Thursday 14 November 2013

Note to Trudeau and Freeland: China and India are not backing Canada’s middle class

Weiwei after the police assault:
The life of an artist in a "basic dictatorship" 
The Canadian Press recently reported that, as head of Reuters Digital in New York, Chrystia Freeland, who is running as the Liberal candidate in Toronto Centre, “moved the digital newsroom to New York and shipped the bulk of its work to the Bangalore operation”.

That in itself is hardly news. Many news organizations, including the Toronto Star, outsource some of their operations. However, most outsource call centres, classified, and design, while keeping editorial close to their chests. This, in fact, is what the Star does. It can then defend the action because it is able to allocate newsroom resources to its core business: journalism. And in fact the Star can argue it has been successful at this, breaking the Ornge scandal and bringing us the sordid truth about Toronto’s sordid mayor, Rob Ford.

The criticisms against Freeland, however, are also personal. The former journalists at Reuters claim she didn’t have their backs when Freeland’s bosses went after their jobs. And they say now that they are afraid to give their names, for fear that it would put at risk their present or future employment.

Sounds a bit like China, actually, the country that Justin Trudeau “most admires”. When Trudeau made those comments in Toronto on Thursday, November 7, he was only blocks away from the Art Gallery of Ontario, which recently had a hugely popular show featuring the Chinese artist Ai Weiwei. By international standards, Weiwei’s art is rather tame. He leans toward the poignant. Much of his recent work has addressed the shoddy building standards – as well as the inadequate response on the part of the Chinese government – that exacerbated the tragedy of a major earthquake in Sichuan province on May 12, 2009.

As a consequence of Weiwei’s efforts to draw attention to this problem, the Chinese police beat him, resulting in a cerebral haemorrhage, and then arrested him. He is now under a kind if “national house arrest”, unable to leave China, and is regularly harassed by the authorities.

What do Freeland and Trudeau think of this? We don’t know for sure. However, Terry Glavin, writing in the Ottawa Citizen, has offered a chilling assessment of China’s human and labour rights record, tying it directly to the fortunes of the Liberal party. He says of Trudeau’s attitude to China:

“It is a sinister and unprincipled posture toward the regime in Beijing that arises from a well-travelled and spectacularly profitable Canada-China business nexus that has dominated part of the Liberal Party for quite some time.”

Glavin then proceeds to dissect the relations between the Liberal old guard (Jean Chrétien, Paul and André Desmarais) and the Communist elite who run a country where “censorship and torture are systemic” and where “the people are, not to put too fine a point on it, slaves.” And, yes, those Liberal connections help explain why Trudeau was “positively giddy” about the Nexen takeover by Beijing’s state-owned offshore acquisitions arm, CNOOC.

As Glavin rightly points out, like it or not, a cosy relationship to China is fast becoming Liberal policy. And when you make it a policy to suck up to a “basic dictatorship” you will choose their interests over those of the people who elected you. As a prime example, the vast majority of Canadians were against the Nexen takeover, but Trudeau chose to side with China.

(For their part, the Conservatives appear to have no consistent policy on China. Many party members had misgivings with regard the Nexen takeover, and Stephen Harper stated after the fact that CNOOC-Nexen would be the last deal of its kind that the government would approve.)

As for Freeland, who in her book “Plutocrats: The Rise of the New Global Super-Rich and the Fall of Everyone Else”, laments the growing income disparity between the super rich and everyone else, we have yet to see any policy announcements, despite her being one of Justin Trudeau’s principal economic advisors.

Freeland has pointed out that the profound disparity we are seeing globally is directly the result of low corporate taxation, privatization, weakened trade unions and deregulation. These forces move more and more resources into the hands of corporations and an ever-richer elite, with less money for government programs (health, education) and the poor.

So, will Freeland and Trudeau now embark on an aggressive agenda to save the middle class by going back to the high-growth policies when corporate taxes were higher and government was not impoverished? Will they stand up to powerful dictatorships who bankroll their friends? Don’t count on it.

(TE Wilson is the author of Mezcalero, a Detective Sánchez novel.)

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