too many, and under-delivering in similar ratio. That there is nobody left in Canada who mistakes an announcement for a result, so it’s long past time for Trudeau to fall out of love with announcements. That it is corrosive of public trust in government to have decision-making power so closely held by so few people who are so bad at making decisions.

How will Trudeau know it’s time to rethink his government? Perhaps he will notice at some point that his government has long since become incapable of delivering useful surprise, even as the world becomes a giant random-event generator. That’s the sort of big blinking yellow light a leader is free to ignore, of course. But electorates have a way of delivering these messages with shocking firmness when they get a chance. As Kathleen Wynne and Philippe Couillard learned. And somebody has to lead the Liberal Party of Canada into the next election. When that election is over, will that person be in a mood to thank Justin Trudeau?
 

Spencer100

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An excellent piece by Paul Wells.
This government really needs to hear this but I think they are so wrapped up in their own awesomeness that they are actually blind, deaf, and dumb.

I'll put the full article here.


View attachment 71679
In July 2012, the prime minister of Canada was a year past the last election and three years from the next, making small adjustments while Canadians’ frustration with his government grew large. Stephen Harper was his name, and he began the month by adjusting his cabinet in ways that seemed almost to advertise his team’s weakness (Oda out, Fantino and Valcourt up. The names alone conjure an era long vanished, don’t they?).

In a ski village in Quebec, the instrument of the prime minister’s eventual undoing was meeting with friends to plan the incumbent’s defeat.

Justin Trudeau was his name. “We got together at the end of July in Mont Tremblant,” Trudeau wrote later in his memoir. “My family met with a team of people from across the country, whom we had carefully selected for their talent, energy and experience.”

The details of the Mont Tremblant session that laid the groundwork for Trudeau’s candidacy for Liberal leader are interesting. I’ve long thought Trudeau’s memoir should actually be read by more people who own a copy. But the gist of it is that much of the Trudeau group’s reflection was based on keen understanding of Harper’s weakness. That’s how such gatherings go. You enter any fight with strong beliefs. But you deploy your strengths in a way designed to highlight and exploit your opponent’s weakness.

In July 2022, the prime minister of Canada is a year past the last election and three years from the next. He seems trapped inside a tiny vocabulary of thought and action. We’ll get to his ludicrous response to the passport and airport backlogs, which seems as ineffectual as it is entirely characteristic.

Surely by now, somewhere in Canada, there have already been meetings like the Mont Tremblant strategy weekend, in which people with talent and energy imagine a Canadian government without Justin Trudeau. And for how much longer will such meetings be convened only by Conservatives?

Six months ago I speculated about whether Trudeau would still be prime minister at the end of 2022. It was precocious speculation even then, and I couched it in 90 layers of what-if and to-be-sure. In 2012, after all, Stephen Harper didn’t quit, he stuck around and ran again three years later. That’s still a path that’s easy to imagine for Trudeau.

But it’s funny how time slips away from you, and whether Trudeau plans to quit or stay, he needs to be making big decisions right about now.

If he’s going to quit he should quit. Paul Martin, Kim Campbell and John Turner had their flaws, but they also faced electorates too quickly because their predecessors waited until very late to leave the field. Of the three only Martin eked out an initial election victory, and it left him weakened for the rematch.

If Trudeau is going to stay, he needs to start thinking about how to face voters with something more than exhaustion, risk aversion and denial.

Of course the Liberal plan is to face voters with exhaustion, risk aversion, denial and yet another referendum on Canadian values. Trudeau has been running against Donald Trump since Trump was elected. And it kind of works! Warning voters against a regressive apocalypse has kept Trudeau in — sorry, near — 24 Sussex Drive through two re-elections. But the returns on the strategy are diminishing. The Liberals’ share of the popular vote declined in 2019 and 2021. The only leader since Confederation to hold power with a smaller share of the popular vote than Trudeau in 2019 was Trudeau in 2021. He remains the legitimate prime minister, but the trend line isn’t great. And the last time Liberal parties fell out of power in a big theatre in Canada — in the Quebec and Ontario elections of 2018 — they fell to historic lows.

All of these thoughts occured to me when Trudeau wrote to Canadians from Kigali on Saturday to announce he is adjusting his cabinet in ways that seemed almost to advertise his team’s weakness.


This newsletter is subscriber-supported. In the rest of today’s post, I discuss the latest symptoms of a pretty deep malaise in the Trudeau government, and I wonder what would happen if somebody from outside, with a mandate to speak truth to power, got a look inside this government.


Who’s the intended audience for an announcement about improving government services, delivered on a Saturday morning while the prime minister is traveling? Whom is this government seeking to convince? I’m going to guess it’s people who are open to voting Liberal but are currently unnerved and need reassuring. People who’ve written the Liberals off are not worth much marketing effort, though in theory they still deserve to be governed well. People who think the government is always heroic, and that the only people upset about passports are rich snobs who didn’t plan ahead, don’t need any effort, and besides they’re all on Twitter. The Goldilocks zone, neither too hot nor too cold, might be characterized as worried but gettable.

Who in this target audience would be reassured by the news that Trudeau plans to “improve government services” by forming a new cabinet committee?

Say hello to the Task Force on Services to Canadians. This 10-member cabinet committee is co-chaired by a TV journalist who, on entering politics, was spared the indignity of having to campaign for her nomination as the party’s candidate. Its members include the architect of this government’s appointments system, and, well, Harjit Sajjan.

Two names on the list seem solid to me; I won’t wreck their currency in Liberal circles by saying which two. But so what? Who believes this group has the mandate to make any surprising suggestion, or the clout to get such a suggestion implemented if they made it? Does anyone doubt the group will finish every meeting agreeing unanimously to do things that won’t actually change anything? How often will this committee meet? Will we eventually learn that it never met? Will it work more closely with cabinet climate committee ‘A’ or with cabinet climate committee ‘B’? When I ask how, precisely, this new thing is not the same as an Incident Response Group, why do readers across Ottawa suddenly bark out an involuntary bitter laugh? How will this new group coordinate with the “strategic policy review,” already announced, whose goal is to find $6 billion in savings “based in part on key lessons taken from how the government adapted during the pandemic”? When I say the two groups will certainly ignore each other completely and produce work with overlapping contradictory effect, is that the sort of thing that gets me called a cynic? Even though I’m just trying to stop this government from acting like this?

Probably I am underrating at least some of these committee members’ personal capacities. You meet almost any MP, let alone any cabinet minister, and you discover someone who’s done fascinating things, thinks hard about the issues, cares deeply for a great country. It’s just that when you put them together, they come up with things like a national infrastructure assessment that, a year and a half after it was announced, is not yet assessing any infrastructure.

Eventually it becomes impossible to escape the conclusion that it’s the putting them together that’s the problem. That after six years of standing behind Trudeau, staring in the same direction and nodding, they’re a little too comfortable staring in the same direction and nodding. That, far from multiplying human capability, this government now reliably divides it.

How could people inside the government think a committee of cabinet ministers with no deadline, a vague mandate and no hint of real clout would help? The answer is that they’re inside the government. They’ve come to believe anything it does helps. Their problem is that most people are outside the government and they are starting to feel very far outside it indeed.


“An astonishing number of senior leaders are systemically incapable of identifying their organization’s most glaring and dangerous shortcomings,” Micah Zenko writes in his 2015 book Red Team: How to Succeed by Thinking Like the Enemy.

Zenko is a political scientist and former Senior Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations who now consults with large organizations on “red-teaming” — the practice of setting up internal critiquing processes to guard against fatal weakness. Usually the process is embodied in an actual team, independent from regular staff but familiar with the workplace, and reporting directly to the leader. The red team acts like the regular staff’s worst nightmare, probing for weakness and ineffectiveness, trying to find flaws, not just errors of detail but of conception and imagination. Zenko says the practice came from the US military, which learned early that it would prefer to simulate, and learn from, catastrophic failure than to experience it in the battlefield.

Red-teaming can be done in all sorts of contexts. Businesses test whether their production or marketing strategies make sense. A plot in the Aaron Sorkin HBO series The Newsroom focussed on a “red team” testing the assumptions and reporting in a big story. In the tremendously entertaining 1992 Phil Alden Robinson caper movie Sneakers, Robert Redford red-teams bank security systems for a living.

The idea behind red-teaming, Zenko writes, is that “you can’t grade your own homework.” Put less succinctly,


Leaders always tell themselves they have the fortitude to listen to internal critiques, Zenko writes. Unfortunately they’re probably flattering both themselves and their regular staff. Trusting ordinary workplace give-and-take


You probably see where I’m going with this. I don’t run into anyone who, having left the near orbit of Justin Trudeau’s PMO, describes it as a place where dissent is welcome, people feel free to report problems up the ladder, and questions aren’t punished. It’s noteworthy that when Trudeau parted company with Bill Morneau, the preliminary news leaks all portrayed Morneau as the kind of guy who dissented from monolithic consensus. You really need to be inside a bubble to think it will hurt somebody’s reputation to be thought of as somebody who questioned herd instincts. “Insufficiently lemming-esque” is normally viewed in healthy workplaces as a quality, not a defect.

A few times Trudeau has seemed to seek advice from outside Trudeau-land on improving the government’s functioning. There was the whole deliverology business, which just kind of faded away. There was the surprising extended second transition exercise, after the difficult 2019 election. Anne McLellan, a former deputy prime minister, and Quebec Inc. business personality Isabelle Hudon spent weeks considering directions for a second-term Trudeau government. But the second Trudeau government turned out to be substantially the same as the first, because McLellan and Hudon left and the usual suspects stayed. Now McLellan works full-time for an organization whose message to the Trudeau government could be summed up as, “I didn’t mean like that.”

What would an empowered, fearless Trudeau red team tell the boss? Basically all the stuff I’ve been trying to tell him since 2018, I like to think. That when he believes he knows what will happen next he is always wrong, so he needs a government that multitasks better and plans for contingencies. That he is over-announcing by multiples of ten times too many, and under-delivering in similar ratio. That there is nobody left in Canada who mistakes an announcement for a result, so it’s long past time for Trudeau to fall out of love with announcements. That it is corrosive of public trust in government to have decision-making power so closely held by so few people who are so bad at making decisions.

How will Trudeau know it’s time to rethink his government? Perhaps he will notice at some point that his government has long since become incapable of delivering useful surprise, even as the world becomes a giant random-event generator. That’s the sort of big blinking yellow light a leader is free to ignore, of course. But electorates have a way of delivering these messages with shocking firmness when they get a chance. As Kathleen Wynne and Philippe Couillard learned. And somebody has to lead the Liberal Party of Canada into the next election. When that election is over, will that person be in a mood to thank Justin Trudeau?
Urgh. They are 100% on the track they want to go in. He is doing what he said he would. I don't get where people think different. Oil are too high.....Yes that is the plan. House ownership is getting of reach...Yes that is also in the longer range to get out of the single family housing. I mean he is delivering on his goals. Now are they the goals of Canadians? But to say Trudeau is not moving the needle in the direction he wants is not true.
 

Good2Golf

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Urgh. They are 100% on the track they want to go in. He is doing what he said he would. I don't get where people think different. Oil are too high.....Yes that is the plan. House ownership is getting of reach...Yes that is also in the longer range to get out of the single family housing. I mean he is delivering on his goals. Now are they the goals of Canadians? But to say Trudeau is not moving the needle in the direction he wants is not true.
Transition all Canadians happily into LaaS*.


* Life as a Service - in the XaaS (Xxxxx as a Service) theme from the world of IT — where folks (Joe and Jane Canada) no longer own anything of worth, but pay for the service to be helped to exist.
 

rmc_wannabe

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Transition all Canadians happily into LaaS*.

* Life as a Service - in the XaaS (Xxxxx as a Service) theme from the world of IT — where folks (Joe and Jane Canada) no longer own anything of worth, but pay for the service to be helped to exist.
And it doesn't work at all in the IT industry, either.
 

PPCLI Guy

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That was very good analysis. Just subscribed

This is good too:

Pierre Polievre's Populism is Canadian indeed

Allan Stratton: Poilievre's populism is very Canadian, indeed​

Far from being a Trumpian import, the Conservative leadership contender Pierre Poilievre's strategy draws directly from Canada's own history of populist rhetoric​

Jun 27
49
157

Photo from Pierre Poilievre’s Twitter account.

By: Allan Stratton​

Conservative leadership candidate Pierre Poilievre is oft accused of importing divisive American right-wing populism to our politics. His endorsement of the trucker protest against vaccine mandates — though not the legal violations of its organizers — has been portrayed as a play for Christian nationalists, racists and fascists. Likewise, his attacks on Davos and the World Economic Forum are said to welcome Trumpian conspiracy theorists, anti-Semites and Great Replacement nativists.

Common wisdom suggests that this strategy may win Poilievre the Conservative party leadership, but will render his party toxic to respectable, mainstream Canadian voters.

There’s a lot of smoke and at least some fire to this critique: The People’s Party of Canada will find it hard to tag Poilievre as a centrist squish.
But thanks to our constitution, the Supreme Court and our general political culture, all more liberal than their American counterparts, social conservative attacks on abortion and LGBT rights seem off the table.

Further, far from a Trumpian nativist, Poilievre is in favour of immigration and wants to cut the red tape that blocks immigrants from employment in their fields, something the current federal government has failed to accomplish into its third mandate.

My fear, as someone who shares many concerns about the prospect of a Poilievre government, is that commentators are misreading the broad appeal of his populism, leading Liberals to unwarranted overconfidence.

Sure, Poilievre’s strategy shares some Trumpian elements, but it’s equally rooted in a progressive Canadian tradition that dates back to the early 19th century and was prominent in the last half of the 20th.

If the Liberals don’t course correct, they may discover that while they are attacking Poilievre as a far-right extremist, he is eating their traditional liberal, working-class lunch.

In broad strokes, I imagine Poilievre channelling Louis-Joseph Papineau and William Lyon Mackenzie during the Rebellions of 1837-38. Instead of the Château Clique and the Family Compact, I see him fighting the Laurentian Consensus, another powerful, unelected group, this time composed of academics, bureaucrats, media apparatchiks and Central Canada think-tankers who dominate our culture and financial establishment — and who arrogate to themselves the right to determine Canadian values and the ways in which we are allowed to describe and think about ourselves as a nation.

For those of us who grew up on the left under Mike Pearson, Tommy Douglas, Pierre Trudeau and David Lewis, it is hard to stomach the recent illiberal turn in elite liberal discourse. It once assumed the importance of free speech, understanding that censorship has always been used by the powerful to suppress the powerless. Yet today, in academia and the arts, free speech has been recast as “hate speech,” and our Liberal government is passing C-11, which seeks to regulate what we read and how we express ourselves online.

Adding urgency to those authoritarian impulses, our governing elite has been captured by zero-sum, intersectional orthodoxy, at odds with the instincts of mainstream Canadians on both left and right. It has imposed redefinitions of language, and replaced “sex” by “gender” on everything from passports to the census, defining gender by stereotype.

Consistent with this move, since Bill C-16, even violent male sex offenders have been moved into women’s prisons based on self-ID alone, with no surgery or hormones required. Women at women’s shelters have been forced to room with sexually aggressive transwomen, and have been told they are in violation of human rights law if they complain. Our governing elite has also undermined rights touching on race and religion: Postings now include racial exclusion criteria. Burning of churches is condoned, if not celebrated. And matters of conscience have made some charities ineligible for federal funding. Et cetera.

Mainstream Canadians fully support human and civil rights for trans people, and their protection from hate speech. They also support diversity, reconciliation and abortion access. But they oppose an elite that fails to balance competing human rights interests — a failure that violates the spirit of accommodation and compromise at the root of Western (and Canadian) liberal values.

Commentators who call Poilievre too radical for the mainstream might consider that the Laurentian Consensus on such cultural matters has itself become radically out of step with moderate opinion, and ask themselves why the situations noted above have generally been gaslit in Laurentian media outlets.

Canada’s national myth is grounded in that ethos of moderation: The notion that we are a just society where people of diverse backgrounds live in harmony and co-operation. In truth, it has a long and shameful history of abusing Indigenous populations, notably with its residential schools aimed an assimilation and its ongoing violation of treaties. It also has a history of racial discrimination from the Chinese Exclusion Act, to the Komagata Maru Incident, to the internment of citizens of Japanese origin during the Second World War, and quotas on Jews and other immigrant groups.

But equally in truth, Canada was founded on accommodation: Language and religion were the race and gender of the 19th century. The British North America Act of 1840, precursor to Confederation, enshrined minority rights for Catholics and Protestants, and English and French speakers. It was a revolutionary document for its time and began the long and often difficult history of compromise for which we are known. The work is never ending, but the vision has always been clear — a vision that has drawn generations of immigrants to join the Canadian family, that has made reconciliation with Indigenous Canadians a primary national goal, and that has made this country the most peaceful and diverse land on earth.

The generosity of spirit necessary for such a nation is impossible to sustain with a governing elite focused on oppression narratives based on immutable characteristics. Nor is it possible to have patriotism by struggle session. So, when Pierre Poilievre talks about freedom, I suggest that despite his aggressive tone, his largest potential audience isn’t a small basket of deplorables, but, rather, a broad coalition of centrists who resent a private-school valedictorian attacking other Canadians as un-Canadian racists simply because they opposed mandates, or called for closing flights from China at the start of the pandemic.

Poilievre’s coalition may include people with small ‘l’ liberal values who cherish freedom of thought, freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, and freedom from beating up on their own country: People who take pride in Canada and its accomplishments, and dream of an even better future with goodwill and equality for all. In short, Poilievre may appeal to ordinary people who sense that emergent progressive values are at odds with the liberalism that has informed our history, and that the ever-changing linguistic codes of “Wokespeak” are, in fact, exclusive; they are a form of privileged secret handshake, designed to limit access to the reigning Laurentian Consensus.
In the manner of William Lyon Mackenzie and Papineau, Poilievre takes on the Laurentian elite in matters economic as well as cultural, and in a way that lifelong Canadian leftists surely remember.

Who among us doesn’t thrill to the tirade NDP leader David Lewis launched against “Corporate Welfare Bums” in the 1972 election?
And when we hear Poilievre take strips off Davos and the World Economic Forum, who can fail to recollect that suspicion of free trade with the outside world, even and especially with our American neighbour, has always been central to our history and its populist expression. Laurier lost the 1891 election to Macdonald over reciprocity with the U.S., and lost again on the same issue to Robert Borden, in 1911, who ran on the populist slogan, “No truck nor trade with the Yankees.”

After that election, free trade was the third rail in Canadian politics, and opposition to it defined the left. National control of the economy was central to the creation of the CCF, forerunner to the NDP.

And Liberals and Dippers owned Canadian nationalism from the Sixties through the Nineties: Remember Maude Barlow’s populist Council of Canadians?

In the 1988 free trade election, the left argued that free trade would gut our manufacturing base and put downward pressure on our social programs as working-class jobs would flee south to low-wage jurisdictions. In Liberal leader John Turner’s soaring rhetoric to Brian Mulroney (cue thunder sheets)
“I happen to believe you have sold us out … Once any country yields its economic levers — the political ability of this country to remain as an independent nation, that is lost forever!”
Is the fight against globalism so very different? A fight to keep control of our culture and economy from larger foreign players? And is Poilievre’s heated rhetoric really more extreme than that of Turner, Borden and Barlow, especially when we allow for the coarsening of speech over the last century?

If we take an honest look at our own history, can we truly claim that Canada has avoided anti-elite populist rhetoric? That all of this is just another U.S. cultural import? And that it isn’t equally firmly rooted in Canadian left traditions?
Poilievre speaks for the hard-right base of his party, certainly. And I am not looking forward to life under his leadership. But unless the Liberal party and its Twitter cult understand the broad undercurrent of his populist appeal, and reorient to regain what should be their natural constituency, they will lose.
And they will only have themselves to blame for it.



Allan Stratton is the internationally award-winning author of Chanda’s Secrets and The Dogs.

The Line is Canada’s last, best hope for irreverent commentary. We reject bullshit. We love lively writing. Please consider supporting us by subscribing. Follow us on Twitter @the_lineca. Fight with us on Facebook. Pitch us something: lineeditor@protonmail.com
 
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