As B.C. election approaches, Greens get cozy with Liberals

Is the Green Party in a tacit alliance with the Liberal Party of Christy Clark in B.C.’s election? A lot of people in B.C. think so and here in Powell River the suspicions have been confirmed by the bizarre hosting of a meet-and-greet with Green Party Leader Andrew Weaver by the Chamber of Commerce three days before the vote. The president of the Chamber is none other than Jack Barr, the fundraising chair for the Liberal candidate, Mathew Wilson (though he claims he only found out about it after the fact). The Chamber has not hosted any other leader during the election.

At first glance these two parties make strange bedfellows. The Liberals have an absolutely appalling environmental record and happily take millions of dollars from mining companies, oil giants and the LNG industry.

Progressives are desperate to end the 16-year nightmare of Liberal corruption and rule for the rich. But the Greens are desperate for more seats and steadfastly deny that a vote for Greens could help re-elect the Liberals. The Liberals are an echo chamber on the vote-splitting issue with Wilson’s father, former Liberal leader Gordon Wilson, on Facebook dismissing the vote-splitting claim as spurious: “To suggest that voting for a candidate running for the Greens will elect anyone other than that candidate is offensive.”

The Liberal-Green Alliance was wonderfully illustrated in a recent Vancouver Sun group photo of the three party leaders: Christy Clark has a preternaturally large grin on her face while she shakes Green Party Leader Andrew Weaver’s hand. NDP Leader John Horgan is left out of the love-fest.

If this seems odd to those outside B.C. it isn’t at all strange here — sleazy, yes, but par for the course for Weaver’s Green Party. The Greens are so desperate to get beyond the one seat they have they’re happy to make backroom deals with the devil. And the devil will make deals with anyone to stay in power. It reminds me of the federal election when an equally desperate Elizabeth May used phony opinion polls to suggest that the race was between the Greens and the NDP on Vancouver Island. It seems the Greens, both federally and provincially, have a chronic integrity problem.

Though there is no smoking gun — no actual accord signed between the two parties — the anecdotal evidence keeps piling up: Andrew Weaver promoting a totally misleading Liberal Party attack on the NDP platform costs; Scott Hamilton, the Liberal candidate for Delta North, signing (illegally) the nomination papers for Jacquie Miller, his Green Party opponent; Christy Clark’s press secretary retweeting a prominent Green supporter discussing the Greens’ growing popularity; Andrew Weaver promoting a Liberal accusation of sexism against the NDP leader on Twitter (then quickly removing it); a major Liberal donor and owner of the Kingsgate Mall in Vancouver allowing the Green Party to erect a huge sign on its mall property; Andrew Weaver attacking the NDP’s Horgan far more than Christy Clark in the TV debate.

While this may look like a case of “an enemy of my enemy is my friend” it is actually much worse. There are also clear hints that the Greens are just as likely to support the Liberals as they are to support the NDP if neither party gets a majority.

The Green Party’s campaign chair, Adam Olsen, reinforced suspicions when he was asked about the possibility of vote-splitting re-electing the Liberals. He told the Vancouver Sun: “I’m not concerned about Christy Clark getting back in.” Given the opportunity to backtrack on Olsen’s statement by The Tyee columnist Bill Tieleman, the party declined. But this political stance is hardly news for those who actually follow the Green Party’s record and its leader’s statements — rather than just assume that the Green brand means progressive and green. Tieleman also asked why Weaver failed to support a sewage treatment plant for Victoria which dumps raw sewage into the ocean and why he similarly refused support for a massive public transit plan sought by the Metro Vancouver Mayor’s Council. The answer is simple enough: Weaver is unashamedly pro-business and an advocate of “small government.”

Weaver himself has repeatedly left the door open to allowing the Liberals a fifth term. He supported two Liberal Party budgets. He supported the Liberals’ run-of-the-river hydro privatization that will keep hydro rates sky-high for the next two decades. He supported the idea of an oil refinery at Kitimat to refine tar sands bitumen — when most environmentalists are saying we have to keep most of it in the ground.

And just this week he came as close as possible to endorsing Clark when asked in a Global News interview which leader he would be “most comfortable” working with. Weaver would not answer but repeatedly referred to Horgan’s temper and how he would have to control it if Weaver was to work with him. And then he praised Clark: “[Y]ou can have a respectful disagreement in a one-on-one conversation and it’s not personal.”

All of this is highly reminiscent of the last provincial election when the Greens and Liberals played the same game. The most shameless example of this was a full-page ad for the Greens in the Victoria Times-Colonistpaid for by the Liberals. This divide-and-conquer strategy has been used in the Legislature ever since the last election, with Clark repeatedly giving kudos to Weaver — and Weaver gleefully accepting them.

The Weaver Greens are also reminiscent of the former leader of the federal Green Party, Jim Harris. In 2005 I wrote a feature article for The Walrus on the Greens under Harris entitled “Green Party Blues.” It revealed a party with policies and a lack of internal democracy more reflective of the Conservatives than any other party. Of course Harris had been in the Conservative Party so it was not at all embarrassing to him. He was confident, as is Weaver, that the Green brand would fool enough people to elect a bunch of MPs. He was wrong. Elizabeth May was confident, too. She was wrong, too.

It seems that people’s good instincts can still kick in, in the nick of time — as they grip the pencil to mark their ballot.

 

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What is the antidote to Trumpism?

Like biting on a sore tooth it seems like we cannot curb our fascination with U.S. President Donald Trump (just writing those words seem surreal). The man-child president never disappoints in his buffoonish behaviour and exquisite inarticulateness — as in a recent AP interview.

But we monitor Trump not just because it still seems impossible that such a fool actually is president but also because he is the most dangerous president in U.S. history. He could kill us all.

We tend to forget how he got there and the forces that overturned conventional politics in the U.S. If we are going to be obsessed with anything it should be this: how do we create a new politics that in the long term builds the basis of a citizen-based democracy to replace the hollowed-out institutions we now have in English-speaking developed countries? To do so we first need to understand the roots of Trump’s popularity.

We could do worse than revisit the writings of the brilliant Hannah Arendt, still perhaps the most insightful analyst of the roots of totalitarianism. A recent essay by Roger Berkowitz, “Why Arendt Matters: Revisiting The Origins of Totalitarianism,” reminded me of her renewed relevance. Berkowitz writes:

“Arendt’s understanding of the origins of totalitarianism begins with her insight that mass movements are founded upon ‘atomized, isolated individuals.’ The lonely people whom Arendt sees as the adherents of movements are not necessarily the poor or the lower classes. They are the ‘neutral, politically indifferent people…'”

They join, says Arendt, because they “[a]re obsessed by a desire to escape from reality because in their essential homelessness they can no longer bear its accidental, incomprehensible aspects.” This description fits almost perfectly with the white working class facing, as my last column featured, “death by despair.”

Berkowitz argues that Trump won because he was not leading a conventional political campaign — he was the leader of a mass movement and “[m]ovements thrive on the destruction of reality [and] work to create alternate realities that offer adherents a stable and empowering place in the world.”

If Arendt and Berkowitz are correct then the left needs to determine how to counter the enervating influence of an increasingly dismal reality on ordinary citizens. So far, at least, Canada’s political culture has proved resilient in resisting right-wing populism in spite of social and economic conditions that are not dissimilar to those in the U.S.

But such a populist response is not impossible. Preston Manning harnessed alienation with “eastern elites” in building his Reform party. And the left in Canada still has not come to terms with the key message of Arendt’s analysis: that the isolation of people from each other —  “atomized, isolated individuals” — is the political right’s principal advantage and the left’s greatest blind spot.

In this context it is interesting to watch the NDP leadership race to test for signs that the candidates understand what they are up against in rebuilding the party. Two of them, Niki Ashton and Peter Julian, have spoken of the importance of social movements in creating a newly robust progressive party. That’s encouraging because under both Jack Layton and Thomas Mulcair the party became increasingly professionalized. (Layton didn’t start out that way but that’s where he ended up.)

The difficulty with this recognition of social movements is that it comes too late. The sad reality is that there are almost no social movements in Canada. While the global Women’s March, the recent March for Science in the U.S., The Leap Manifesto and the Quebec students’ strike were all significant and provided much-needed inspiration they are not sustained movement organizations. The women’s movement in this sense has been moribund for over a decade, the anti-poverty movement likewise. There is literally no peace movement — recall the days when every year 60,000 people marched for peace in Vancouver — yet we are closer to nuclear annihilation today than at any time since the Cuban missile crisis. The labour movement has never recovered from the loss of hundreds of thousands of high-paying jobs because of NAFTA and is now all but irrelevant as a national, politically engaged movement. Only the environmental movement and a resurgent First Nations movement can claim a national presence.

The height of the influence of social movements on the political culture was the 1970s and ’80s. The Action Canada Network which fought the first Free Trade Agreement (FTA) consisted of all the major unions, the churches, the aforementioned movements and provincial coalitions in every province save one. The Saskatchewan coalition was founded by 50 organizations and played a major role in defeating the Grant Devine Conservative government.

There are no longer any social justice coalitions because their components simply no longer exist or are barely hanging on. A short history lesson may help to explain why. The roots of all of those organizations can be traced back to the late 1960s before the neoliberal counter-revolution. The silo model of movements (each focused on a single issue) reflected the fact that governments of the day actually believed in governing. The Trudeau government (and, later, most provincial governments) funded dozens of grassroots organizations. I once interviewed Gérard Pelletier, the minister in charge of this funding, and believed him when he said the government was responding to left criticism that many voices were not being heard, that our democracy was shallow.

The advent of the FTA and the other elements of the so-called Washington Consensus (deregulation, tax cuts for the wealthy, cuts to social spending, privatization) was the death knell for this kind of grassroots politicking. Neoliberalism — adopted by all the parties to a greater or lesser extent — was intent on giving democracy (and its incessant demands for more) a cold shower and dramatically downsizing the social state. The federal and provincial governments quietly tore up the implied “contract” between social movements and the state. They just didn’t tell the social movements.

Simone Weil wrote that “[t]o be rooted is perhaps the most important and least recognized need of the human soul.” The lesson here for the NDP leadership candidates genuinely open to “social movements” is the need to shift their attention inwards: a renewed NDP must itself become a movement rooted in community (like its predecessor, the CCF), going beyond a list of policies and pledging to help build a society which offers people meaning in their lives.

 

Trudeau runs risk keeping flawed politician as foreign affairs minister

The irrational has begun to dominate our politics as if the American virus has stealthily moved north to infect our national narratives. It reflects itself in various ways but it seems that wars — old wars, current wars and future wars — have gripped the minds of our political elite and their courtiers in the media. Most problematic is Chrystia Freeland whose well-documented hostility towards Russia raises questions about her suitability for the foreign affairs post. She got off almost scot-free for blatantly lying about her Nazi grandfather. Justin Trudeau lost his reason regarding the U.S. missile attack on Syria and we were subjected to an extra-heavy dose of non-sense about Vimy Ridge with Trudeau opining that “this was Canada at its best.”

Really? That was our best? This grotesque war that sent millions of innocent young men — from all combatant countries — to their meaningless deaths is what defined us as a nation? We should obviously mourn the deaths of all those young people forced to sacrifice their lives for nothing.

But Canada at its best? How about when we finally gave women the vote? Or when we established universal medicare? When we decriminalized abortion? Ended the death penalty? When we refused to get sucked into the Iraq war? When Canada invented UN peacekeeping? Or when we took in Syrian refugees?

As for the mendacious Ms. Freeland, why on earth is she still in one of the most important cabinet posts in the Trudeau government? She got a pass on her grandfather’s record with the help of media group-think along the lines of “we can’t blame her for her Nazi grandfather.” But no one ever did. Critics blamed her for knowing her grandfather was a Nazi collaborator for two decades and saying nothing, and for never denouncing him (she still hasn’t). Critics also blamed her for lying about him — actually portraying him in her autobiography as almost a freedom fighter: “My maternal grandparents fled western Ukraine after Hitler and Stalin signed their non-aggression pact in 1939. They never dared to go back…”

Well, yes, he did leave Ukraine. Freeland’s grandfather Mykhailo Chomiak spent the entire war in occupied Poland editing the Nazi-run newspaper Krakivski Visti (News of Krakow) under the orders of the Nazis’ German Governor-General Hans Frank, the man who organized the Holocaust in Poland. Chomiak and his family moved into an apartment seized from a Jewish family and ran the newspaper from editorial offices of a former Polish-language Jewish newspaper, Nowy Dziennik, whose editor ended up being murdered at the Belzec concentration camp along with 600,000 other Jews.

Critics also blame Freeland for repeatedly refusing to answer direct questions about her grandfather. Her office gave the Hillary Clinton defence: “People should be questioning where this information comes from, and the motivations behind it.” Freeland herself tried to deflect them with references to Russian disinformation: “American officials have publicly said … there were efforts on the Russian side to destabilize Western democracies, and I think it shouldn’t come as a surprise if these same efforts were used against Canada.” What disinformation would that be? Not, apparently, the crude attempts at whitewashing her grandfather’s role in Poland.

That whitewashing includes efforts to downplay just how pro-Nazi the newspaper was. Yet Krakivski Visti was a vicious propaganda tool fomenting as much hatred of Jews as it could. The writer Juilan Tarnovych wrote a series, “Out of Satan’s Claws,” in which he referred to Jews as “Yid mobs,” “bastards,” “rotten scum,” “bacillus,” “that riffraff — that nest of crawling kikes,” and “a pile of crawling worms.” Chomiak himself wrote editorials claiming Poland was “infected by the Jews.”

Articles from Chomiak’s newspaper can be found in Holocaust museums around the world, such as the one in Los Angeles, California.

Instead of saying (last year), “I am proud to honour [his] memory today,” how difficult would it be to distance herself from her grandfather’s role?

Perhaps the explanation lies in the fact that Freeland is, like her father and grandfather, a devoted Ukrainian nationalist with a deep-seated hostility towards Russia. Even when she was a journalist with the Financial Times she did not hide her fierce Ukrainian nationalism — encouraging the Euromaidan rebellion that became a violent coup against Russian-friendly Viktor Yanukovich. Freeland’s take? “Their victory will be a victory for us all; their defeat will weaken democracy far from the Euromaidan. We are all Ukrainians now. Let’s do what we can … to support them.”

The democracy that resulted from the coup was not quite as advertised. Freeland’s Nazi ghosts came to life in the new government which was chock-a-block with outright Nazis. The new government had five cabinet members from the Svoboda Party — proud descendants of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN) who fought against the Red Army alongside the Nazis. In 1941 the OUN sent a message to Lvov’s Jews in the form of a pamphlet which said: “We will lay your heads at Hitler’s feet.” The OUN and the SS arrested and executed 4,000 of the city’s Jews.

It is rare to see a modern politician so blinded by personal hostility. To place Chrystia Freeland in the position of foreign minister is nothing short of reckless. If her bias was against Luxembourg it would hardly matter. But the world is now closer to a nuclear holocaust than at any time since the Reagan administration. The relationship between the West and Russia is now the most important geopolitical issue on the planet.

How can we trust someone who has shown hostility towards Russia to the extent that Freeland has to lead Canada in navigating these treacherous foreign policy waters? Does her blindness prevent her from imagining the potential for nuclear war? Is she capable of accepting that Russia has legitimate interests? Are we risking a Freeland blunder in a situation that requires nuance?

Regarding Russia the question arises of whether or not the tail is wagging the dog in the Trudeau government. Trudeau pledged in the last election to rebuild relations with Russia. Now Canada is demanding that “Assad must go” (via Freeland) — pure posturing especially given there is no evidence yet of who used gas against Syrian civilians. Then Trudeau added to the embarrassment by demanding Russia abandon Assad, something everyone knows is not going to happen. But it will add to Putin’s paranoia that the West is out to get him.

Someone should ask Trudeau just who he is trying to please by keeping this flawed politician in such a powerful post.

 

Working Canadians face ‘death by despair’ as labour insecurity grows

A recent report out of the U.S. raises questions about politicians’ obsession — in Canada and the U.S. — with the state of the middle class and highlights why Donald Trump won the U.S. election. It is a sobering picture and scathing indictment of neoliberalism — particularly so-called free trade. While the authors don’t say so explicitly, the conclusion is inescapable: NAFTA kills.

The report, by economists Anne Case and Sir Angus Deaton (winner of the 2015 Nobel Prize for economics), talks about “deaths of despair” and reveals that:

“An epidemic of overdoses, suicides and alcohol-related illness is causing a surge in deaths among white Americans with a high-school education or less that now makes them more likely to die early than those who are black or Hispanic…”

The report reinforces many other studies documenting the devastating impact of nearly three decades of deindustrialization (read: NAFTA) and automation on Americans with high-school education or less. According to Dr. Case: “This doesn’t seem to be just about income. This is about accumulating despair for these people.” The numbers are hard to credit: “In 1999 white men and women aged 50-54 with a high school education had a mortality rate 30 per cent lower than Black Americans. In 2015 it was 30 per cent higher.” (There was no indication that the situation for Black and Hispanic Americans actually improved.) The numbers are similar for all age groups from 25-64.

The gravity of the changes are unique to the U.S. where deindustrialization has been most dramatic and where slack labour standards, low unionization rates, a tattered social safety net and expensive health insurance make less educated workers extremely vulnerable. According to the two researchers, Canada along with Britain, the U.K., Australia and Germany are still seeing declining death rates.

They don’t say why. But if you look at many of the conditions faced by working Canadians, it is easy to conclude that we are headed in the same direction, just more slowly. Maybe we have time to prevent “death by despair” in Canada but someone had better begin speaking up for those most vulnerable. Both the Liberals and NDP federally (and provincially) have been wringing their hands about the “shrinking middle class” — failing to notice that when the middle class shrinks, its ranks drop down the economic scale to join the precariate.

As I listed last November, Canada now boasts:

“[t]he largest income gap between rich and poor since the late 1920s; incomes that have been stagnant since the early 1980s; the second-highest proportion of low-wage jobs in the OECD (after the U.S.); the highest personal debt-to-income ratio in Canadian history … the continued loss of tens of thousands of the best industrial jobs; [and] welfare rates that deliberately punish the poor…”

We also have an EI system accessible to less than a third of workers who pay into it.

The effects are devastating. While we do not have death by despair, we have an epidemic of anxiety and depression — grinding economic insecurity, widespread abuse of workers’ rights because governments refuse to enforce labour standards, the virtual collapse of the kind of family life that was the norm 40 years ago and levels of job dissatisfaction not seen at any other time in the postwar period.

The 2012 National Study on Balancing Work and Caregiving in Canada, authored by professors Linda Duxbury of Carleton University and Christopher Higgins of the University of Western Ontario, reports on the (ever-worsening) work-life imbalance of thousands of individual workers:

“Almost two-thirds of us are working more than 45 hours a week — 50 per cent more than two decades ago. Work weeks are more rigid, with flex-time arrangements dropping by a third in the past 10 years…. More than half of the survey’s respondents took work home with them, putting in an average of seven extra hours a week from home. To top it off, only 23 per cent of working Canadians are highly satisfied with life. That’s half as many as in 1991.”

There is nothing to suggest that things have gotten anything but worse in the intervening five years. Just this week a report on bankruptcy out of Ontario reveals that the demographics of indebtedness are changing — “[s]hifting to seniors with fixed incomes, single parents and millennials burdened with student-loan debt. Forced to cover debt with more debt just to pay for basic expenses, low-income earners are using payday loans and filing for insolvency at historic rates.”Twenty-five percent of filers — and 38 per cent of those under 30 — rely on payday loans with astronomical interest rates.

If the recent Liberal budget is any indication, the state has no intention of easing the burden on young people, ensuring that the precariate will continue to grow. An analysis of the budget by Generation Squeeze, an NGO advocating for younger generations, points out that the budget earmarked $23,000 per person aged 65 and over, and $5,500 per Canadian under the age of 45. While that may be a somewhat crude comparison, any talk about fixing inequality without providing universal child care, low or free tuition, and a reversal of the “labour flexibility” measures introduced almost 25 years ago by Paul Martin is insulting.

Governments listen to those with the loudest voice and for three decades that has been Bay Street. There was a time when organized labour spoke loudly, too. It was responsible for successfully fighting for EI, social assistance, public pensions, fair taxes, workers’ compensation and workers’ rights through enforced labour standards.

One of those standards was the 40-hour week. Maybe the union movement should come out of its long slumber with a new slogan: “Bring back the 40-hour week.” Anyone? Anyone?

EKOS poll: Canada should support Israeli sanctions, not demonize them

 

Foreign policy is one of those areas of democratic governance that doesn’t often get on the public’s radar. But when it does it provides citizens with a kind of unsullied opportunity to apply their values. That is, unsullied by considerations of self-interest, we get to ask: what is the right thing to do?

Governments, of course, aren’t quite as free to make such decisions given that they have so-called “national interests” to consider. But Canadians should be able to expect from their federal government that its foreign policy conforms closely to their values.

When it comes to Canada’s policy towards Israel the Trudeau government, aping its predecessor, is several country miles from reflecting Canadian values. That is the irrefutable conclusion of an EKOS poll whose partial results were released February 16. A second batch of survey results released yesterday (all survey results can be found here) focussed on the issue of whether or not Canadians think it is appropriate to use sanctions and/or boycotts to pressure Israel to obey international law.

The results demolish conventional wisdom on this question. Respondents were asked — in the context of the UN Security Council denunciation of settlement building in the West Bank: “[d]o you believe that some sort of Canadian government sanctions on Israel would be reasonable?” Overall, 66 per cent expressing an opinion answered “yes.” But that number is heavily skewed by Conservative supporters, 70 per cent of whom reject sanctions on Israel.  Openness to sanctions on Israel by supporters of other federal political parties ranged from 75 per cent for Liberals to 94 per cent for Bloc Quebecois supporters. Eighty-four per cent of NDP supporters believed sanctions on Israel would be reasonable.

Levels of acceptance for the Palestinian call for a boycott of Israel was even higher with fully 78 per cent of those with an opinion stating they believe the Palestinians’ call for a boycott is “reasonable.” Again, Conservative supporters expressed radically different views from respondents supporting other parties: 51 per cent rejected a boycott. Supporters of other parties who were receptive to the Palestinian call for a boycott ranged from 88 per cent for Liberal supporters to 94 per cent for the Bloc Quebecois.

Flashback to February 2016, when Parliament adopted a Conservative motion (by a vote of 229-51) condemning Canadian individuals and organizations who promote the Palestinian call for a boycott.  That shameful assault on freedom of expression was supported by the Trudeau government. Only the NDP and Bloc opposed it.

When asked if they supported the passing of this resolution a majority of respondents expressing an opinion — 53 per cent — said “no” while half that that number, 26 per cent, said “yes.” Only 20  per cent of Liberal supporters supported the resolution while 55 per cent disagreed with it.

Most Canadians still have little idea of just how sycophantic the Trudeau Liberals are when it comes to support the right-wing government of Benjamin Netanyahu, particularly when it comes to UN votes on Palestinian rights and Israel’s violations of international law.

The Trudeau government has cemented Canada’s reputation as an embarrassing outlier when it comes to UN votes on Israel. Since October, 2015 when it came to power, the Liberal government has voted against United Nations resolutions that were critical of Israel on over 25 occasions. In fact, it has never voted in favour of a UN resolution that is critical of Israel. Which illustrious democracies does Canada find itself allied with in these votes? Besides Israel and the U.S., its loyal benefactor, our fellow travellers are normally Micronesia, Palau and the Marshall Islands. Most of these resolutions pass by a vote of 156 or 158 to six or eight (with our EU allies voting for or abstaining).

Some of the resolutions Canada actively opposed should shock Canadians. The Trudeau government opposed a UN resolution that reaffirmed “[t]he importance of Israel’s accession to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons [NPT].” Another resolution, supporting “The right of the Palestinian people to self-determination,” was opposed by the Liberals as was a resolution that almost precisely reiterates the government’s official policy — that “Israeli settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem” are an obstacle to peace.

Last December the UN Security Council voted unanimously (with the U.S. abstaining) to declare that Israeli settlements on territory intended for a Palestinian state were a “flagrant violation under international law and a major obstacle to the achievement of … peace” between Israel and Palestine. Canada remained absolutely silent as it was (effectively) when Israel passed its “land grab” law which retroactively legalizes settler homes on private Palestinian land.

What could possibly justify Trudeau’s immoral and frankly irrational stance when it comes to promoting peace between Israel and the Palestinians? In determining its policy towards Israel the Trudeau government has three apparent motivations at play: defending Israel’s right to exist, tending to Canada’s specific national interests and reflecting Canadian values.

None of these shine any real light on Canada’s continued blanket support for the Netanyahu government. It is being increasingly argued by Israel’s friends that the trajectory of that country today is in fact the biggest threat to Israel’s existence: a one-party state that can be Jewish or democratic, but not both. Canada on its own has no compelling “national interests” in the Middle East — except as a yes man for the U.S. empire.

And lastly, Trudeau’s inexplicable stance is overwhelmingly at odds with Canadian values. Not only do large majorities see Israel in a negative light, they reject by 91 per cent the notion that criticism of Israel is necessarily anti-Semitic as implied in the Commons resolution. Flying in the face of Trudeau’s cowardly denunciation of BDS supporters are 75 per cent of his own party supporters who are open to sanctions and 88 per cent who say the same of boycotts.

Justin Trudeau has a lot of explaining to do.

 

Canadians at odds with their government on Israel

As the future of Israeli Jews and Palestinians spirals down into an inevitable and inexorable apartheid struggle, Canadians are being denied their fundamental right in a democracy. That is the right to an honest and frank debate about one of the most important issues faced by the international community — the ongoing illegal occupation of Palestinian land and the brutal suppression of Palestinian human rights.

It’s not that Canadians don’t care or don’t try to inform themselves. It’s that both the media and federal governments are loath to even talk about it. With these two institutions maintaining a steadfast silence there can be no genuine debate. And so we betray both Israelis and Palestinians by condemning them to a future of violence.

For the past 40 years the governments in Ottawa have revealed an abject cowardice when it comes to any effective action to promote peace. While on the books Canada is committed to a “two-state” solution our total failure to act means that that this solution is now hanging by a thread. The most recent madness coming out of the Netanyahu government is the “land grab” law — its popular name in Israel. It empowers the state to legalize the illegal settler outposts retroactively and could be used to annex the West Bank. It will, if ever used, have catastrophic results.

At least that is the opinion of most commentators in Israel, across Europe and among EU governments — even Germany. In Canada the best we could do was a buried 152-word Global Affairs news release five days after the fact saying our government is “deeply concerned” and calling the law “unhelpful.” It is pathetic and irresponsible.

It is hardly new but we can now say with some certainty something we could not say until yesterday with the release of a new public opinion survey, conducted by EKOS and Associates, exploring Canadian attitudes towards Israel and Canadian government policy. The poll was commissioned by a coalition of organizations and individuals (including me).

The survey is critically important because the carte blanche, pro-Israeli government policy of federal governments (Conservative and Liberal) is built on a foundation of untested assumptions about Canadian attitudes. The conventional wisdom, conveniently promoted by the government, the Israeli lobby, and many in the media, is that Canadians are massively sympathetic to Israel.

That’s convenient but quite false. Rather than expressing an uncritically positive view of Israel, Canadians demonstrate the opposite. Of those expressing a view, 46 per cent expressed a negative view while 28 per cent expressed a positive view (26 per cent had neither). As with all the survey questions, when results were broken down by party preference, Conservative Party supporters were radical outliers in favour of Israel with a 58 per cent positive view. The average for supporters of the other four parties was 11 per cent positive and 63 per cent negative.

When asked whether or not they thought the government was biased towards Israel or Palestinians, 61 per cent said pro-Israel and 16 per cent said pro-Palestinian (23 per cent detected no bias). Again, remove the Conservative voter from the mix and 74 per cent of other-party supporters see a pro-Israel bias and 9 per cent pro-Palestinian.

With supporters of the Liberals, NDP, Bloc and Green Party all obviously open to a shift in government policy towards justice for Palestinians, what are they afraid of? The answer is easy: Israel enjoys a plethora of well-funded and aggressive lobby groups in Canada ready to mount instant and personal campaigns against any criticism of Israel. B’nai Brith Canada, the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA), the World Zionist Congress, Canadian Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Centre, and Jewish Federations across the country have huge influence over politicians, government officials, universities and media.

Any politician or political party that dares raise any criticism of Israel can expect over-the-top denunciations that, no matter how ridiculous, force them to defend themselves — and inevitably leave some with doubts. One example was B’nai Brith’s attack on the Green Party’s former justice critic, Dimitri Lascaris (another sponsor of the EKOS poll), with this website headline: “Green Party Justice Critic Advocates on Behalf of Terrorists.” Lascaris was the main advocate for having the Green Party support the BDS (Boycott, Divest, Sanction) campaign.

CIJA in particular has enormous resources — a staff of 50 spread across the country, and very deep pockets — with which it can monitor media, demonize critics, promote policies to politicians and their advisers, and offer free tours to Israel to opinion-leaders. These lobby organizations all create the same false narratives: that Israel is democratic, that the BDS campaign seeks to destroy Israel, and, perhaps most offensive and intimidating, that any effective criticism of Israel is part of the “new anti-Semitism.”

One of the most encouraging revelations in the new survey is the fact that the vast majority of Canadians reject this notion. When asked, “Is criticism of the Israeli Government necessarily anti-Semitic,” 91 per cent of respondents said no. Strip out the Conservative voters and the number is 98 per cent. Though the sample of Jewish respondents was small, a clear majority of religious (78 per cent) and ethnic Jews (93 per cent) rejected this idea.

CIJA’s credibility with politicians and the media is based on its completely unsupported claim that it speaks for Canadian Jews. This poll at least suggests just how shaky that claim is. It is not surprising that CIJA, with all its resources, has never conducted (or at least released) a poll on Canadian Jews’ attitudes towards the Israeli government or towards Canadian Middle-East policy. What are they afraid of? Our survey suggests the answer. Any poll would reveal a deep divide in the Jewish community regarding Israel and that would undermine CIJA’s influence.

In the meantime the Liberals and the NDP should overcome their unfounded fear of lobby groups and listen to their supporters. The Green Party just released the results of its poll of members on the issue: 90 per cent backed “Measures to pressure the government of Israel to preserve the two-state solution.” In other words, government sanctions. It’s a start. Now, will the NDP poll its members and change its policies?

 

Transformative change in 2017 starts with community

As has been pointed out by too many people, 2016 was a devastating year for progressives (a homely term for all those who are want equality, democracy and ecological sanity). There is no need to repeat the list of atrocities, failures and disappointments, as we all have them indelibly marked on our psyches. One result of the annus horribilis is that activists everywhere have pledged to try harder — at what is clearly not working. There is even a sense of optimism rooted in the old left-wing shibboleth that “the worse things get, the better” — meaning, of course that if things get really, really bad, people will rise up (and overthrow the 1%).

But the truth is much simpler if less optimistic: the worse things get, the worse they are. There is no measure of misery beyond which revolution pops up out the ground. And if there is any popping to be done it is clearly not guaranteed, nor even these days remotely likely that it will be socialist. The victory of Donald Trump and the rise of right-wing parties across Europe demonstrate how much easier it is to play to fear, insecurity, hatred and retribution than it is to attract people to competing visions of the good life, rooted in science and delivered by the state — a state that has been openly complicit in making things worse for two generations.

It’s not that there is no good news on the social change front. Jeremy ­­Corbyn’s and Bernie Sanders’ unexpected successes were exhilarating. But the context in which they shone — political “leadership” in traditional party politics in the U.S. and Britain — severely limits the potential for future growth of broad-based movements. Why? Because beyond making activists feel temporarily less powerless and marginalized, they are still examples of why dependence on leaders is a barrier to the possibility of transformational change.

And let’s be clear. Today anything less than transformational change is simply not good enough.

Peter Block in his insightful 2008 book, Community: The Structure of Belonging, dissects the preoccupation of citizens with leaders and leadership:

“It is this love of leaders that limits our capacity to create an alternative future. It proposes that the only real accountability in the world is at the top…The effect of buying into this is that it lets citizens off the hook and breeds citizen dependency and entitlement.”

When citizens don’t feel accountable, they increasingly act as consumers. Beyond neoliberalism’s obvious imperatives such as free trade, privatization, tax breaks for the wealthy, etc., its most pernicious impact on society is the destruction of community. The greatest weapon the 1% has is our isolation from each other. And all efforts to defeat neoliberalism, no matter how valiant, inspired, smart or sustained, will fail unless they somehow ultimately contribute to the rebuilding of community. Unless and until that process begins in earnest, the systematic isolation of individuals and families from each other and from community will make garnering significant citizen power impossible.

Not difficult: impossible.

After 40 years of neoliberal social (and economic) engineering, we are at a stage where as consumers we have virtually endless choices — a mind-numbing variety of choices streamed at us at a speed and volume that leaves us stupefied — shell-shocked by choice, diverted from our possible lives by shopping. But our choices as citizens are now so constrained by the erosion and corruption of democracy and the endless promotion of small government that our citizenship has atrophied.

The dominant form of politics in fact reduces most people to passive consumers of politics just as they are consumers of goods. As consumers of politics rather than intentional citizens, we simultaneously abdicate responsibility and end up indulging in the culture of complaint. Says Block, “Consumers give up their power. They believe that their own needs can best be satisfied by the actions of others…” whether they be public service providers, elected officials or store managers.

For activists facing this entrenched political culture there is enormous temptation to sink into a nearly pathological attachment to failure — what Block calls “the joy of complaint, of being right.” The more powerless we feel, the more satisfaction we get from observing the next corporate or government outrage against the public good. It justifies our political stance and our critiques. How many dinner parties have lefties gone to where the whole evening is spent out-doing each other with stories that demonstrate things are actually worse than we thought they were.

It is hard to imagine how activists, who know people’s daily reality, can actually believe that scaring the bejesus out of people about the dozen tsunamis about to engulf them will actually motivate people to act. But we do. The new people the left wants to engage are apolitical for good reasons — they are bombarded by a media utterly complicit in designing their misery and their consciousness, they are cynical about the idea that government will ever provide for them, meetings about the latest crisis are depressing, and most people are working so hard as part of the precariate that asking them to come to a meeting is asking them to sacrifice the only two hours they would otherwise have with their families.

At a certain point, warning disengaged Canadians about the “fearful” consequences of doing nothing about climate change isn’t much different psychologically than the right telling them to fear crime and immigration. We can argue, of course, that our intentions are pure. But no one cares.

Block spends a lot of time repeating the core message of his book: that we have to radically shift the way we engage people and move away from presenting them with problems to talking about possibilities. Talking about possibilities is “strengthening interdependence and a sense of belonging.” It’s not about a vision of the future delivered whole cloth from above, but about transforming “self-interest, isolation and feelings of being an outsider to connectedness and caring for the whole.” It is not blind optimism but it is hopeful, emphasizing the assets, gifts and strengths of the community rather than the same old problems.

I confess I am a bit hesitant to recommend Block’s book given that it diverges so dramatically from my usual prescriptions. He eschews mega-analysis and even class analysis. He has nothing to say about neoliberalism. He mistakenly proclaims that government can’t be a force for good. But when it comes to shining a light on the critical issue of agency — of how transformative change will actually begin — his insights are invaluable.