SUMMARY: They look like us. Sound (mostly) like us. And they know everything about us. And yet, we know precious little about our best friends up north. That ends today, Unf*ckers. Today we cast our gaze upwards to honor our friends and allies from the Great White North. Our friends at Canadaland, the top independent political pod network in Canada, help guide the ship today as we give a brief overview of the Canadian economic and political system and dispel a few myths along the way.
We’ve been welcoming listeners from all over the English speaking world. My Aussie mates from down under have shown a lot of love while Unf*ckers all over the U.K. and some transplants in western Europe have checked in as well. But nowhere outside the U.S. has the support for Unf*cking the Republic been more vocal than Canada.
And it makes sense, especially given the last four years. Canada, like every other country on Earth, was riveted by the Trump years. You know, in the rubbernecking, holy fuck a train just hit a car that hit an elephant that fell on a toddler kind of way.
Just how fixated were Canucks on the slow rolling shit show below? Well, according to Canadian TV critic Bill Brioux, Canadians are consuming more and more American news content, in large part due to the Trump bump. “In Canada, throughout the presidential campaign and into 2021...U.S. conventional and specialty viewership had soared 40% among 25–54 year old viewers year-to-year and 39% overall. Much of that growth can be attributed to CNN.”
Of course, they were just looking in with horror. Here in the states, it wasn’t a show. It was a lived experience. And it impacted us differently.
So today we’re deliberately turning our attention north to see what the fuck has been happening in Canada. It’s not really possible to tell a nuanced or important story about an entire nation in a single episode.
As one might imagine, there’s so much missing from this piece. Fascinating shit like Canada’s official founding in 1867 to its other official founding in 1982. Yes, 1982. We’re not going to cover that so Google it if you need context. We also don’t cover other important details like provincial politics, which differ as much as they do in the states or huge events like Quebec’s independence referendums in 1980 and again in 1995. The purpose of this, again, is to draw parallels between certain aspects of Canadian and American economic and political issues and establish a baseline of understanding so we can more easily incorporate concepts from both nations into future episodes.
Oh, Canada. Ye strange and beautiful land up yonder. How little we know of thee. You look just like us. Almost sound like us. And, yet. You remain a mystery. You little minx. Well, we’re going to open the attic door and rummage around for a bit and see just what we can find.
Let’s kick things off in the true spirit of partnership. American Unf*ckers, it’s my great pleasure to introduce Jesse Brown, publisher of independent Canadian news media outlet Canadaland and host of the eponymous podcast the Toronto Star called, “Smug, louth mouthed and easy to dislike.” Jesse, thanks for helping us out today.
JESSE: My pleasure, Max. Great to meet all of the American Unf*ckers.
Jesse, I want to ease our listeners in a bit. Can you give us a top level overview of the Canadian system?
JESSE: First off, God save the Queen. Amen. So, Canada was originally a hat company but is now a quasi-independent Royal Principality governed by a coalition of mining and telecom concerns. Our capital is Toronto, population 1,200. Alaska was lost to the Americans in the Northern Lights Battle of 1800 but we’ve been occupying much of it since the ‘60s and you just haven’t noticed yet. To honor the French, who drive on the right side of the road, and British who drive on the left, we simply drive in the middle. And Quebec is fictional.
Wow. So maybe we don’t have to do this episode at all. Because that’s pretty much what I thought it would be.
And now one time for real.
JESSE: Sure. We’ll do the big stuff first. So Canada is a federation - federalism has a slightly different meaning here than what it’s traditionally meant in the U.S. We have the Prime Minister’s government in Ottawa, then 10 provincial governments, all 11 governments derive their powers from Canada’s Constitution which we’ve only had since 1982.
There are also three territories in the north - I know that to you, Canada is the north. To me, the North is the Yukon, The Northwest Territories and Nunavut. And to them, I live in the dirty south. Each province is run by its premier. The federal government manages issues like citizenship, national defense and the department of justice. Provincial jurisdiction handles matters related to healthcare, education and welfare among other duties. You guys have two main political parties, we have either 3 or 6, depending on who you ask: the Liberals are centre left, the Conservatives centre right, NDP is where Bernie would be if he lived here. But there’s also the Green party, the Bloc Québécois - dedicated to Quebec sovereignty but not really, and this asshole Maxime Bernier tried to do a Trump north thing here by spinning off from the Conservative party and starting his own anti-immigrant People’s Party of Canada, but it failed spectacularly.
Before you get too far into this episode, Max, you need to talk about Indigenous issues. Indigenous people - Inuit, Metis, and First Nations - are about 5% of the Canadian population except for the fact that many of them, but not all, do not consider themselves Canadian, all of which is to say that this stuff is very live right now in Canada.
Thank you, Jesse, for easing us in. And I couldn’t agree more that starting with the First Nations is the first point of order for us. U.S. Unf*ckers will likely recall our Culture Cancel episode. We covered the systemic issues that plague the reservation system in the U.S. and Canada and dispelled a number of myths about tribes and tribal culture. And in the episode we actually made reference to a horrifying legacy system of residential schools that was institutionalized in both of our nations. With the difference being that Canadians were finally beginning to own up to their history as oppressor.
Since then, some truly haunting things have been uncovered at former residential schools in Canada that have rocked the nation to its core.
In late May of 2021, Canada awoke to the news that the bodies of 215 children from the Kamloops residential school for native children in British Columbia - referred to Indian Residential Schools - were unearthed by in-ground radar as part of an ongoing project to account for lost native children. Over the next few weeks Canada was thrown into a period of national mourning and shame. It merely codified what all native peoples in Canada had known all along. But for many Canadians, this open secret coming to light was shocking.
It’s estimated that more than 150,000 native children were “educated” in such residential schools throughout Canada. Historically, most of the children were ripped from their families and forced to move at a very young age. Others were taken by provincial governments as a social services measure of last resort. The roots of the residential school story, however, is far more insidious and terrifying than even that.
Canada’s Indian Act of 1876, eerily similar to that of the United States, essentially deputized numerous Canadian agencies to forcibly remove native children from their homes and relocate them to residential schools without parental consent or sometimes even knowledge. Several amendments to the Act provided greater and broader authority to these agencies and in 1920, attendance became mandatory for native children.
Another significant development in 1920 was the creation of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP). The Canadian government now had its own domestic army. Over the next decade residential school attendance would reach a peak under the forceful hand of the RCMP. Here are some statements by native elders cited in a landmark report from 2011 that provided timelines and information to help coordinate the activities of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission - which we’ll get to in a moment.
“One day the priests (they) come to the village with the policeman. They come to take the kids to the school.”
“Indian Agents marched in lock step with the religious orders, preparing list of round-up. Strapping young farm boys aided by RCMP officers herded the children onto buckboard trucks or trains like cattle.”
“Children were lured onto boats and planes without parental knowledge, sometimes never to be seen again.
“Uniformed RCMP pulled children from their mother’s arms.”
“Many survivors described the cattle trucks and railroad cars into which they were herded each fall.”
So, 150,000 children were taken from their homes in such a fashion by uniformed officers, agents of the Canadian government and placed into homes far from their own and against their will. It’s estimated that 6,000 of these children perished while in school. Most “graduated” with no more than a 3rd grade Canadian education. All had lost their language and tradition. Upon entry their hair was cut, they were beaten for using their native language, hunted down and punished if they ran away. And countless were sexually abused at the hands of the priests; yes priests who ran the schools. You see, the Catholic Church ran more than 70% of these schools under contracts with the federal government.
In 2004 the RCMP commissioner Giuliano Zaccardelli offered this statement:
“To those of you who suffered tragedies at residential schools, we are very sorry for your experience...I, as commissioner of the RCMP, am truly sorry for what role we played in the residential school system and the abuse that took place in that system.”
In 2014, former RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson apologized to Indigenous Peoples, saying, “I am deeply sorry for what has happened to you and the part my organization played in it.”
To date, the Catholic Church has yet to acknowledge its participation or offer an apology. Although, the bishops at the Vatican released this statement last month: “Pope Francis is deeply committed to hearing directly from Indigenous Peoples, expressing his heartfelt closeness, addressing the impact of colonization and the role of the Church in the residential school system.”
The RCMP is sorry for “what happened” to native people.
Sorry for the “role the organization played” in this terrible history.
And the Catholic Church is committed to “hearing” from Indigenous Peoples” and “expressing heartfelt closeness.”
These genocidal agents of the government can barely muster even the appropriate contrition and language to acknowledge their roles in this horror. The Canadian government, on the other hand, has made some strides.
JESSE: In 2008, the Canadian government under Stephen Harper finally and formally apologized for its genocidal history and established the TRC, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission to undergo a thorough investigation of this crime against humanity. The TRC was to determine a path forward to aid and assist the Indigenous populations of Canada, create accountability measures to ensure Canada speaks the truth about what happened and try to somehow find a path forward.
The result was 94 calls to action, most of which were pretty much ignored. One recommendation was that the government spend a measly $1.5 million to recover the remains of the many Indigenous children we knew had died while they were forced into these miserable Residential schools. That recommendation was rejected.
Here we are 13 years later, and with ground-penetrating radar it’s being confirmed, school after school, that over a thousand kids so far never came home from Residential school. In many cases no records were made, no markers placed on their graves, parents were notified after burial or not at all...So Canada is finally beginning to grapple with a shameful part of our history and the impact that has on the present.
This is an important starting point for us on so many levels, Unf*ckers. First off, for the obvious human reason of acknowledging what happened to the original inhabitants of the nation now known as Canada. But I offer this starting point as well because of how brilliantly and shamefully it highlights the difference between the U.S. and Canada.
To begin, there were 130 residential schools of this kind in Canada. And the country is reeling at these discoveries. I know a lot of Canadians and we’re fortunate to have a good chunk of Canadian listeners to this show. And most of them, and I should clarify that the ones I’m talking about are primarily white, English speaking Canadians, are generally aware of their history. More so after the TRC was established. And yet, believe it or not, most were unaware - deliberately or otherwise - of what went on at the residential schools. It’s why the horror is so fresh to them.
But, as usual, everything in the U.S. is bigger and more complex. So there were 130 such schools in Canada. As Mary Annette Pember, a correspondent for Indian Country Today noted in a recent NPR interview, the concept and framework for these schools was established in the United States. And over the same period of history, the U.S. operated 350 schools. And it’s been in the news here lately as well since Deb Haaland is the first native head of the Interior Department in the U.S. So you can find articles in the Times, The Atlantic and NPR noting that we have yet to launch formal investigations into the U.S. system.
But on most outlets, around American water coolers and dinner tables, the subject simply doesn’t come up.
So there’s another important difference to note. Canada has been so rocked by these revelations that there was a robust national discussion about whether or not Canada Day - the 4th of July equivalent up north - should even be celebrated. Like, this was a real debate. Can you even imagine something like that happening here? We had national demonstrations and outrage at a movement called Black Lives Matter. The very idea literally tore us apart. So the chances that we’re going to have a similar moment when we finally uncover - and we will - bodies of murdered native children in the United States is a fucking fantasy.
Lastly, before we move on, these discoveries, the TRC, the national conversation about First Nations’ rights highlights an important shift in Canadian culture. For decades, Canada was seen as the good guy on the world stage. The nice ones. Americans traveling abroad would quickly brush up on Canada to try and pass themselves off as Canadians in foreign countries. China, Cuba, all of Europe and others would look to Canada as the rational sibling in North America.
You have to understand that Canadian nationalism takes a vastly different form than it does in the U.S. This was an inexorable and critical part of the Canadian national identity. So as much as the nation is going through a period of mourning, understand that it’s as much about mourning the loss of human life as it is their identity as the humanitarian nation.
So we’ve already established that Canada has a darker history than we thought in terms of its relationship to the Indigenous population. Might there be other skeletons in their closet? And we already acknowledged that it’s folly to try and stuff the entire history of a nation into one episode. So let’s talk about why and the what the fuck we’re doing here.
Well, similar to how we approached Cuba, there are myths to dispel and intersections to evaluate. This is, after all, a show about American politics so we’ll obviously bring it home with pertinent information about our relationship. As we know, America is the center of the known universe and the birthplace of Jesus Christ, every dinosaur and all humankind.
Well, Unf*ckers, let’s start with this. Do you know who our largest trading partner in the world is?
Our largest trading partner, the top consumer of our exports, the more important part of trade relationships, is Canada. That’s right. They are number one at buying our shit. We spend so much time talking about China. We’re building a wall to block Mexicans. We have embargoes, targeted sanctions or outright prohibitions on trade with Iran, Cuba, North Korea, Venezuela, Congo, China, Somalia, Zimbabwe, Ukraine, Belarus, Haiti, Libya, Burma and sometimes Russia. But through it all, our spats and fits, the one constant in our lives is Canada.
And yet Professor Orange von Fucknugget actually called Canada “selfish”. Gotta love us and how we treat our best friend and sibling.
And that’s the thing. Canada is our natural sibling. As much as their system and loyalty is tied to the British federally and France provincially in Quebec, in almost every way they cannot escape the fact that we’re their asshole brother. And yet, we really, truly, don’t know jack shit aboot them.
We share a border. They buy our shit. They stand by us almost 100% of the time in foreign disputes. They look like us. Do they do some weird shit? Sure. Who doesn’t? But on balance, the average Canadian knows more about U.S. history and politics than Americans know about U.S. history and politics. And, on balance, we know jack shit about theirs. So in the spirit of family, to honor our siblings, for the love of shit let’s go through some basics. Because if nothing else, climate change might someday make Halifax feel like Miami Beach. So you might want to invest early Unf*ckers.
Here’s one thing you should know, aside from the fact that Leonard Cohen - Leonard FUCKING Cohen was from Canada (along with Jim Carrey, Eugene Levy and Catherine O’Hara, Will Arnett, Harold Ramis, Michael J. Fox, Alanis, Celine, Drake, Sarah McLachlan, Neil Peart, the Biebs. Leonard Fucking Cohen).
The Tragically Hip, one of Canada’s most popular bands, if not the most popular, means more to the Canadian national identity than any single band or entertainment figure you can think of in America. The band, known simply as “The Hip” belonged to Canada and Canada only so when the band’s lead singer Gord Downie passed away from cancer in 2017, the entire nation mourned.
So lesson number one. Don’t disrespect The Hip.
Lesson number two will come later.
Provinces and Territories
Okay, so back to the basics. As Jesse said before, there are 10 provinces and 3 territories in Canada. I’ll go through them alphabetically and list the capitals quickly and for Americans at home, to help understand the character and personality of each of these, I will list the American celebrity they most resemble. Here we go.
Alberta, capital Edmonton. Think Daniel Day-Lewis, but from There Will Be Blood.
British Columbia, capital Victoria. More like Leo in The Revenant.
Manitoba, capital Winnipeg. Very Tilda Swinton.
New Brunswick, with capital Fredericton is like William Macy.
Newfoundland and Labrador, capital St. John’s would be Randy Quaid or an actual labrador retriever.
The capital of Nova Scotia is Halifax and this is more Donald Sutherland. Okay, I cheated. He’s actually from there. And it makes sense.
Ontario, the most populous province and its capital Toronto - again, cheating is just Drake.
Prince Edward Island, or PEI, and capital Charlottetown is most certainly Kathy Bates.
Quebec and the highly original Quebec City is definitely Marion Cotillard.
Saskatchewan, and capital Regina is like Tommy Lee Jones. Very angry.
Now to the territories. These are the vast, sparsely populated areas much further north. No real celebrities for you American Unf*ckers. Because these are mostly inhabited by Indigenous people and we spent a century casting white Americans in these roles so we don’t actually have any celebrity frame of reference. Assholes that we are.
If the Northwest Territories and the capital of Yellowknife, however, did have a celebrity personality it would be named Bob. Because… when the Northwest Territories were being formed there was an attempt to vote for the most popular name and for a while the Canadians, sick fucks that they are, wanted “Bob” as the name. Almost as good as the U.K.’s Boaty McBoatface proving that the Canadian humor has U.K. in its DNA.
Then there’s Yukon and capital Whitehorse. There are only 35,000 inhabitants, which by the way, is larger than it used to be because people actually fucking move there. Imagine that?
And lastly, Nunavut, which is a joke that writes itself. How much of this area have you visited? Uh, Nunavut.
The capital of Nunavut is Iqaluit and it’s largely the home of the Inuit people.
Here’s the deal. Canada has a lot of socialized programs, just like the United States, but it ain’t Socialist. It has a market economy with private and public sectors, relies heavily on trade, issues its own currency as we covered in our MMT episode and has nearly the same business tax rate as the United States. It’s not a Socialist country, but the pundits on the right in the U.S. insist on calling it that.
Guess what else Canada has? 64 billionaires! What? They’re ranked 8th overall in sheer numbers of billionaires with more of them per capita than the U.K., Sweden, China, Brazil, Japan, South Africa, Russia and hundreds more. How can that be? You can accumulate wealth in Canada, believe it or not. In fact, one of the dust ups following the pandemic was how much the billionaire class wealth increased during this period. Hopefully that sounds familiar.
But it is more expensive to live as a Canadian than an American. While federal taxes are pretty reasonable, some of the provinces can be tough. Lots of fees. Lots of taxes in lots of places. On its face, the average American household appears to be slightly better off than the average Canadian household. Until you dig into the numbers and look at income distribution.
According to the last comparative government report issued by the Canucks, “In the top 1 percent interval, for example, the average household income in the United States is $288,129 higher than in Canada.” Just below the 1%, American households bring in $94,000 more on average. All the way down to the 90th percentile, so the top 10%, American households bring in about $23,000 more on average.
Abstracting households in this first percentile group, Canadian households with incomes up to the 56th percentile are better off than American households at the same point in the income distribution, meaning that a little over half of Canadian households are better off.
Then there are real economic offsets that are difficult to measure in absolute monetary terms, but certainly matter. For example, Canadians have healthcare and greater access to education. So Americans spend more, a lot more on these things. But… on the flip side, as I’m sure every Canadian will tell you, there are a lot of fucking taxes. Not income, which is pretty similar to the U.S. and reasonable for earners, but taxes up and down the chain. Manufacturing, sales, land, provincial nuanced taxes, it all adds up. Now, Canada operates under a progressive system, which is why you see the bottom 56% of Canadians are better off than American households.
JESSE: Max, if I may offer a quick translation. Essentially, the extremity of income and wealth disparity in the U.S. is so extreme that it makes it hard for Canada to deal with our own income and wealth disparity.
Ours too is a wildly inequitable society with a growing divide between the rich and the poor and a rapidly shrinking middle class. Housing is scarce. The cops were just photographed brutally busting up a homeless encampment in a park near my neighborhood and cracking skulls.
We have an opioid epidemic raging through the country, the obvious supports are nowhere to be seen. But because we’re not quite as bad as you, there’s rarely any political will to improve things.
Now, for a minute, let’s revisit our discussion about taxes from prior episodes and MMT specifically. Because we have to disabuse Americans of the idea that you can’t do business in Canada or get ahead. Unf*ckers know that I’m a fan of keeping individual tax rates reasonable to allow for wealth appreciation and consumer discretionary spending across the board. Of course this works even better if, like Canada AND EVERY OTHER INDUSTRIALIZED COUNTRY ON THE FUCKING PLANET, essential items like healthcare and education are part of the deal. And that I’m not all that hung up on taxing the rich.
My argument has been to tax the thing that creates the uber-wealthy and pay for non-inflationary items with no demand ceiling like welfare programs and healthcare. Canadians are just getting hip to the concepts of deficit spending as a result of the pandemic, with current Prime Minister Justin Trudeau horrifying Canadian deficit hawks by suggesting the nation would have to run deficits for a while. In fact, Canada’s debt-to-GDP is running about 117%, which is about 10% higher than the U.S. but also the first time Canada has run this high.
Canada has a federal corporate tax rate of 15%. Ours is 21%. And like the individual states can do for business and individuals, the provinces also have the ability to levy taxes. In fact, each province levies progressive taxes - that allow for a range of deductions - from 2% to upwards of 15%. So at the highest rate, you’re talking 30% total business tax. That’s less than where we were before Trump and close to where we’ll be again under Biden on just the federal level in the United States. And these rates will adjust more frequently than in the U.S. depending upon the party in power in the province and if there are budget gaps. But I digress.
One huge difference between us is in the area of tax fraud and avoidance. I’m linking an article that rages politely as only Canadians can at the wealthy Canucks harboring offshore money. Gasp! Canadians for Tax Fairness estimates there is about $200 billion hidden offshore. The U.S. is like, hold my beer. And my keys. And my purse. And my Ferrari.
Remember our number, Unf*uckers? The projected amount the United States holds offshore?
Yeah. It’s $10 trillion. Needless to say, wealthy Canadians are either far more patriotic or they have rules and regulations that prevent wealthy people from hiding their fucking money offshore like fucking criminals. What’s the point here? That it can be done. We just don’t want to because our politicians are all bought and paid for. That’s what I’ve been yelling aboot.
Okay, Unf*ckers. Let’s wade into familiar territory and bring our Canuck buddies along in our F*ck Milton Friedman journey. To do this we’ll unpack just a little bit about the political winds up north, which while chilly at times, don’t blow as strongly as they do down here. But that’s not to say that Canada has been unaffected by neoliberalism and Chicago School doctrines. In fact, it’s very much a part of who they are or, at least, have become.
To do this we have to dig back into the structure of their political system for a moment to talk about how things get done.
Here there are a few parallels between our nations' histories.
Forever, the dominant political party in Canada has been the Liberal Party. That of Justin Trudeau and his father Pierre and Jean Chrétien. But there were two seismic disruptions that occurred when the conservatives took over for extended periods in modern history at least. The first was the election of Brian Mulroney in 1984 and then again when Stephen Harper was elected in 2006. Each man ruled for nearly a decade and helped prevent the NDP and Liberal parties from implementing greater social change. Though, it’s important to note, that our idea of liberal and conservative is still vastly different than Canada’s.
In fact, on social policies even the conservatives in Canada would be considered leftist by today’s bizarre American standards.
So what I’m talking about primarily in these two decades is the economic side of neoliberalism in terms of free trade, taxes and loosening of corporate regulations. Before we get there, let’s quickly examine the legacy of the Liberal Party in Canada since it has traditionally dominated.
From a 10,000 foot perspective (which is 3,048 meters) Canadian liberals are far more in favor of centralized economic control than either the NDP or conservatives. The NDP, by the way, is the spiritual challenger to the Liberal Party from the left on most policies related to worker rights, climate change and progressive taxation. The NDP’s current leader Jagmeet Singh is a fascinating and fashionable candidate and he’s quickly becoming a force that is reigniting interest in the NDP.
As for the Liberal Party, here is Chrétien on the definition of economic liberalism in Canada to understand the nuance: “Liberalism is founded on freedom of the individual, equality of opportunity, compassion for the underprivileged and protection of the weak, and tolerance of diversity. Liberalism certainly relies on free markets, but it recognized, at the same time, the necessary role of government in facilitating change, and in delivering necessary public goods and services.”
Liberal policies dating back to post-World War I are iconic beginning with Prime Minister Mackenzie King who ushered in fair wage legislation, the Old Age Pension, unemployment insurance and Family Allowance. Later, Lester Pearson would introduce the Canada Pension Plan, Medicare and the Canada Assistance Plan that expanded the Canadian welfare system as well as a non-discriminatory set of immigration regulations.
The legacy of this last bit of legislation is that today, Canada’s population is still nearly 20% foreign born as it is one of the most accepting of all nations and, in fact, relies heavily on attracting talent from all over the world.
Pierre Trudeau’s government further expanded unemployment insurance to include job training, promoted cooperative housing and introduced the Child Tax Credit while indexing Family Allowance, Old Age Security and income tax brackets.
Trudeau was the first politician in Canada that truly had rockstar appeal. Long before his now famous son, who we’ll get to, won the hearts of liberals around the world like Obama did, Pierre Trudeau was incredibly popular. He could also be a fucking asshole.
For example, Trudeau quite notoriously didn’t give a rat’s ass about the Indigenous people of Canada. In fact, part of the burden - and rightfully so - that son Justin carries around is his father’s rejection of Indigenous sovereignty.
In hindsight, it’s a strange position for a man who fought assiduously for the rights of Quebec as he officially indoctrinated Multiculturalism and Bilingualism into the federal charter.
Moving to Chrétien, he would create the National Child Benefit, the Early Learning and Child Care Program and improve housing and scholarships as well as education. And these were done on the heels of a financial crisis because Canadian Liberals adhered to Keynesian theories that when times are good you invest in welfare programs and lifting your people rather than austerity.
The liberal governments of Canada were also routinely on the front lines in recognizing Cuba and China as legitimate regimes that would only develop greater human rights internally with the export of Canadian values and economic trade.
So back to the two recent periods when conservatives took over.
The first conservative victory ushered in the leadership of Brian Mulroney, back when conventions in Canada were fun and you never knew who was going to be chosen. Mulroney was cut from the same cloth as Reagan and Thatcher as Canada too got a little caught up in the go-go ‘80s.
Mulroney was stylish and slick, charismatic and conservative, but in a Canadian way. He negotiated NAFTA but also introduced the dreaded GST tax on manufactured goods that drove up prices a bit. He pushed to shrink the size of government and was one of the earliest politicians to publicly pressure South Africa to free Nelson Mandela. Internally he steadily lost ground throughout his tenure for failing to bring Quebec fully into the fold during the historic failure of the Meech Lake Accord.
But the French Canadians being so very French were having none of it. In fact, they disliked him and his tactics so much that the Bloc Québécois was codified as a party under his tenure. Overall, he’s considered kind of a bad guy to Liberals in Canada, which shows you just how far fucking apart we are in terms of what makes a bad guy.
The next big interruption to the Liberal dominance came under Stephen Harper who ruled as Prime Minister pretty much during the Bush and Obama years. Harper would manage through the financial crisis, which was far less severe in Canada because they didn’t have the same corrupt banking underpinnings as the U.S. but, as the saying goes, when the U.S. catches a cold the rest of the world gets pneumonia.
Harper was a classic neoliberal dickhead. Cut taxes, shrink government, roll back welfare reform, yada yada. He was also surprisingly terrible on the environment, the first of the Canadian leaders to go backwards on environmental policy. In large part, this is due to the neoliberal obsession with fossil fuel and Harper’s deep connections to the oil and gas industry and the province of Alberta. On the flip side, it was Harper who finally and formally apologized to the First Nations of Canada and created the TRC, though as Jesse said, it was largely performative.
In terms of economic policy, Harper was a devotee of the Chicago School. In her essay, Canadian Liberalism as a Distinctive Tradition, Brooke Jeffrey writes, “Virtually all of the long-standing values of reform liberalism were categorically rejected by the new conservatism of Thatcher, Reagan and, in Canada, Stephen Harper and his new Conservative Party. They drew their inspiration not from Locke, Rawls, or Keynes, but from Hobbes, Hayek and Friedman.”
Before we bring this home, let’s speak briefly about the current administration so we can intelligently reference it moving forward in the show. Justin Trudeau. Son of Pierre and first wife Margaret Sinclair. Lover of the outdoors, the Tragically Hip and weed. JFK and Obama smashed together in one cool and good looking package. I bet he’s the darling of leftists, socialists, communists and liberals the world over. Let’s see what the Jacobin said about him:
“He is the embodiment of the ‘edgy white liberal,’ a living TED Talk, a cosmopolitan George W. Bush with Jed Bartlet’s politics. But his image has been carefully stage-managed, obscuring policies that track much further right than his shirtless photobombs and parade appearances are designed to suggest…Like most well-bred Canadians, Trudeau thought he was on the earth to save it. Canada’s bourgeoisie see no problem in their society’s structure; it just needs some tinkering, a little bit of compassion…He thinks like Ezra Klein, but talks like a weird fusion of Malcolm Gladwell, Bono, and Richard Branson.”
God I love that. It would be even funnier if it wasn’t so fucking true. There are still a few Unf*ckers who are angry that I called Obama the greatest modern Republican president so I’m confident a few new UnCanuckers will have the same reaction. But the bottom line is that Justin has some of the same issues. Before we get there, I need to talk directly to the UnCanuckers about scandals for a second.
You see, Canadian media - including my new friends at Canadaland - often refer to the scandal-ridden administration of Justin Trudeau. I got 99 problems with Justin, but my god, scandals ain’t one of them. You know what they are?
Once, on a trip to India, he wore traditional Indian garb but looked really stupid when he met with Indian leadership all dressed in western suits. That’s some funny shit. But that ain’t no scandal.
He accidentally elbowed an MP in the breast when he was angry during a parliamentary session then proceeded to apologize like a thousand fucking times afterwards. Again, impetuous but it was truly an accident. Not a scandal. Down here we elect you president if you grab women by the…
But the biggest scandal of all? During the pandemic, Trudeau’s government awarded a Canadian non-profit called WE a huge sum of money to help students out of work get on their feet. Well, it turns out that this enormous charity had paid members of Trudeau’s family to speak at public events in the past.
That’s it. He was cleared but admonished and, of course, he apologized. For these infractions, they consider Trudeau compromised and scandal laden.
So one big takeaway for Americans is that Canadians don’t know the first fucking thing about a good political scandal.
In practical terms, there are larger issues with Trudeau that reflect the subtle shift to the right that we’re both experiencing right now. He came into office with great liberal hopes and did really popular things like legalizing weed, tearfully taking responsibility for inaction on behalf of First Nations peoples, opened up deficit spending to fund programs and instituting gender parity in his cabinet. I don’t want to call these performative. That’s too reductive because these are important political maneuvers that also have meaning.
But there’s a neoliberal side to Trudeau, as there was in Obama, that boosts arms sales to countries like Saudi Arabia, coddles corporate Canada and Bay Street - Canada’s Wall Street - and then there’s the environment.
Under Trudeau, Canada is the only nation in the G7 whose emissions have increased since the Paris Agreement. Much of the reason for this is Trudeau catering to the right wing, particularly in places like Alberta where fossil energy is still the economic lifeblood of the province. As an article in Foreign Policy states, “Since 2015, Trudeau’s position has been to try meeting Paris Agreement goals while also pumping billions of dollars in corporate welfare to the oil and gas industry. But as the world continues to move away from fossil fuels and the Canadian right becomes ever more implacable, it’s clear Trudeau must stop trying to chart a middle path and, instead, finally let a moribund industry go.”
Justin might be able to cry on command like Clinton, double talk like Obama and make hearts flutter like JFK, but his inner neoliberal keeps peeking out from behind the facade.
Some final thoughts.
I promised the second lesson related to Gord from The Hip and here it is. For most Canadians, Gord Downie was the image they desired most to portray in the world. He was their poet. Their best self. He made music that was fiercely prideful of Canada and fought tirelessly for the rights of the indigenous. He used his fame and platform for good and wrote lyrics that spoke to all Canadians.
And yet the unmarked and mass graves of indigenous children have rocked Canadians to the core. It has already impacted Canada’s standing on the world stage as a promoter of human rights and they know it. It’s also revealing another, darker side of Canadian politics.
The side where Canada is now the second largest arms dealer in the middle east.
The side where they still quietly exploit labor in other countries.
The side that still promotes and subsidizes oil and gas and loses the moral high ground of environmentalism.
The side that allowed billionaires to acquire even more wealth during the pandemic.
The side that remains silent, at times complicit or even directly at the side of the U.S. when we pillage, destroy and plunder nations abroad.
And yet, even revealing this level of fuckery, Canada’s politics are still superior to the United States in so many ways. There are countless points that I didn’t get to and perhaps we’ll work them into future episodes now that we’ve set the table a bit. But the one thing that sticks out for me is that Canada has a vastly different ethos. Like I said, even their shittiest prime ministers are like Mickey Mouse on the best day of our worst leaders in the U.S.
Mulroney and Harper may have been taken in by the likes of Milton Friedman and Friedrich Hayek but only as it related to free trade.
They still sought to undergird the Canadian system of welfare, to right the wrongs of the past and maintain Canada’s moral standing on the world stage. They didn’t try to tear down the whole fucking apparatus like Reagan did.
The fact that the country is shocked and humiliated by the discoveries of the native children in mass graves actually says something positive. We won’t even fucking acknowledge it in the United States and we created the model for it. We were operating actual concentration camps in the U.S. and no one cares.
Their leaders have the courage to actually apologize when they get something wrong. We joke about the abundance of “sorries” in Canada, but there’s something really beautiful and tough about having the courage to say “I’m sorry.”
Perhaps the most dangerous trend, and one that I hope is reversing now that Trump is gone, was the increase in American news viewership among Canadians we spoke about in the introduction. If I could ask anything of my new UnCanucker friends it would be to plead with you to look away while we work through our shit down here. I know you’re discerning but, you know what? Some pretty smart and discerning motherfuckers down here are now incredibly dangerous because they’ve been consuming a steady diet of American media bullshit for years now and no longer possess the ability to parse truth from fiction.
We’re very, very sick down here so look away. Stay away. Keep working on yourself. But also, do me a favor and stop calling your scandals, scandals. They’re more like bloopers.
Now, the next election in Canada is going to be pivotal. The NDP has a lot of mojo under Singh, who is putting labor, First Nations’ rights and poverty at the center of their platform. If they gain seats and traction, it might be one helluva playbook for us to follow down here. Now, Trudeau has a lot of ground to make up on the left and the conservatives are, as always, ready to pounce to turn back the clock under the cloak of free market neoliberalism.
And for my American Unf*ckers, let’s do the opposite. Let’s not look away. There’s no specific Tyson Principle today except to say that it’s time to look past ourselves and listen to what’s happening around us. We have a tendency to ignore pretty much everything and view the world through an America-first lens, whether we want to admit it or not. Well, just north of us our largest trading partner and best fucking friend in the world has a lot going for it and it’s time we pay attention.
F*ck Milton Friedman. RIP Gord Downie. And, what the hell, Fuck Stephen Harper.
Here endeth the lesson, eh?
Sources on Residential Schools
David McGrane- Applied Political Theory and Canadian Politics