Transcript: Can populism save the world? | Sep 30, 2019

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STEVE:
Welcome to the #onpoli podcast.
I'm Steve Paikin.
JOHN MICHAEL:
And I'm John Michael McGrath.
STEVE:
John Michael, today we are going
to be looking at a word
that we have heard a lot
in recent years,
and that word is "populism."
Now, important question for you
before we get into this.
Do you consider yourself
a populist?
JOHN MICHAEL:
Uh, I think I have been accused
of almost everything
at one point or another
on Twitter,
but I don't think anybody's ever
actually called me a populist.
I try to be a people person.
How about you,
are you a populist?
STEVE:
Uh, moving right along here...
(John Michael laughing)
I don't think being a people
person is enough, actually.
That doesn't quite do it.
Even though it seems everyone
is talking about populism
these days,
it's not exactly clear how
to define it.
And how much influence it is
having in Canada
leading up to the federal
election,
well, we shall look into that
today.
JOHN MICHAEL:
I think a big question for many
voters in this election,
between Brexit, Donald Trump,
and the yellow vests in France
even, is could it happen here?
STEVE:
That is the question, exactly,
and to help us understand
populism in Canada,
we'll get a take from the right
with the founder and former
leader
of the Reform Party of Canada,
Preston Manning.
PRESTON MANNING:
Well, I tend to think
the establishment reacts
in precisely the wrong way
to populism,
and I think when the
establishment reacts that way,
whether it's the media
establishment
or the political establishment,
it fuels the populism even more.
People say,
"Okay, you don't respect me,
so I don't respect you."
STEVE:
We'll also get a view of
populism from the left
with filmmaker and climate
activist Avi Lewis.
AVI LEWIS:
Whether or not we can have
a robust left-wing populism,
that's the question of our time.
I think populism is the terrain
on which the survival of
humanity will be fought.
JOHN MICHAEL:
But first, Steve, we should
probably define populism.
STEVE:
We should.
JOHN MICHAEL:
I talked to Erin Kelly from the
polling firm Advance Symbolics.
STEVE:
That is Polly's mother,
at least that's what I've taken
to calling her.
Polly, of course,
is her artificial intelligence
polling system,
which instead of like
traditional pollsters,
surveys 1,500 people a night
across the country.
She does 250,000 people a night
across the country,
and on social media platforms,
as well.
It's really the next generation
of public opinion and research,
and, um, that's why I call her
Polly's mom.
JOHN MICHAEL:
And this is what she had to say.
ERIN KELLY:
Well, populism, it could be
defined in many ways.
At its core, it's an idea
of being for the people,
against the elite,
the common person.
I think what we're seeing
more recently
in the United States,
United Kingdom,
and to lesser extent in Canada
is a populism
that is really based in
protectionism and isolationism,
and really focused on certain
issues, such as immigration
rather than being a catch-all
for the middle class.
STEVE:
Now, her definition falls
in line with others.
Cas Mudde, who is the author of
Populism: A Very Short
Introduction,
has become one of the go-to
academics on populism.
He defines it as an ideology
that sees society as separated
into two rival groups,
the pure people versus
the corrupt elite.
JOHN MICHAEL:
And it's important to note
that populism
isn't just a left- or
a right-wing ideology.
It can be either.
STEVE:
Exactly right.
These days, however, thanks to
people like Donald Trump,
populism is mostly associated
with right-wing politics.
But, come north of the border,
my friends.
Maxime Bernier's People's Party
of Canada,
it is trying to ride
the populist wave, as well,
but it says it's offering
smart populism,
including reduced immigration
and fighting political
correctness.
Now, my pal TVO producer
Harrison Lowman and I
went to the People's Party's
campaign kick-off
in early September,
and here is what some party
supporters
we talked to had to say.
HARRISON:
What's your favourite part
of Bernier's message?
WOMAN:
I like everything about his
message, I really do.
He'll stand strong and he said,
"No, no, you can't do this."
You know, very definitive,
I like that.
WOMAN #2:
People coming into the country
that weren't even born here
and they're getting all kinds
of benefits,
when I don't get the benefits.
I have to pay my own dental and
it's $3,000 for a few cavities,
but people that are
Ontario Works
or Ontario Disability Support,
they get their eyes covered,
their teeth covered,
their drugs covered.
I get nothing covered!
And I want a party who's gonna
care about low-income people
that are from here,
to help us people first!
Like Rob, Rob Ford wanted
to help us first.
WOMAN #3:
All this money is coming out
of my taxes,
and it's way too much.
WOMAN #2:
Me, too.
WOMAN #3:
It's way too much.
It feels very disappointing,
very angry.
This is not my country anymore,
that's how I feel.
JOHN MICHAEL:
But Steve, to what extent
can this kind of populism
take off here in Canada?
STEVE:
That, my friend,
is the $64,000 question.
JOHN MICHAEL:
I spoke with Erin Kelly,
and this is what she had to say
about populism in Canada.

How many similarities
or differences are there
between the populism that we are
seeing outside of Canada,
and what's happening
in this country?
ERIN:
There are definitely
similarities concerning
the issues that are being
discussed
in all of these countries.
The real difference between
the United States,
the UK and Canada
is the degree to which this is
concerning to the population.
We are seeing it's very less
concerning to Canadians
than it is to our neighbours
in other countries in the west.
JOHN MICHAEL:
So, populism isn't taking
root here
the same way it has
in other countries?
ERIN:
No, it's not taking root here
in the same way.
We don't see populism around
a cult of personality
like we do see in those
other countries.
Certainly, we see
in the United States,
it's much more of a cult
of personality.
It's people who are populous
see themselves in Donald Trump.
I don't think people here see
themselves in Maxime Bernier.
He's not the same kind of
down with getting his hands
dirty kind of guy.
JOHN MICHAEL:
Right!
Where are we seeing populism
in Canada, if anywhere?
ERIN:
We're seeing it...
you know, it's spread
throughout the country,
but I would say concentrated
where they are getting more
diversity, more immigration.
Ontario, Alberta, Quebec.
It's different issues
in different areas.
So, in Alberta, we see concerns,
climate change.
I mean, not that people in
Alberta dispute climate change,
but how much of a priority is it
versus energy, the oil sands.
We are seeing in Ontario
and Quebec
more of a concern around
immigration,
and it's where we see in Quebec
about the bill that limits
how people can dress,
and things like that,
which is getting very high
support in Quebec.
So, in Ontario and Quebec,
more about immigration.
JOHN MICHAEL:
What can you tell me about how
that has changed--
how the public's outlook
has changed over time?
ERIN:
We see the public's outlook
changing quite significantly
since the 2015 election.
In 2015, you had about 25%
of the population
was negative about immigration.
Since then, of course,
we've had a lot of changes
in our immigration policy,
allowing refugees into
the country, and of course,
the illegal immigration
coming in through,
up from the United States.
So, we've seen negativity
on immigration
go from 25% negative
to 42% today,
which is a huge jump
in just four years.
STEVE:
Okay, that's Erin's Kelly take,
but other researchers are much
more bullish
on populism taking root here.
For example, pollster
Frank Graves from EKOS
and Michael Valpy
from Massey College,
they both predict that populism
is likely to have a major impact
on the federal election,
and they pointed to EKOS's
research
that found that 30% to 40%
of Canadians
are open to the kind of populist
message
we see in the US and elsewhere,
30% to 40%, John Michael.
EKOS also found that by a margin
of two to one,
Canadians believe
that if present trends
with economic inequality
continue,
the country will see violent
conflict.
One person who's given this
subject a lot of thought
is Preston Manning.
He's the founder
of the Reform Party,
former leader of the party,
as well.
He devotes a chapter to populism
in his upcoming book,
Do Something: 365 Ways to
Strengthen Democracy in Canada.
It's due out early next year.
I spoke with Mr. Manning
to get his thoughts on
populism's history in Canada,
and its possible future.

Mr. Manning, it's good to see
you again.
It's good to talk to you again.
Why don't we just start
with this?
How would you define populism?
PRESTON MANNING:
I define it as a democratic
phenomena, Steve.
A bottom-up boiling-up of energy
from ordinary people
who are discontent
about something
and alienated from
their establishment
and looking for alternatives,
but basically a bottom-up
democratic phenomena,
and the challenge then becomes
does it become destructive,
or can it be managed
and harnessed to positive
objectives?
STEVE:
I will follow up on how you see
the positive aspects of populism
manifesting themselves,
because certainly over the last
number of years,
I suspect most of what we see
in the media
are examples of where it's kind
of scary for people
who believe in liberal
democracy.
Would you agree with that
assessment?
PRESTON:
Well, I tend to think
the establishment reacts
in precisely the wrong way
to populism.
There's this negative reaction
that says,
"Well, these are a bunch of
uneducated, ignorant people
"that are easily led away
by demagogues
to support negative
political activities,"
and I think when the
establishment reacts that way,
whether it's the media
establishment
or the political establishment,
it fuels the populism even more.
People say, "Okay, you don't
respect me,
so I don't respect you."
And I think one is better to try
to identify
what are the root causes
that are alienating people
from the political system,
or from the establishment,
and trying to find ways
to channel that energy
into something constructive
rather than negative.
STEVE:
Fair enough, so how can populism
be a force for good, then?
PRESTON:
Well, look at some of
the historical examples,
and I argue that Western Canada
has had more experience
with populist movements,
populist parties and populist
governments in the 20th century
than virtually any other part
of North America.
So, wouldn't it be smart
for people to study
what that experience has been,
and take a look at the
Progressive Party of Canada
was one of the first populist
movements in the '20s,
and the farmers' parties.
What did they accomplish?
They were the ones
that championed women
becoming involved in politics.
First woman that was elected
to the Parliament
was not elected as a Liberal
or Conservative,
she was elected as
a Progressive.
The Famous Five, four of those,
all in Alberta,
they came up through populist
parties.
So, there's a positive
achievement by a populist party.
Then, you take
the Depression Party.
Depression produced two populist
movements in Western Canada,
the CCF, the Cooperative
Commonwealth Federation.
It was the predecessor
to the NDP,
and the Social Credit Movement
in Alberta.
What did CCF-- I disagree
with agrarian socialism,
but they brought in Medicare,
which most people would think
was a positive thing.
It came through a populist
party.
And in Alberta,
you had the management
of the development
of the energy sector,
which in many other states
in the United States
have ended up being corrupt.
You had responsible development
of the energy sector
by a populist party.
And of course,
I have a vested interest
in referring to the late 1980s
or the early 1990s.
You had this western
separatist movement
that was becoming quite strong.
Separatists elected as members
of the Alberta legislature,
overtures made by
the United States
that Alberta wanted to become
the 51st state,
and Reform tapped into
that energy.
We agreed with a lot
of the grievances,
but rather than turn it into a
full-blown separatist movement,
we said, "Why don't we try
to reform the federation?
"Make the Senate a more
effective chamber
"of regional representation,
balance the budget, have more
democratic procedures?"
And all of those
are illustrations
of positive developments
that came about
through populist movements.
STEVE:
I guess people today are trying
to figure out
where the Maxime Bernier
People's Party of Canada
fits into this discussion
of populist politics,
because he certainly, he calls
it the People's Party,
so he certainly feels
he's the populist voice
in the country today.
And I did go to his campaign
kick-off launch
in Etobicoke North
not too long ago,
at which time he unveiled a bit
of the party platform
and introduced his so-called
star candidate Renata Ford,
the wife of the late Mayor
of Toronto.
And one of the people, we talked
to a number of people afterwards
who were there to watch
the proceedings unfold,
and one of the supporters
we talked to was a woman
who immigrated from Trinidad
about 40 years ago,
who said that she had a real
problem with the immigrants
who are entering the country
today.
WOMAN:
And always, the country
they're coming from,
trust me, the one,
the Middle East one,
Syria and all the countries,
no, no, no, no!
We can't have those people
come here
to change all the values
like that.
STEVE:
How would you describe that kind
of populist anger?
PRESTON:
Well, I think there is a lot
of discontent
about immigration policy.
I think that discontent again
has to be channeled
in a positive direction.
Should there be
some restrictions
on regular, normal immigration,
and a major effort to halt
the illegal immigration,
but the challenge is again
to try to channel that anger
and discontent into something
constructive.
And while Maxime has a populist
element to him,
you got to remember
so does Andrew Scheer.
Andrew Scheer came up through,
he was originally a Reformer
when he was a young fellow
in university.
Came up through the Canadian
Alliance, came up through--
is elected in a Saskatchewan
riding
which knows something
about populism.
You've got populist elements
on both sides.
STEVE:
I think one of the reasons we
wanted to have this conversation
with you is that we really
wanted to understand
a lot of the root causes and
concerns of populist anger.
And I do remember a famous quote
of yours from back in the day
when you were leading Reform
that when you turn on
a new light,
it is going to attract
some moths,
and we have certainly seen
our share of moths lately
who sort of are hatefully racist
and have no use for empirically
provable facts,
and I wonder how much you feel
it is the responsibility
of all political leaders
in the country today
to call that kind of thing
out for what it is,
'cause that doesn't sound like
the constructive populism
that we've been talking about.
PRESTON:
Oh, yeah, no,
I think there's a responsibility
on the part of leaders,
but I would also say, Steve,
there's a responsibility
on the part of the media.
I used to speak at 200
public meetings a year,
and you know, our style
was to have a big question
period at the end.
I was in meetings sometimes
where there was a half-hour
speech given by myself,
which I would argue was
perfectly constructive,
was not extreme,
was dealing with facts,
et cetera, et cetera,
but in the open question period,
if there was some nutbar got up
and said something extreme,
guess what the coverage
was on the evening news
or in the newspapers?
It was on the nutbar,
on the extremist.
Now, I understand the extremists
and the polarizers are,
they're more colourful.
Controversy is more newsworthy
than cooperation.
Negativity is more newsworthy
than positiveness,
but I think there's
a responsibility
on both the part of
the politicians
and on the media to not give
the publicity to the extremists
that often they get
just by being extreme.
STEVE:
That is a hopeless quest on
your part to get the media
to respond more responsibly
in that case, don't you think?
(Preston laughing)
PRESTON:
Well, you're the one that's
saying that.
I am optimistic!
STEVE:
Let me ask you this.
I, you know, when I grew up
in the province of Ontario,
you know, we basically had
two-plus parties.
We had the Liberals, we had
the Progressive Conservatives,
and then, the New Democrats
who never really had a chance
to form government,
but played their influential
role.
And most people understood
what kind of conservatism
Progressive Conservatism was.
Then, you came along
and you really changed
the nature of conservatism
in the country,
and I wonder if you could tell
me how you think
your brand of populism
has changed what the country's
understanding
of what it means to be
a conservative today now is?
PRESTON:
Well, I think we...
we made conservatism more
conscious of dealing
with the particular concerns
of their different regions,
particularly of Western Canada.
Traditional conservatism
was basically seen
as a central Canadian phenomena,
and the establishment,
conservative establishment
was a central Canadian
establishment.
And I think we broadened
that definition of--
we weren't the only ones.
Diefenbaker did that,
to some extent,
but I think we reinforced that.
We also, you know,
we argued that populism
could be a positive force,
and that the more democratic,
the more committed
the Conservative Party was
to democratic reforms,
that would be a positive
development
and somewhat different
than the elitist conservatism
of the past.
So, I think we had maybe
that effect,
and I say I hope it was
a positive one.
STEVE:
Mr. Manning, it's good to talk
to you again.
We thank you very much
for your time tonight.
PRESTON:
Yeah, and thank you, Steve,
for taking an interest in this.
I say, you know, this country
has had a long experience
with populism
and it's important that we learn
the lessons from it,
particularly for today.
So, thanks for doing this.
STEVE:
Not at all, our pleasure.
Take care.
PRESTON:
Okay!

JOHN MICHAEL:
Okay, Steve, that was Preston
Manning's view.
Should we hear from somebody
to the left of centre now?
STEVE:
Makes sense to me.
With all this talk of right-wing
populism,
how does the left-wing of the
political spectrum respond?
I spoke with journalist and
climate activist Avi Lewis.
He was one of the co-authors
of the Leap Manifesto,
and advocates for a green
New Deal.

Avi Lewis, it's good to hear
from you again. How's life?
AVI LEWIS:
Hi, Steve!
What a pleasure to be
on your podcast.
STEVE:
We're delighted to have you.
Let's start with this:
how would you define populism?
AVI:
Well, I wish you had someone
who really knew something
about the field,
but what my political gut
tells me is that populism,
as currently understood,
is not maybe as it should be
strictly defined.
I think populism is a world view
that sees an elite class
of power mongers who wield
tremendous influence over
society and its direction,
and asserts policies that are in
the interest of the majority
based on a notion that there
isn't us against them.
I mean, I think that's a big
piece of populism,
but I also think that populism
in different periods of history
has just described political
movements
that are immensely popular,
and so, popularism is
interesting to discuss, as well.
STEVE:
Hmm, well, let me follow up
with this era of history
that we're going through
right now
because with Donald Trump's
victory
and with the Brexit referendum
victory,
you could argue, I suppose,
that we're in an era
where right-wing populism is
certainly winning the argument
over left-wing populism.
Would you subscribe to that?
AVI:
Not for a second.
I think lazy journalism has
presented right-wing populism
as the only kind,
and populism is now being
considered
a kind of pejorative term.
Of course, there is right-wing
populism.
It leads to authoritarianism
and fascism,
and it's a terrible thing,
in my view.
But there is also
left-wing populism.
I think it's also emerging
and surging.
I don't think it gets
the time of day
in mainstream media,
and that's why I'm really happy
to have a chance to assert
an honest and excited
left-wing populist position.
STEVE:
Where do you think it's most
robust in the world right now?
AVI:
Of course,
it's a contested space,
but if you look at
the frontrunners
for the Democratic nominee
for president,
there's a huge move to the left.
It started with the Bernie
Sanders campaign in 2016,
and a grassroots revolution
that it unleashed.
And it has spread like wildfire
through the new generation
of young left Democrats
like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez,
but also Rashida Tlaib
and Ayanna Pressley
and Ilhan Omar
and the other members
of the so-called Squad,
and many others who are emerging
in the resurgence of democratic
socialism in the United States.
I think it's having an impact
in Canada.
I feel like I've watched it
with a front-row seat
at the emergence of
the Green New Deal conversation
in this country.
But I think the United States,
for once,
is kind of leading on the left,
and that's a bizarre
but amazing thing
but it's a real political force.
STEVE:
Why do you think media
are not talking about
left-wing populism
and the sort of more successful
emergence of it of late?
AVI:
Well, you know, it's actually--
I mean, I love to take pot-shots
at journalists,
because I have been one
for 25 years.
(Chuckling)
But, um--
And it's kind of a pleasure
to lump you in
with lazy journalists, Steve,
'cause I know you're
one of the ones who isn't.
But I don't think it's really
fair to just blame journalism.
I mean, obviously,
political forces on the left
have, uh--
Just haven't been as popular
in asserting a populist message,
and that is a big, bold,
transformative policy agenda
that challenges every aspect
of our broken democracy,
of our unfair
and unequal equality,
and of the kind of policies
that have led to
the kind of desperation
and precarity
among the majority of people
with crappier jobs,
and working and working harder
to stay in the same place,
and a generation of young people
who never even have the hope
of owning a home.
This whole economic system
has disciplined all of us
to lower our expectations
and to not challenge
these unfair arrangements.
And I do think that it's both
the journalism,
ingrained in the habits of
worrying exclusively
about deficits
and reporting, you know,
the stock market
as if a surge
in the stock market
is something to cheer about.
If the unemployment numbers
go up
and the stock market surges,
we don't get the immediate--
We get the euphoria
from the market mindset
rather than the terrible toll
it's taken on people.
So, it is an interplay
between politics and reporting.
But I do think the term
"populism"
is really attached to the right:
to Trump, to Bolsonaro,
to Boris Johnson,
to Dougie Ford
and his buck-a-beer silliness.
And we don't talk about
Bernie Sanders
as a progressive populist,
Elizabeth Warren as a populist,
AOC as a populist.
And we're seeking
the Canadian equivalents,
but I think we're starting
to see them emerge.
But maybe we don't have
the same surge yet here.
STEVE:
You mention the name "Ford"
and I want to pick up on that,
because I guess
a few weeks back,
we went to the launch
of Maxime Bernier's
People's Party of Canada.
He had a launch in the west end
of Etobicoke,
which is, of course, ground zero
for Ford Nation.
And one of the passersby
who was attending that,
just a citizen from Toronto,
you know, we chatted her up
just to see what she thought
about all this.
And she spoke very fondly
of the late mayor, Rob Ford.
She complained that social
programs were too generous.
She also says she would have
voted for Hillary Clinton
had she the chance,
and she said this.
WOMAN:
My dad was a steelworker.
He was in the union.
And, um, I got my roots
from that.
And I'm middle class,
and the middle class has eroded.
We now have an upper class
and the working-class poor.
There's no middle class.
We've got to bring
the middle class back,
and we'll be a stronger nation.
That's my answer.
STEVE:
One thing
that popped into my head
when I heard that was, I guess,
a couple of things.
Number one, the conundrum
that people who said
Bernie was their first choice
but Donald Trump was actually
their second, and vice-versa.
Which at some level seems
very peculiar, but at another,
they're both populists and
therefore, makes some sense.
AVI:
Mm-hmm.
STEVE:
Or the notion that this person
at a Maxime Bernier rally
might fit in just perfectly well
with a populist NDP rally
as well.
There's a lot to chew on there.
Maybe you could
just take a whack at it.
AVI:
Well, there's a huge difference.
In my view, right-wing populism
is a lie.
It's the big lie.
It's ridiculous for Doug Ford
to cast himself
as "for the people,"
or for Maxime Bernier to cast
his racist and right-wing
libertarian project
as a People's Party.
But it is in some ways
a failure of the left
in the last decades
to seize that terrain
that has left it open
for the right.
Whether or not we can have
a robust left-wing populism
that actually builds a movement,
both politically
and in the streets,
to go and get our money back
and massively reinvest--
Not just
in universal public services,
but in the kind of
climate action that's required
to save the world
and give
a safe and healthy life,
or at least the possibility
of one,
for future generations,
that's the question of our time.
I think populism is the terrain
on which the survival
of humanity will be fought.
STEVE:
I hear you, but it seems that
conservative populists do well
when left-wing populists
get into power,
raise taxes too high, expand
the public sector too much.
And then conservative voices
come forward and say,
"Your taxes are too damn high.
Throw these bums out."
"There's too many
public servants
on the public dole. You got to
throw these bums out."
And it often works.
So, what's the left-wing
populist's response to that?
AVI:
Well, I challenge you to give me
a single concrete example
of the scenario
that you just described.
I think we've had Liberal
governments that come to power
that are corrupt,
that engage in patronism,
patronage and favouritism,
and waste a lot of public money
on things like
cancelled gas plants
and other
cynical electoral ploys.
But I don't think we have had
a government in Canada,
or in Ontario,
that has come to power that has
actually raised corporate taxes
and taxed
the completely excess profits
of the financial
and other sectors
and redistributed them in a way
that actually improved
people's lives.
We haven't seen
that government yet.
I think we need that government
as a matter of survival,
and I think a lot of
other people understand that,
because the Green New Deal
is a transformative agenda
to change every aspect of life,
because we have to in order to
cut our emissions in half
globally in a decade,
and because
while we're doing that,
we have an opportunity,
a once-in-a-lifetime
opportunity,
to actually have public services
that work for everybody
and a life that gets better.
Higher wages. More unionization.
Cheaper transit or free transit
to get to work
and better jobs and better work,
and more time to connect with
each other in the natural world,
which is what people
actually crave.
STEVE:
Hmm.
AVI:
So, I think we're still waiting
for that government
you describe.
STEVE:
Okay.
Avi, one of the things
Preston Manning said was that
he saw a populist anger rising
on the Prairies,
rising throughout
Western Canada.
And what he wanted to do was
rather than channel it
to a destructive, negative,
we-want-out-of-Canada situation,
he wanted to channel it
into a constructive
"we want in.
We just want government
to operate differently."
And I wonder if you see
a similar populist anger
on the left,
how do you want to
constructively channel that
for a positive outcome for,
you know,
Canadians who care about
those kinds of things?
AVI:
I think we already have models.
And again, I don't generally
sort of fetishize US politics,
but I do think that we've seen
some really interesting models
emerge,
and they are being tested
here in Canada,
in this federal election
in real time.
So, when you look at politicians
like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez,
who gets on
60 Minutes
and talks about
a 70% marginal tax rate
after the 10-millionth dollar
of income,
I mean, that's populism
if we've ever seen it, right?
Raging against elites.
Coming after their power
and their money.
Coming straight at them and not
talking about incremental change
but talking about overthrowing
the balance of power in society.
Where did she come from?
She came from an insurgent group
within the Democratic Party
that went and sought out
working-class candidates,
largely women
and women of colour,
to run against comfortable,
corrupt establishment characters
like Joe Crowley
within the Democratic Party,
and run on big, bold, ideas,
like a federal jobs guarantee,
like a Green New Deal
to save the planet
and put millions of people
back to work
in good, unionized jobs.
And so, it was
a social movement dynamic.
Outside movements that came from
the left of
the Democratic Party,
that came from
the grassroots revolution
in the Sanders campaign.
That came from environmentalism.
That came from
Black Lives Matter.
That came from all kinds of--
From, you know, Idle No More
and other social eruptions
that have created
a genuine constituency
on the left that is engaging
with politics.
And this is North America-wide
now.
Not just in the United States.
It is engaging with
electoral politics
like never before.
If you look at this current
federal election campaign,
there's a new network
called Our Time
of youth climate organizers
who are extremely passionate
and working unbelievably hard
to identify and elect
climate champions
who will put pressure on
whatever government
is in power--
We hope, a minority government--
After October 21 to push for
a Green New Deal on day one.
STEVE:
In which case,
if you are a Canadian voter
and you want to support
a genuine left-wing populist
movement right now, in your
view, what are your options?
AVI:
Well, it's tough,
'cause I think the NDP--
If you look at
the NDP and Green platforms,
first of all, I don't think
the Green Party
is a left-wing party.
I interviewed Elizabeth May
recently for my own podcast,
and she, you know--
(Chuckling)
She told me a lot of great lefty
things that I wanted to hear,
but I know that
she speaks differently
to different audiences,
and I know that her party
is a coalition
of conservative-leaning
environmental conservationists
as well as lefties
who are alienated from the NDP.
The NDP and the Greens
have put forward platforms
in this federal election
campaign
that are much more ambitious,
much more transformative,
much bolder and more exciting
than anything that we've seen,
really, in a political lifetime
from either of those parties.
I think they both fall
fundamentally short
on this truly populist question
of going after
the hoarding class
and actually
demanding our money back
from those who have been
handed over huge swaths of it,
as we've been discussing earlier
in this conversation.
But you know, I think that
there are two parties now
that advance a really bold
climate agenda
that isn't about
parts per million
or wonky climate stuff
or about saving the whales,
but is actually about making
people's lives better,
starting tomorrow.
I think both of those platforms
are pretty historic.
You know, so I think that people
on the left in Canada
have to look very carefully
at the candidates running
and say, is this someone
who is sort of comfortable
in their party establishment,
who has gone to the centre
when their parties
went to the centre?
Or is this someone
who really seems to have
the fire in the belly
for the kind of change that
we need to save everything
in this epic moment
that we're at as humans?
And I think there are
a lot of candidates,
a lot of younger candidates,
a lot of fantastic
young candidates of colour,
who are running
for progressive parties
who, were they to get to Ottawa
and have a bloc,
have a kind of beachhead
for a new sort of politics
on the left
in a minority parliament,
might actually kick off
a period of change
that we might look back on
in a decade and say,
"That's when it all began."
STEVE:
Hmm.
I have to tell you, from what
I've seen of Jagmeet Singh
so far, he seems to be speaking
much more directly
the language
that I suspect you want to hear
than, say, his predecessor,
Tom Mulcair, ever did.
Would you grant that?
AVI:
Oh, hell, yeah.
(Both laughing)
I know. I don't think Mulcair
was ever a leftist
or would have ever been
comfortable
with anything like that.
I mean, you know,
in Ontario, I know you remember
the 1990 election
when Bob Rae, who some folks,
like my dear mum,
always insisted was a Liberal,
then it turned out
they were right--
But in 1990, in that campaign,
he refused to say the S-word
and would not call himself
a socialist.
And so, it's been decades
that the NDP has been
trying to cleanse the culture
of proud leftism from its speak,
and I think Jagmeet is sensing
the time correctly
and leaning back that way.
But I think there's a lack of,
you know--
Look. On the issue of racism
and many issues,
he is clear as a bell.
But there are some issues, in
particular around climate stuff,
where he's still
kind of dithering
and unwilling to just speak
a clear moral truth,
like we can't have a liquefied
natural gas project
with billions of dollars
of new investment
in fossil fuel infrastructure
with vast fracking behind it.
What's happening in northern BC
is terrifying
and representing a huge increase
in greenhouse gas emissions.
And still say, "We're going to
save the world
with a Green New Deal"
at the same time.
Like, you got to just follow
your principles where they lead,
and I think he's still reluctant
to do that on some issues.
But for sure,
the party as a whole, the NDP,
realizes that Mulcair
was a disaster
and that there is a huge
progressive appetite in Canada,
which Justin Trudeau cynically,
and we now know
utterly hypocritically,
leveraged in 2015,
and then systematically betrayed
every single one of
those progressive promises.
But that constituency that voted
for the Justin Trudeau
they thought they were getting
is still out there,
and is still a winning coalition
and is still a path for power
for a party
that actually means it.
And I think the NDP is trying
to wake up and get that,
and it is exciting to see
the stirrings of
a genuine left again.
STEVE:
It's always good to talk to you,
Avi.
Thanks so much for your time.
AVI:
A pleasure, Steve. Thank you.
STEVE:
John Michael, I know there's
always been a bit of sense
among some so-called elites
in Canada
that what we've seen
in other parts of the world
with the populist outbursts
couldn't happen here,
because we have
less income inequality in Canada
and because our institutions
are somewhat more trusted
in Canada
than they are elsewhere.
And that the--
You know,
just whatever the spark is
that has lit the fire in other
countries in the world,
we don't seem to have that here.
That's been the prevailing view
for many, many decades.
I'm not sure those same elites
who believe that
are feeling as comfortable
about that anymore.
JOHN MICHAEL:
You know,
my professional journalism
career started in 2010,
watching Toronto City Hall
and the election of Rob Ford,
which, well into
that election campaign,
people were swearing up and down
that Rob Ford
wasn't going to win;
that Toronto, then,
had an urbane NDP mayor.
You know, many people believed
that this, you know,
progressive city was never going
to elect a guy like Rob Ford.
And boy, was that a surprise
for a lot of those people.
Um, you know, I mentioned
in the intro that populism
has a way of sneaking up
on people.
And I think part of that is,
without endorsing too much
of that world view, I mean,
there is a complacency.
There is an easy sort of story
that we can tell ourselves
about how, oh, well,
it's not going to happen here
because we've handled
so many of those problems
so much better than
other countries.
You know, Canadians
will pat themselves on the back
about notionally better
race relations
or a better social safety net.
And I think there are
real accomplishments
in Canadian politics
and Canadian policies,
but it's not a bullet-proof
shield by any means.
STEVE:
We ought not to get too smug
about these things,
because the fact is,
I think now--
I hearken back on
about a century's worth
of Ontario politics right now,
all of which I've reported on
personally, of course.
(John Michael laughing)
And if you go back
a hundred years,
it was exactly
a hundred years ago this year
that the United Farmers
of Ontario were elected,
as one of the only two
non-Liberal or -Conservative
governments in Ontario history.
And the Farmers came to power
on the basis of
a populist outrage against
the fat-cat Tories of the day.
And they were
a one-term government.
You know, lots of problems,
obviously, and it didn't last.
But it was a populist spasm
in Ontario history.
There was another one
about three decades later,
where Mitch Hepburn came in.
I guess 1937,
so two decades later.
Mitchell Hepburn came into power
for the Liberals,
and they were
a populist Liberal group then.
They sold off all the limousines
for all the cabinet ministers
and they sold the lieutenant
governor's mansion as well.
And this was all
in the interests of appealing to
a populist anger
that was in the population,
thanks to the Dirty Thirties
and The Great Depression
and so on.
We haven't seen much of it
since then.
I don't think you could say
that any Ontario government
has been, you know, specifically
and particularly populist.
Doug Ford, I suspect,
would argue that a year ago,
he got elected
on the basis of that,
but you know, if you look around
the Ontario cabinet table today,
most of the people who are at
the centre of that government
are, you know, pretty good,
old-fashioned Red Tories
as you look at them.
So, you know,
there is that history,
and we ought not to get too smug
about whether or not populism
could rear its head nowadays.
This campaign
is going to be fascinating,
and particularly
at the leaders' debate,
when Maxime Bernier
gets his chance to make a case
directly to the public,
unfiltered by media.
We'll see whether anything
he's got to say catches on.
JOHN MICHAEL:
The other thing
that I think about
a lot in these discussions
is that, to talk about Doug Ford
for a second--
This summer,
the Ford government,
shortly before they recessed
the Legislature,
they introduced this bill
to break up
the Beer Store monopoly.
And this is the kind of policy
that I think a lot of people--
It's a punchline to them, right?
They don't understand
why this would be a priority
for the government,
and frankly, they mock the idea
that people
would take this seriously.
And look. I mean, I like beer,
but I don't think it's a massive
government priority.
But I did write something
for our website at tvo.org
defending it, because there--
One of the sources of
the populist anger that we see,
I think, in a lot of cases,
is that elections don't matter
as much as a lot of voters
think they should.
That, you know, Barack Obama
can be elected in the midst of
the greatest financial crisis
in the latter half
of the 20th century,
or, I guess, the early decade
of the 21st.
And the priority becomes
bank bailouts, right?
And with Doug Ford's election,
you know what?
Liberalizing the beer market
was a black-and-white promise
the government made,
and they won an election.
And elections
are supposed to mean
that you get to execute
at least as much of your
platform as you reasonably can,
and I think voters feel
a certain amount of disgust
when elections end up
not mattering,
and that's bad for democracy.
STEVE:
Okay, dear listener.
Tell us what you thought
of the show you just heard.
E-mail us
at onpolitics@tvo.org,
or tweet at us.
I'm @spaikin.
That's S-P-A-I-K-I-N.
JOHN MICHAEL:
And I'm @jm_mcgrath.
STEVE:
If you haven't already,
subscribe to the #onpoli podcast
on Apple Podcasts, Google Play,
Spotify or your favourite
podcast app,
and share it with your friends.
JOHN MICHAEL:
Today's episode was produced
by Daniel Kitts
with help from Harrison Lowman.
STEVE:
The series producer is
Eric Bombicino.
Audio and editing
by Matthew O'Mara,
Donny Swanson
and Pippa Johnstone.
The rest of the team includes
Harrison Lowman,
Cara Stern and Katie O'Connor.
JOHN MICHAEL:
Hannah Sung is manager
of digital video and podcasts
here at TVO.
STEVE:
Thanks for listening, everybody.

Watch: Can populism save the world?