Is Canada's Elite at War with its Citizens?

While expert 'realists' tell us to play nice with U.S. global aims, Canadians see a 'rogue' next door.

By Murray Dobbin 19 Nov 2004 |

Murray Dobbin is an author, commentator and journalist. He is the author of five books and is a former columnist with Financial Post and Winnipeg Free Press. He is a board member of Canadians for Tax Fairness and on the advisory council of the Rideau Institute. He lives in Powell River, BC.

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Something is happening in this country that is unprecedented not only in our nation's history but is likely unmatched in any other country in the developed world. I am referring to the fact that a large portion of Canada's economic and political elite is rushing headlong in the direction of abandoning the nation altogether in favour of being assimilated by the U.S.; and the rest of the country is rushing headlong away from the U.S. and its imperial minded president.

At no time in the past 50 years, at least, has Canada's elite been so openly contemptuous of their own country, or so eager to give up its self-appointed role of protecting Canada's unique place in the world. And at no time in this same period have "ordinary" Canadians been more proud of their values and traditions and so confident in them.

It is a stunning disconnect. The tensions implied by this profound clash of values and goals are playing themselves out in many ways but perhaps the most important implications go to the question of democracy. An elite so fundamentally out of touch with the citizenry and so determined to see its annexationist agenda implemented, has no choice but to thwart the democratic will of the vast majority of Canadians. It is scarcely and exaggeration to say that this disconnect represents a crisis of our modern democracy.

Learning to love the 'hyper-power'
In this elite call-to-surrender we have good cops and bad cops. The so-called Calgary School, which includes Stephen Harper's eminence gris, Thomas Flanagan, are so hostile to everything Canadian they seem barely willing to leave the confines of their bunker at the University of Calgary.  But even the good cops, like Allan Gotlieb, refer to any independent foreign policy based on Canadians' values as "romanticism."

In his embrace of real politic Gotlieb rejects any criticism of the new U.S. "hyper-power" -  such as distancing ourselves from the invasion of Iraq. In a speech for the C.D. Howe Institute, he asked whether the Martin government "… can design a foreign policy that is less overreaching, less narcissistic, less sanctimonious..." This is how the former ambassador to the U.S. sees an independent, principles-based foreign policy. "Canadians who argue that the way to affect U.S. behaviour is through trying to constrain Washington with new rules of law," says Gotlieb, "are romantics, not realists."

But ask Canadians what they think and you really do get the sense that we are talking about two different countries. Almost 80 percent of Canadians believe the U.S. behaves like a "rogue nation" according to a poll reported by CanWest media. In stark contrast to the US and its culture of fear, Canadians see AIDS and SARS, and global warming as the two top threats to their interests - ahead of terrorism. Three quarters of those polled think we should play an active role in the world - not a passive rubber stamp for every adventure George Bush dreams up.

Delusions of influence

Half of Canadians polled believe that the U.S. cannot be trusted to treat Canada fairly. Contrast this with the view expressed by Gotlieb, that by currying favour with the U.S. we will have influence on them: "Our potential for influencing the world's greatest power is our comparative advantage in the world. It gives us credibility in other capitals." This declaration verges on the delusional, as Britain's Tony Blair has learned. When asked, post-speech, what Britain gained by backing Bush, Gotlieb replied that the benefits to Britain were "subtle." Indeed. Just how playing the role of U.S. sycophant  will gain us credibility in a world almost universally appalled by the Bush agenda is left unexplained.

This chasm between Canadians and the political and economic elite who claim to speak for them is nothing new.  The Ekos polling group has for years tracked the values gap. Looking at over 22 possible roles for government, the elite ("decision-makers")  place the Canadian public's highest priorities - equality, social justice, collective rights, full employment, even privacy  -  at the bottom of their list.

Spooked elite

Until now this new normal for elite attitudes has gone largely unnoticed. But, as the song says, the trouble with normal is it always gets worse. The reign of George Bush has spooked the elite and accelerated their plans for our further assimilation into the U.S., and has brought forth Canadians' values in ways that have not been seen for decades. It is as if we had taken our values for granted until George Bush reminded us just what we stood for.

Yet Canadians may not realize that among CEOs, business think tanks, media corporations like CanWest, and both the Liberal and Conservative parties, this resurgence of Canadians' progressive values is not seen as something to celebrate. It is seen a crisis to be dealt with. Unless Canadians insist loudly that their values and priorities guide public policy, the "decision-makers" will again find a way to thwart their vision.

Author and journalist Murray Dobbin's 'State of the Nation' column will appear twice monthly on The Tyee.


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