Canada's élite is at war with Canadians

Canadians must insist that their values and priorities guide public policy.

Something is happening in this country that is unprecedented not only in ournation's history but is likely unmatched in any other country in thedeveloped world. I am referring to the fact that a large portion of Canada'seconomic and political élite is rushing headlong in the direction ofabandoning 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 itsimperial minded president.

At no time in the past 50 years, at least, has Canada's élite been so openlycontemptuous of its own country, or so eager to give up its self-appointedrole of protecting Canada's unique place in the world. And at no time inthis same period have “ordinary” Canadians been more proud of their valuesand traditions and so confident in them.

It is a stunning disconnect. The tensions implied by this profound clash ofvalues and goals are playing themselves out in many ways but perhaps themost important implications go to the question of democracy. An élite sofundamentally out of touch with the citizenry and so determined to see itsannexationist agenda implemented, has no choice but to thwart the democraticwill of the vast majority of Canadians. It is scarcely an exaggeration tosay that this disconnect represents a crisis of our modern democracy.

Learning to love the 'hyper-power'

In this élite call-to-surrender we have good cops and bad cops. Theso-called Calgary School, which includes Stephen Harper's eminence gris,Thomas Flanagan, are so hostile to everything Canadian they seem barelywilling to leave the confines of their bunker at the University of Calgary.But even the good cops, like Allan Gotlieb, refer to any independent foreignpolicy 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. Ina speech for the C.D. Howe Institute, he asked whether the Paul 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 anindependent, principles-based foreign policy. “Canadians who argue that theway to affect U.S. behaviour is through trying to constrain Washington withnew rules of law,” says Gotlieb, “are romantics, not realists.”

But ask Canadians what they think and you really do get the sense that weare talking about two different countries. Almost 80 per cent of Canadiansbelieve the U.S. behaves like a “rogue nation” according to a poll reportedby CanWest media. In stark contrast to the U.S. and its culture of fear,Canadians see AIDS and SARS, and global warming as the two top threats totheir interests — ahead of terrorism. Three quarters of those polled thinkwe should play an active role in the world — not a passive rubber stamp forevery adventure George Bush dreams up.

Delusions of influence

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

This chasm between Canadians and the political and economic élite who claimto speak for them is nothing new. The Ekos polling group has for yearstracked the values gap. Looking at 22 possible roles for government, theélite (“decision-makers”) place the Canadian public's highest priorities -equality, social justice, collective rights, full employment, evenprivacy — at the bottom of their list.

Spooked élite

Until now this new normal for élite attitudes has gone largely unnoticed.But, as the song says, the trouble with normal is it always gets worse. Thereign of George Bush has spooked the élite and accelerated their plans forour 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 takenour values for granted until George Bush reminded us just what we stood for.

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

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