Time for Action:
Canadian politics and the future of Canada as a nation
The long and the short of it is – I believe – unless we seriously address the macro-economic issues, we will not even have the option of meaningful parliamentary debate, much less effective action via parliament, for parliament will continue to be subsumed under corporate dominance. Whatever concerns or good ideas we may have would then be blocked from implementation, at least within the parliamentary process. We would then be left to plead from the sidelines – or bleat from the sidelines – having failed to tackle corporate rule, and thus having failed to reclaim our democracy and our nation.
I’d like to see the Green Party, the NDP, a new party, or a coalition that is created from elements of the existing parties – based on a shared set of principles, values and goals – address our current socio-economic, political and ecological situation in Canada systematically and boldly.
I’d like to see a party – any party – or a coalition of individuals derived from progressive elements of a number of parties – take on corporate globalism, the crisis of democracy, oil dependency and environmental issues, in a comprehensive, systematic, strategic and courageous manner, with vision and vigour.
This would entail a platform that communicated the realities of our current predicament to Canadians in a straight-forward, no-nonsense way – realities which polls show the great majority of Canadians already understand. And it would require the creation of a vision, a strategy and a platform for addressing these realities in a way that fits the seriousness of these issues, and not in a tepid or piecemeal way.
It would be a platform to take back Canada, to truly “stand up for Canada” (as Harper and the Conservatives promised, but promised insincerely) by reclaiming and renewing authentic democracy, and re-investing in our ability as Canadians to set our own independent social, economic, environmental and foreign policy values, goals and policies.
In order to accomplish this, we would have to form and implement a plan to reduce our economic dependence on the US, in terms of trade and economic policy, and we would have to take a courageous stand against corporate globalization and the defacto corporate rule which has emerged.
We would then, in terms of the details of such a strategy and vision to reclaim our nation, abrogate NAFTA, say no to the FTAA, deep integration and the SPP, gain control of our currency through capital controls and changes to monetary policy with the Bank of Canada, create a Tobin tax to deter financial speculation, repatriate the debt, and restructure our investment policies and regulations.
(For example, we could start by revising our investment policies so that tax credits are given for RRSP’s only when the investment is in Canada, in Canadian companies or Canada savings bonds – which would go a long way both to strengthening the economy and toward gaining greater economic and thus political independence, and which also would provide a way to repatriate the debt, thus freeing us from dependency upon and manipulation (economic leverage, or simply blackmail) by international banks and financial institutions.)
A couple of points, at least, need to be realized, acknowledged, and acted upon. 1. Corporate-led globalization is not working for the vast majority – either in Canada or elsewhere in the world, does not benefit the vast majority, and is in fact destroying our social programs, quality of life, environment and democracy. We need to fundamentally re-orient our economic policies and strategy in order to create prosperity with both equity and sustainability. We urgently need to find or create, and to implement, an alternative to corporate globalization. 2. The U.S. economy is a sinking ship. We need to cease immediately our strategy of aligning ourselves ever more deeply with this failed state and empire at eclipse. We need to halt the rapid slide into deep integration with the U.S., and immediately begin to diversify and shift our trade alliances. While the U.S. is sinking economically, Europe, Latin America, India and China are rising fast. If we are intelligent, we will shift our trade and economic alliances in response to these rapidly changing global economic realities.
The EU and the BRIC alliance make far more sense as trade partners now, when the U.S. is in rapid decline, than does the teetering giant to the south. The BRIC alliance – Brazil, Russia, India and China, with many other Latin American and Asian countries joining – is the rising star. Given the choices between closer ties with the U.S. (via NAFTA and the SPP), or the EU and the BRIC alliance, smart money would certainly be on the latter. In fact, the smart money, and most of the big money, is already moving or has moved out of the U.S. We are very slow in the uptake if we as a country do not get this.
In terms of a rejection of corporate globalism, Chavez has shown what a bold approach to macro-economic and social policies can achieve, especially when backed by large oil reserves and the economic and political power that comes with these. There is no reason why Canada could not be even more bold: we hold more oil reserves than Venezuela, and have more resources and greater economic wealth and power than Venezuela.
We should be radically restructuring our tax and subsidy policies with regard to the oil and gas industry in Canada. With the increased tax revenue, we can do far more than has been done in Venezuela, Venezuela having comparably fewer resources and less economic power to work with. With this increased public revenue from the oil and gas industry we can adequately fund, protect and even enhance our social programs, expand dramatically our environmental programs, and get serious about the environmental and social issues we face. More importantly, we can gain and preserve a greater degree of economic, social, cultural and political independence: we can preserve our nation. Presently the Alberta government, presiding over the bulk of the nation’s oil reserves, which it claims as its own, is charging an absurd 1% royalty rate on oil extraction. Meanwhile, the federal government actually subsidizes the oil companies, to the tune of multi-billions a year. Is this not just a little ridiculous?
There is no reason to let Exxon take a long straw from Texas and suck out our oil – at least not without the biggest part of the profits going to the Canadian people. Venezuela, under the leadership of Chavez, has increased the windfall profits tax on oil companies, reaping an additional USD $3 billion a year into the public purse. The oil industry in Venezuela now generates about one third of the nation’s GDP, and approximately half of all government revenues. This windfall to the public purse is being used to eradicate poverty, fund education and public health care, and, in short, lift the quality of life for all people in the country. In Bolivia, President Evo Morales simply turned the profit distribution for the oil industry on its head. Before, oil companies took 80% of the profits, while 20% of the profits went to the people of Bolivia. Now the people of Bolivia get 80% of the profits, and the oil companies are happy to receive 20%. Are the oil companies leaving en masse? Of course not. They want the oil, and they can still make a hefty profit. The countries with oil have the upper hand. They can either concede to essentially giving away their oil, or they can insist that the bulk of the profits go to the people of the country, while leaving room for ample – though not extortionist – oil company profits. The difference is one of fair trade versus economic predation.
Who’s oil is it anyway? The trans-national oil companies certainly have less of a legitimate claim to it than do the people of the country. The oil companies can still invest, operate, extract, and make a profit. They simply can’t make a killing. If we had a party or a coalition that showed real leadership, this one act of socializing the oil industry – not expropriating it, but making 80% of the oil profits go to the Canadian people, and not the global oil companies – would make a dramatic difference in the lives of the Canadian people, and in this country. For one, there would be no crisis in our social programs – they would be amply funded. And not incidentally, a significant portion of the multi-billion dollar a year windfall to public coffers could go to investing in renewable energy and conservation. We give our oil away, and neither the environment nor the people of Canada benefit. How sensible is this?
Meanwhile, to site just one example:
“In 2005, Exxon reported third-quarter profits of $9.92 billion, 75% higher than its third-quarter earnings in 2004, and the largest quarterly profit ever reported by a US company.
“Exxon is reportedly giving its retiring chairman, Lee Raymond, a package worth nearly $400 million, in combined pension, stock options and other perks, including a $1 million consulting deal, the use of a corporate jet for professional purposes, 2 years of home security, and a car and driver.
“While testifying at a Congressional hearing last November, Raymond claimed that high gas prices were a result of supply and demand. “We’re all in this together,” he told members of Congress, “everywhere in the world.”
“”In 2004, Mr. Raymond,” Senator, Barbara Boxer (D-CA), was quick to point out, “your bonus was over $3.6 million.”
“After exhibiting a chart revealing the pay scale for each of the CEOs at the hearing, Senator Boxer told the oil executives: “Your sacrifice appears to be nothing.”
“According to Exxon’s filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission, Raymond’s paycheck rose to $51.1 million in 2005.”
– Evelyn Pringle, Will Big Oil Destroy the US Economy?
As with our oil industry, we are still currently shipping our forestry products out of the country with relatively little gained for the Canadian people. This is 19th century colonial thinking. We should immediately increase stumpage fees levied upon forestry corporations, and re-invest the money back into the forestry industry, supporting the growth of valued-added industries that take the raw logs and pulp, and turn them into high-value products for export. A log shipped to China is a gross waste of Canadian resources, and shipping lumber to the U.S. is little better. We can tax the rapacious cutting of our forests by big forestry companies, and feed the creation and support of value-added industries and sustained-yield ecological forestry in this country, thus creating a surge in jobs and tax dollars while preserving the long-term economic viability of the forestry industry and the ecological base which it rests upon. Instead of shipping logs, lumber and pulp, we would then be shipping furniture, musical instruments and other high value products, increasing our positive trade balance and public revenues enormously while protecting the forests from a senseless hack and slash model in the tunnel-visioned and myopic pursuit of short-term economic gain. Simply by making an intelligent shift in economic strategy with regard to these two giant industries – oil and forestry – we can bring profound and far-reaching benefit to the people of Canada. What we need is a bold approach that does not flinch when the corporate lobby flexes its muscle. Sorry MacBlo and Syncrude. The people of Canada come first.
Just as we need urgently to shift our international trade and economic strategies – away from reliance on and integration with the sinking U.S. empire, and away from excessive dependency upon and vulnerability to trans-national capital and international financial markets and institutions – we need to dramatically shift our economic policies and strategy domestically, at home.
We need to shift our basic macro-economic strategy: away from one of catering to big corporations, especially foreign-based multi-nationals, for whom we presently bend over obligingly, and whom we subsidize with massive tax breaks as well as direct and indirect subsidies; and toward funding and giving tax breaks to small and medium size businesses, the poor and the middle class. Small business is the engine of economic growth, the backbone of the economy, and the primary employer in the country, as elsewhere – as is widely acknowledged. It makes no sense to subsidize big corporations and tax small business to death. What makes sense is to reverse this pattern, reign in the corporate giants who now dominate the political process and receive huge tax breaks, and support small business. This would strengthen the economy, create jobs, increase our economic and political independence and sovereignty, and provide a functional, viable and prosperous, as well as more equitable alternative to corporate-dominated globalization.
Who would benefit from such a platform? Small and medium business, the poor, the middle class, students, children, the elderly – in short, the vast majority of Canadians. Who could we seek to support such a platform to truly “stand up for Canada”? The grassroots right – who voted in Harper and the Conservatives on the promise to stand up for Canada, who want tax cuts for the middle class, the poor and small business, who want a revitalized democracy, who want a strong economy and good jobs – and many authentic conservatives, who are not happy with the sell-out of the country to big business, financial institutions and foreign governments (ie: the U.S.). The left and centre, who want prosperity with equity, protection for and enhancement of social programs, expansion of environmental programs, a reduction of taxes on the poor and middle class, an alternative to corporate globalization – which 70% of Canadians say is not working in the public interest – and a preservation of our cultural, political and economic sovereignty. In short, across the political spectrum, support can be expected, if the platform is sufficiently bold and inspiring, and is communicated clearly enough.
There is no party currently offering such a platform or vision, no party that currently offers anything resembling a bold and inspiring vision for Canada. Should a party or coalition decide to offer such a vision, there could be a landslide of popular support that rises up in response. This is what I’d like to see happen.
If Chavez, Morales and Kirchner, in Venezuela, Bolivia and Argentina, can show leadership in throwing off the gross failure which is neo-liberalism, can assert authentic democracy in the face of decades of history with fascist regimes, imperial aggression and U.S.-backed coups, and present a viable, dynamic, moving, inspiring, wildly popular movement and vision for independence, solidarity and justice, what can we do in Canada with even more resources and economic strength at our disposal?
Sitting on the world’s largest oil reserves – the tar sands – and with one of the world’s resource-richest nations, one of the biggest economies in the world, a highly educated and literate populace and skilled and educated workforce, an infrastructure and technological base that has few rivals, and a history of social justice and peace that, while imperfect, is strong and runs deep, we in Canada are in a position not just to bemoan the social, economic, political and environmental difficulties that we face, but to take the lead. We can become the junior partner to a dying empire, and slide further into neo-fascist corporate rule, or we can break out of the mold, find solidarity with Europe and Latin America, as well the fast-rising star of India (the world’s largest democracy, home to the world’s largest middle class, with an economy that is set to out-pace China’s in economic growth this year), and set a course for economic and socio-political independence, in solidarity with other nations that are sick and tired of imperial power games.
It is a choice that we are going to face rather soon, and with increasing urgency, for the realities of deep integration with what has become a fascist state – the Security and Prosperity Partnership with the United States – are about to hit us. We had better awaken from the American dream now. This dream is becoming a nightmare. We need to chart a new course – our own course. A Canadian course.
The initiatives outlined above are not in themselves sufficient to remedy our social or environmental problems, but they are a necessary first step. If we do not take serious action now, we will only see the further unraveling of our democracy, the further drift into full-fledged neo-fascist corporate rule, the further destruction of our social programs, and the further destruction of the environment. If we care about any of these things, if we care about having or creating a just society, a peaceful society, a sustainable society, or even a society where the quality of life for all is preserved and enhanced, rather than undermined, then we need to take serious steps to renounce corporate globalism and corporate rule, and to reclaim our democracy and our sovereignty. Piece meal efforts will not do. We must now boldly present and act upon a plan to reverse the dominance of the trans-national corporations over our economy and political process. We must regain control of our currency, economy and parliaments. If we do not, then our fine words and nice ideas will go nowhere. If we do not regain control of the helm, then we are a drifting ship of fools, and our pious words are all in vain.
If none of the political parties can take the necessary steps and do what needs to be done, then they should announce themselves as irrelevant, and close up shop. My hope is, however, that the Canadian people can create the movement necessary to get one of the political parties, a new party, or perhaps a coalition that is created from members of all parties, to step up to the plate and get the job done. However it gets done, we need to act now. Time is running out on our sovereignty, our democracy, even our existence as a nation. Time for action.
Now that it is outlined, as to what needs to be done, the question that remains is one of strategy: how do we do it? Political strategy in the era of corporate dominance of the political process, the media and the economy is a tricky question. When most political parties are indebted to big business for the funds that get them elected, when the mass media is either directly owned or else controlled by corporations – via dependency on corporate advertising money – the political process becomes mired in the politics of vested interest, democracy is in crisis, and even public debate and discussion is largely quashed. Creating a popular movement for bold and progressive social change requires communicating a vision that will rally popular support and empower collective action. But the means of communication are locked up by corporate controlled media, who have no interest in changing the status quo. Any movement, party or coalition that seeks to create an alternative to corporate rule, that seeks to reclaim, renew and revitalize genuine democracy, will no doubt meet with bad press, or no press, given the present media environment. Thus, in order to reach out to the people, the newest and the oldest of tools for political mobilization will be required: the internet and the street. To reach out to the people with a bold and inspiring vision, to even begin to form a movement for creative action and positive social change, will require the use of the new town hall – the web – and the old town hall – the face-to-face meetings that used to be the staple of politics, before the electronic age. In the age of mass-media electoral politics, the new medium of the internet is often overlooked, and the old medium of town hall-style public meetings is forgotten. But this is where the movement will begin. This is where it will succeed or fail.
In order to accomplish the goals of reclaiming our democracy, protecting our sovereignty, our social programs and our environment; to create a just and sustainable society, and to preserve and enhance the quality of life for all, it will be necessary to make a few simple but crucial steps. The above outline of a platform can be taken as a starting point for creating a vision. Without a vision there is no inspiration, and therefore no action. A small group of activists – ordinary individuals – can take the initiative. From there, the enlistment of support from a few prominent Canadians will do to encourage more involvement and get the ball rolling. After that, it is a matter of old-fashioned political organizing – from the grassroots up. Go to the people, city by city, town by town, hold public meetings in libraries and churches, schools and union halls, universities and workplaces, and utilize the internet to its fullest capacity to compliment the face-to-face engagement of citizens. From there, it is a matter of either forming a new party from this emerging grassroots movement, getting an existing party to find the courage to take on the challenge, or forming a coalition from members of existing parties as well as ordinary Canadians to take the movement to the next level: implementation.
The path is hard, but the time is ripe. The political landscape has, in some ways, never been more ready for such a groundswell of change. There is an opening now. And there is a need. The urgency is almost ear-shattering. The longing for meaningful, clear-headed, good-hearted change is almost palpable. The movement that can fill this need – recognize the opportunity and act to create the flow through that opening – is going to meet with resounding success. It is now that we must dispense with pious hand-wringing and defeatist pessimism. There is always more day to dawn. The time is ripe, the moment is now. Let us begin.
January 24, 2007
The Sinking U.S. Economy:
Poor Choice for an Economic Partner in the 21st Century
Deep Integration & the SPP:
Fascism in America: