Friday, 3 August 2012

Ezra Levant's rightwing fake populism

Ezra Levant (top) speaking at the
 Club, a club "at the heart of the
 business district" 
in Vancouver (which certainly
 isn't cheap in the
 heavily gentrified city) which is also
 Vancouver Club.

Image Sources: Covenant Zone (Top)

niftynotcool (bottom) 
The right has a variety of lovely tricks when posing as champions of the people. These tricks usually involve turning some of the people against other people by fomenting intra-class warfare or "culture wars". America's radical right has used the "liberal elite" meme for years to jimmy apart the New Deal coalition and implement a hard-right, country club conservative agenda of trickle down economics, union busting, and corporate welfare. This agenda has driven America into the ground. In hopes of supporting a similar agenda Ezra Levant is using similar rhetorical tactics, trying to pit blue-collar workers against low-paid student workers. Hard working Canadians have to see through this ruse less they suffer a fate similar to their American counterparts.

Naturally, the "populism" of American conservatism is less palatable in our very socially progressive country. In America, the religious right arouse out of the former Confederacy to oppose desegregation of religious schools in the Southern US. Eventually, the overt racism was replaced with a hatred of "liberal cultural elites" who supported gay rights, women's reproductive rights, and secular government.

The religious right and social conservatism, by contrast, are much weaker forces in Canada. Women's reproductive rights are broadly accepted, Canada has been a world leader in gay rights and recognition of same-sex marriage, and despite the fury the unprincipled Alexa McDonough displayed towards Robinson's petition Canada is a largely de facto secular state. The religious right in Canada is confined to sparsely populated rural areas from Ontario to BC with less political capital than their American counterparts. Red-meat issues, usually lobbied for by secretive lobbies, do pop up from time to time and all but 3 members of the CON caucus voted against equal marriage rights for same-sex couples. It's still better than the US situation, though.

Rather than through explicit social conservatism Canadian rightwing populism takes a surprising and paradoxical form: rightwing economic populism. This can be done in one oft two ways. Either claim that the leftwing elite is filled with "rich, powerful unions" and that they're draining the middle class via "taxes that support them/higher product costs" or pitting environmentalists against blue-collar workers. In the prior post it was discussed how Ezra Levant was doing just that while bemoaning the NDP's supposed selling out of union interests. This was more than a little rich (like The Vancouver Club's chocolate fountain!) coming from a man who claimed that the civil rights movement of generation X conservatives would involve emancipating themselves from debt by dismantling unions and minimum wage laws.

While most Canadians are way too socially progressive to fall for typical "culture war" issues in the American sense (issues like restricting abortions or limiting gay rights), there is a crop of less substantive and more tonal "cultural issues" Canadian wingnuts like to play to. The differences between those who work downtown or choose creative, "cultural" professions and the rest is one such issue. This representation of the "liberal elite", however, has problems. As observable from the American analogue:

There was, as well, another inescapable problem embedded in the right-wing populist strategy: even by 2000, and certainly by 2010, the class of people who might qualify as part of the “liberal elite” was in increasingly bad repair. Public sector budget cuts and corporate-inspired reorganizations were decimating the ranks of decently paid academics, who were replaced by adjunct professors working on bare subsistence incomes. Media firms were shrinking their newsrooms and editorial budgets. Law firms had started outsourcing their more routine tasks to India. Hospitals beamed X-rays to cheap foreign radiologists. Funding had dried up for nonprofit ventures in the arts and public service. Hence the iconic figure of the Occupy movement: the college graduate with tens of thousands of dollars in student loan debts and a job paying about $10 a hour, or no job at all.   
("The Making of the 99%". Barbra Ehrenreich and John Ehrenreich. Dec. 14, 2011. The Nation
Ezra Levant, however, takes full advantage of this fact in a just world or system justifying way to castigate the educational choices of "downtown eco-activists".

The party that once stood with forestry workers, sawmill workers, miners, rig hands — the folks who work hard, with their muscles and minds — has now been replaced with the party of downtown eco-activists, who have never done a physical day’s labour in their lives. 
Today’s NDP derides it, looks down its nose at it, demeans it, laughs at it, even though those are the real six-figure jobs in Canada — while the fancy kids, getting their degrees in urban studies and peace studies and vegetarian studies, will graduate qualified to do nothing but work at Starbucks. 
("NDP loses touch with its roots" Ezra Levant. Winnipeg Sun (May 5, 2012))
Ezra Levant is literally trying to wedge apart downtown service sector workers and blue-collar workers in an awful and presumptuous manner. People who care about the environment and live in urban centres are apparently pretentious coffee-shop workers. I wonder if Levant would like to leave the Sun studio and spend a week doing nightshifts at a local coffee-shop given how unphysical the labour is.

Mopping floors, cleaning dishes, scrubbing toilets, hauling inventory, standing all day, and dealing with irate customers at night is apparently a joke to Ezra Levant, a man whose "real job" is to write poorly thought out articles and whine on TV. This media profile gives him the chance to deliver speeches to yuppie hoity-toities at The Vancouver Club.

Levant, in attacking impoverished, low wage students who work in customer service and the cultural sector, is conducting intergenerational warfare. He's implying that out of work millennials just chose poor degrees, rather than the reality that they entered the workforce as the global economy was steered into the gutter by conservative politicians and policymakers.

There seems to be a bit of projection in Levant's condemnation of today's ideological youth and their "distain" for blue-collar workers. As already noted, Levant made his career in the 1990s as a campus conservative activist. He was studying law - a profession that doesn't seem to involve much "physical labour". He claimed that the civil rights movement of conservative youth of the 1990s - generation Xers - would involve freeing themselves from debt by dismantling labour unions and minimum wage laws. The aspiring white-collar professional supported policies that were utterly disdainful of blue-collar workers.

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  1. Ezra is a loon, and a paid shill. But i repeat myself.

  2. Replies
    1. When I'm feeling more optimistic about humanity, I'd say nobody. Still, it's such a shame he gets so much wingnut welfare for his corporate shilling.

    2. I would say that he energizes the 20% of Canadians who make up the solidly hard right in this country. Politics isn't always about broad appeal, sometimes mobilizing the lunatic fringe helps win elections.