Last Friday an unruly mob of protesters greeted well-heeled Munk Debate attendees with hostility as they lined up to enter Roy Thompson Hall to watch the debate between two intellectual heavyweights. Toronto-born American conservative pundit David Frum faced-off against former Trump White House chief strategist and co-founder of conservative firebrand news website Breitbart Steve Bannon. The motion argued: “Be it resolved, the future of western politics is populist, not liberal…”
The debate was delayed 45 minutes due to the hundreds of protesters slowing down guests entering the building by blocking off one street, as well as cursing, name-calling and assaulting ticket-holders and police. Far-left individuals in the mob held up communist flags and placards such as a Star of David dripping blood, all while having the temerity to denounce ticket-holders as the extremists, calling them Nazis and racists for paying to see so-called “white supremacist” Bannon speak “hate speech”. What debate goers actually heard were thoughtful and well-reasoned arguments over a pivotal question at this juncture in time, whether populist revolts across the West will preserve and grow.
(In the lead up to the event, the federal NDP called for the event to be cancelled, and some Toronto city councillors later joined in on the undemocratic chorus for censorship. Somehow the troublemakers in the mob turned out to be the true victims on Friday night because police — one of whom was punched in the face — pepper-sprayed, batoned and arrested a small number of the more aggressive demonstrators in order to keep the peace.)
Before the debate began, moderator Rudyard Griffiths conducted a poll of the crowd on what their positions were on the motion. In spite of the harbingers verbally and physically attacking them outside, as well as right-wing populist president-elect Jair Bolsanaro winning the Brazilian election less than a week prior, attendees overwhelmingly voted — 72 per cent of the 2,800 in attendance — against the resolution that populism in the West is here to stay. At the end of the debate, audience members were again asked to vote on the motion, and to the shock of many in the audience (people collectively gasped loudly), the tabulated results showed Bannon convincing an additional 29 per cent over to his side of the argument. However, it would later be revealed that there was a technical glitch. At the beginning of the debate a second questions was asked of audience members, who was open to changing their mind on the motion after listening to the debaters. The results of the second question showed 57 per cent were open to changing their minds. It was this percentage that event organizers say was accidentally shown as the results at the end of the debate. The Munk Debates would eventually announce that the debate was a draw because apparently the same percentage (72 per cent) of the audience remained unconvinced populism is the future of the West.
Far-left activists on social media pointed to the original false results as another reason Bannon shouldn’t have been given a platform — he managed to seduce hundreds of people to the dark side! In reality, Bannon’s only task was to convince listeners that there is a monumental backlash against the corrupt establishment and a new political order emerging — one that is here to stay — throughout the Western world because the ruling elites have made a colossal mess of their countries’ finances.
But it turned out the pile of evidence he presented in favour of the motion fell upon mostly deaf ears.
Despite the barbarians at the gate outside, Canadian elite mostly guffawed at Bannon’s words. Their confirmation bias was reaffirmed by Frum declaring populism will soon be extinguished because the populist leaders are worse liars and crooks than those that came before them, and that eventually the citizenry will come to their senses and return to the establishment that failed them in the first place.
It was mere months ago that these same Toronto elites were dismissing Doug Ford as a bumbling buffoon who didn’t have any chance of beating Christine Elliott or Caroline Mulroney for the Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario leadership, let alone winning the leadership of the province. He’s now their Premier. Then followed Quebec’s right-wing populist François Legault’s historic victory last month.
Now many of the same elite from the Conservative-Liberal establishment are similarly dismissing and attacking Maxime Bernier and his new People’s Party of Canada as a farce. They may turn out to be right about Bernier, but like Bannon said to the crowd on Friday, it’s only the top of the first inning.
Ford and Legault may not end up delivering much of the drastic change they promised, turning out to have more bark than bite, but they’re only the first wave. The next wave could see real radical change-making figures from the left and right, such as Niki Ashton and Jordan Peterson, assume power.
“The greatest enemies of the United States — Mussolini, Hitler, Tojo, the Soviet Union, Al Qaeda, Osama Bin Laden — nobody has ever brought the United States to its knees like that day [of the 2008 financial crisis],” Bannon told the crowd in his opening statement. “Who did that? Who was responsible for that? The populists? Donald Trump? No, the elites. The financial, the corporate, the permanent political class that runs Washington DC, that’s who did it. What was their solution? To create money and bail themselves out. On the day that happened, the balance of the Federal Reserve was $880 billion. When Donald Trump took the oath of office, January 20, 2017 it was $4.5 trillion. … That’s not a free bailout. There’s a corollary to that. Savings accounts are zero. Pension funds have the biggest gaps in history. You can’t underwrite a bond in the United States…”
Canada, in comparison, went relatively unscathed compared to its Western counterparts during the 2008 financial crisis because of our risk-averse banks. So up until now this country has been immune to a populist uprising due to the fact the lower and middle classes of this country haven’t yet faced hardships on the same level of people in other countries. But the new premiers show the first signs of a frustrated populace, and a financial crisis would only incense them further.
As Bannon said during the debate, and many paying attention can sense, our “over-leveraged society” is heading towards another impending financial crisis.
Anyone who reads the Financial Post knows the average Canadian is saddled with a record level of debt. (Why do you think the government approves of StatsCan wanting to obtain half a million Canadians’ bank account information?) Our governments are just as addicted to racking up massive deficits and debts. Add to the mix the Canadian oligarchy’s proclivity to look out for their own interests above those of Canadians and the stage is set perfectly for fireworks.
As many are aware, and CANADALAND podcast host and journalist Arshy Mann has adeptly recounted on his show, Commons, Canada is a hotbed of corruption of the legal and illegal variety.
Mann’s first three episodes of his show highlight how Bay Street fraud goes virtually unpunished (even less so now thanks to the Trudeau government relaxing the laws even further), how the ultra rich and corporations avoid paying taxes through Byzantine tax havens (a system created in no small part by Canadians), and how Vancouver became the epicenter of money laundering, which is a great contributor to the hyper-inflated real-estate market in that city, shutting out many Canadians from the market altogether.
There’s hardly a week that goes by that a report doesn’t come out showing our governments and major corporations, usually in tandem, failing or ripping off Canadians.
If it was a different sort of crowd than the typical well-heeled crowd of Toronto’s elite attending last Friday’s debate, or perhaps in a few years’ time, Frum may have been the one receiving derisive laughter for lines like this:
“We are trying to conserve a state that does not steal, a media that does not lie, courts that respect the rights of all, and voting that is available to everybody, even if those counting the votes are afraid they’re voting against them.”
Frum himself was part of the Bush administration that convinced the press, either deliberately or unwittingly, to falsely report to the public that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction.
From the federal government giving billions of dollars in corporate welfare to deadbeat companies like Bombardier, to those same corporations getting over-priced no-bid contracts, to most of the government-subsidized media cheerleading or putting on the kid gloves for Liberal governments they’re supposed to be holding to account (e.g. Maclean’s, CBC, TVO, The Walrus etc.), to judicial activist courts that supplant the legislatures’ abilities to pass laws on behalf of the people, to kangaroo courts punishing individuals simply for expressing their free speech, to the federal government writing off corporate welfare (like $2.6 billion to Chrysler), to Trudeau’s finance minister’s sketchy stock holdings while in government, to Trudeau’s private fundraisers with Chinese billionaires, to the Bronfman family’s tax haven, anyone who thinks the current Canadian political system isn’t rife with corruption of both the legal and illegal variety is out to lunch or too busy getting their piece of the action.
In Frum’s defence, he put up a valiant effort and eloquent debate performance. However, arguing against a trend that doesn’t appear be abating any time soon (the Republicans losing the midterms would likely just put things on a pause, and the #Resist Democrats seem no less radicalized than Trump’s Republicans) is a challenge, even if the crowd is on your side. His best argument was that these populist governments are inherently corrupt, fooling the hoi polloi into thinking they will actually help them.
“We’re the true anti-Fascists,” Bannon said when defending Trump’s movement. “Fascism looks to worship the state. The Trump movement has three things: economic nationalism, American first national security policy, and deconstruction of the administrative state.”
Most Canadians still to some degree believe “In Government we trust.” The Trudeau government is a technocracy, tinkering to ostensibly “help the middle class”. But as the rot of our country from the corruption and debt finally comes to a head, and the little guys are footed the bill, disillusionment and anger will almost certainly supplant complacency, awakening a revolt.
“The only question before us is it going to be a populist nationalism that believes in capitalism and deconstructing the administrative state and giving the little guy a piece of the action and break up this crony capitalism of big corporations and big government or is it going to be a Jeremy Corbyn and Bernie Sanders type of populist socialism?”
In Canada, when severe economic malaise hits, will citizens choose some sort of right-wing, libertarian People’s Party of Canada or a radicalized, ever-bigger-government NDP? As much as Toronto’s elite laughed at the thought, both scenarios are completely plausible in this brave new world.