Analyzing Manning’s timely advice on right wing populists

By Andrew Cardozo


Preston Manning talks about how to avoid right wing populist uprisings

This column by Preston Manning is well worth reading and thinking about. I think it has some flaws in its arguments – if his criticisms of the current government were less a little less partisan they could have been stronger. It is still worth reading as a plea to head off right-wing populist political movements, or at least to understand them for what they are designed to be, rather than what their critics claim they are or dismiss them to be. (my comments appear in parentheses, Andrew Cardozo)

PRESTON MANNING Special to The Globe and Mail Published Monday, Feb. 20, 2017
Preston Manning is the Founder of the Manning Centre and founder leader of the Reform Party of Canada.

To assume that the underlying public concerns fuelling populist uprisings in Europe, Brexit in Britain and the Trump phenomenon in the United States do not exist in Canada would be a big mistake.

The recently released book, Frontier City by Shawn Micallef, identifies and analyzes the populist sentiments that led to the election of Rob Ford in 2010 as mayor of Toronto – Canada’s largest and most diverse city.

In a January public-opinion poll conducted in Alberta, respondents were asked whether the province needed a “Trump-like leader.” While 60 per cent disagreed, 40 per cent agreed with that notion. Support was stronger in the south than the north, weaker among women than men, but surprisingly strong among younger Albertans. Note that 40-per-cent support is enough to elect a government in most jurisdictions.

Factors that are alienating increasing numbers of Canadians from governments, political parties, so-called expert advice and the opinions of the chattering classes, include the following:

1. Party platforms and government policies that promise prosperity but end up killing jobs, incomes, hopes and dreams. In Ontario, these include the fiscal and climate-change policies of the Wynne government. In Alberta, it is the incompetence and ideological fixations of an inexperienced NDP government that are driving away essential job-creating, income-producing investment.
(Given Manning’s concerns about climate change he might have provided some thoughts about how the issue might appeal to right wing populism)

2. Vacuous speeches and statements by the Prime Minister and other opinion leaders lauding “shared values” while completely ignoring the greater problem of how to deal domestically and internationally with those who do not share our values. In Canada, for example, men and women are supposed to be treated equally in law and in practice. So how do we deal with would-be immigrants who do not share this value or others enshrined in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms? Avoiding the question is not the answer.
(Manning gives a nod to Kelly Leitch’s Canadian values campaign. Useful to think about how the issue plays widely in conservative circles, and important not to ignore it, whether you think it’s based on fact or fiction – facts or alternate facts.)

3. The unequivocal support of the Canadian government and many of its media supporters for diversity, multiculturalism and increased immigration, while contemptuously dismissing the concerns of those who genuinely feel that Canada’s national identity and unity are being jeopardized thereby.

4. The absence of simple common sense in some of the recent decisions of the Prime Minister’s office. For example, the recent cabinet shuffle to better equip Canada to deal with Mr. Trump. Next to Democrats, who does Mr. Trump hate the most? Journalists! So who does Canada appoint as Foreign Affairs minister to deal with Mr. Trump? A journalist! Where does all this lead?
(Manning may consider that during her journalism career, she wrote a book entitled, “Plutocrats: The Rise of the New Global Super-Rich and the Fall of Everyone Else” which first brought her to the attention of the Trudeau Liberals. Isn’t that populist? Some of those billionaire plutocrats have ended up at the helm of the Trump populist cabinet – worthy of further analysis. How does the average American relate to these wealthy elites some of whom made their money off the hardship of others? Somehow liberal and progressive populists are missing something in this double standard and I’m not sure what it is. Why do middle class voters who are feeling defeated place their trust in billionaires? Is it that feel successful rich business folks are seen as the ones who will build a stronger economy and thereby help them? Or do they feel they can be rich like them?)

It leads to a decline in the influence of politicians, parties and commentators with an increasing portion of the electorate.

It leads to a growing longing – on the part of that electorate – for leaders from outside the conventional political establishment and an increased willingness to grant such leaders a mandate to repudiate and disrupt the status quo.

It fosters the declining influence and financial viability of traditional newspapers and television networks as they lose touch with rank-and-file Canadians who are tired of being hectored and propagandized rather than informed by such media.

It accelerates the exclusive reliance of increasing numbers of Canadians on social-media offerings of their own choosing, enabling them (regrettably) to see and hear only what they want to see and hear.

And in the end, it leads to a decline in genuine democratic discourse and faith in democratic institutions, as political engagement increasingly comes to resemble a video game played in virtual space dominated by heated exchanges of preconceived opinions and vicious attacks on those who hold contrary views.

What can be done to address and reverse these trends?

Stop simply denouncing the repugnant aspects of Mr. Trump’s personal conduct and start focusing on addressing the underlying public concerns that make his positions attractive to so many, not only in the United States but also in our own country.

Restore and defend genuine freedom of speech and conscience, which includes granting those with whom we strongly disagree the right to be heard and respected.

Seek out and encourage political and opinion leaders who can identify with and express the underlying public concerns that fuel populist uprisings and redirect that energy to positive ends, without embracing the negative aspects that may accompany that phenomenon.
In a word, reinvent our politics and means of political expression to acknowledge and redirect the underlying causes of populist uprisings rather than simply denying or decrying their existence.

(A few suggestions from Manning – there are more – about how all parties can listen to and understand those disaffected with our economic, government and political system. They are not all crazed right wing loonies – many are moderate conservatives and as Bernie Saunders showed us, many are progressives. A need not to smugly dismiss people with other opinions – that’s what the Democrats did in the U.S. and look where that got them.)

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