Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Redefining Populism as a Matter of Convenience

A CULTURE OF DEFIANCE: History of the Reform-Conservative Party of Canada

When Trevor Harrison wrote Of Passionate Intensity: Right-Wing Populism and the Reform Party of Canada, in 1995; the party had already achieved it's first real electoral success. It was also creating a great deal of concern among Canada's traditional ruling class.

Bursting onto the scene at the same time as another populist movement turned party, the Bloc Québécois; the political landscape of Canada was about to change dramatically.

And not for the better.

Was the Reform Party Really Populist?

Harrison starts out by examining the party from a populist perspective. But was it really a populist party? It had many elements of populism.
A belief system forged out of the conjunction of nationalism with ethno-cultural, religious, and/or racial prejudice." Nativist attitudes are most likely held by people in social groups that have the same racial, ethnic, and/or religious characteristics as the dominant class, but not the economic or political power. (1)
There's no argument that the party saw themselves as the voice of the white English speaking population, who opposed what they felt was forced multiculturalism and of course bilingualism, and concessions to Quebec. They saw themselves as being in the majority and yet the minority in terms of representation.
Such attitudes emerge most frequently during periods of social, political, or economic crisis, the latter form of crisis suggesting that nativism also may be linked to a feeling of 'relative deprivation."' However caused, the crisis nonetheless results in the emergence of a sense of 'calling' among the heretofore-identified social groups to defend the country against perceived internal threats posed by various minority groups." (1)
The most common complaints at the early conventions included turbans in the RCMP, destabilizing immigration, and government funding to "radical feminist" and homosexual groups. They saw moral decay and a threat to their way of life. Ward Cleaver was being recast.
An essential feature of populist movements is their mass-organizational nature, a view elaborated upon by others who have stated that the core notion underlying populism is that of 'a people' defined by its historic, geographic, and/or cultural roots.' Perhaps the clearest definition of populism, however, is provided by Peter Sinclair.' According to Sinclair, a populist movement frequently 'stresses the worth of the common people and advocates their political supremacy,' rejects 'intermediate associations between the mass and leaders,' and directs its protests 'against some group which lies outside the local society.'
The Reform Party had all the elements of a populist party but there was a big difference.

Reform Party populism was contrived.

It was not about a popular person championing a cause and garnering followers to that cause. Nor was it about common people being led by one of their own. This was a deliberate intent to incite anger, and to turn that anger into political success.

And the ultimate goal was to create a new ruling "elite", drawn from the corporate world, who would manipulate the common people into believing that they were in fact, the ones calling the shots.

In Lawrence Martin's book of former Bloc leader, Lucien Bouchard; The Antagonist, he refers to him as probably "the greatest threat to unity Canada has ever known", and suggests that Bouchard is a complex man, who "spends most of the time trying to keep his aggressiveness in check." (2)

In Martin's new book Harperland, he paints a similar picture of Stephen Harper.

Bouchard was a threat to unity, while Harper is a threat to democracy. Both men dangerous. Both volatile and driven.

The only difference between them is that Bouchard's agenda was always known. We're still unravelling Harper's.

Sources:

1. Of Passionate Intensity: Right-Wing Populism and the Reform Party of Canada, By Trevor Harrison, University of Toronto Press, 1995, ISBN: 0-8020-7204-6 3 7, Pg. 5-7

2. The Antagonist: Lucien Bouchard and the Politics of Delusion, By Lawrence Martin, Viking Press, 1997, ISBN: 0-670-87437-X, Pg. VII

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