With G8 protests set to begin this week in Ottawa and Calgary, now seems as good a time as any to test public knowledge of the "anti-corporate" voices in Canada.
Name the person or persons behind the following public pronouncements:
- "The Liberal party, despite its egalitarian rhetoric, is the party of the big corporate sector."
- "Federal policy is designed to enhance the position of monopolistic or oligopolistic enterprises."
- The Liberal government's industrial policies "deprive Canadian consumers of choice and lead to taxpayers propping up some of our biggest corporations."
OK, to be fair, I'll tell you that all three statements were made by one person. And as a further hint, I can tell you that this person has been spending a great deal of time shuttling between Ottawa and Calgary in the months leading up to this week's G8 summit in Kananaskis.
Still stumped? Well, this "anti-corporate" voice belongs to Canadian Alliance leader Stephen Harper. Before and since his election this year to the job of official Opposition leader, Mr. Harper has been strongly speaking out against what he sees as the "state corporatism" of Prime Minister Jean ChrČtien's government. In Mr. Harper's view, the federal Liberals' embrace of Canada's corporate sector is more worrying than anything that traditional conservatives have done by way of supporting big business.
Neither Mr. Harper nor his party fits the current image of anti-corporate dissenters. They won't be found at the barricades this week in Ottawa or Calgary, risking pepper spray or police dogs to voice their protests against the Liberals' cosy relationship with big corporations. You won't see the Canadian Alliance leader and his followers pouring into the streets, denouncing the schemes and the leaders of the world's wealthiest nations.
The natural political home for this type of Canadian protester is automatically assumed to be the New Democratic Party. The logic is politically simplistic: If you're against big corporations, against big business, you must be a socialist.
We've learned before, though, that it is a mistake to regard the Canadian Alliance and New Democrats as polar, political opposites. A long time ago, before the old Reform party had anything more than one seat in the Commons, supposedly smart political analysts confidently predicted that Reform would never make gains in areas where the NDP was traditionally strong. Left is left and right is right and never the twain would meet.
Surprise, surprise, though. Reform did end up drawing support from rural and labour-union constituencies, in British Columbia, across the Prairies and even in urban Ontario. It turned out there was some cross-pollination between the NDP and Reform/Alliance grassroots, largely carried across on the winds of populism.
We'd be wise to remember this as we look more closely at the two parties' views of big business and corporations. True, the G8 protesters we see this week are not likely to be taking out memberships soon in Mr. Harper's Canadian Alliance, but the two groups do share some reservations about the Liberals' close ties to corporate Canada.
Mr. Harper laid out his opposition to "state corporatism" most recently in a big fund-raising speech earlier this month in Calgary. In this speech, titled "Canadians Deserve Better," he explained how Mr. ChrČtien's Liberals were coddling their big-business friends at the expense of Canadian taxpayers and citizens. Before you think Mr. Harper was suffering a momentary lapse of conservatism, have a look at how he describes the ChrČtien approach to corporate Canada.
"State corporatism is the contemporary replacement for the unabashed socialism that motivated Pierre Trudeau to favour state ownership and control," Mr. Harper said. "In the past two decades, (the government) has replaced direct control and ownership with equally harmful policies of over-regulating, over-subsidizing, and over-protecting a number of industries -- in short, policies where the government picks the winners and the losers."
If Mr. Harper has no real prospects for picking up support among the G8 protesters, why is he running down big business? Here's a two-word answer: small business. This huge constituency, found in important pockets all over the country, could be an important base of support for the Alliance. The small-business sector has long complained that its needs are drowned out by mega- and multinational corporations.
Distrust of big business and corporate Canada takes many shapes. Only part of it, and maybe only a small part of it, is on display this week at the G8 protests. Mr. Harper lends this sentiment a different, more quiet voice.
Susan Delacourt writes on national affairs. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org .
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