We go to press during the week of the Brexit referendum, as the stunned political and economic commentators speculate about what will happen next. Almost all of them agree that it won’t be good, and we must assume they are right. (The only potentially positive prospect that a determined optimist may cling to is that England, if it loses Scotland because of Brexit, may be unable to replace its Trident nuclear subs.)
Luckily, Canada has not caught the right wing extremist mood that is sweeping Europe and the US. There, more voters have been casting ballots in recent elections for Trump and Brexit, as well as populist right-wing nationalist parties in Finland (The Finns, 18%); Sweden (Sweden Democrats 13%); Denmark (Danish People’s Party 21%); Germany (Alternative for Germany 4.7%); Netherlands (Freedom Party 10%); France (National Front 14%); Austria (Freedom Party 35.1%); Switzerland (Swiss People’s Party 29%); Hungary (Jobbik 21%); Slovakia (Our Slovakia 8%); Italy (Northern League 4%); Cyprus (ELA< 3.7%); and Greece (Golden Dawn 7%).
As Seymour Martin Lipset showed fifty years ago, extremist politics occurs when a sizeable group in the population feels that their status has declined. They want to turn back the clock to “make America (or Britain or You-Name-It) great again.” This involves excluding or persecuting immigrants or other groups that are thought to be encroaching on their status. Today the working class whites whose jobs have diminished object to neo-liberal economic elites and globalization itself. Efforts to turn back the clock never pay off, but we do need new solutions to the plight of these enraged people.
In Canada we still have opportunities to make progress. Most people are still appreciating the new Liberal government, despite such mis-steps as its authorizing the sale of weapons to the Saudi regime. Moreover, in May the federal Liberal Party convention in Winnipeg called for Canada to take a leadership role in global efforts toward nuclear disarmament. The same measure has already been endorsed by over 800 members of the Order of Canada and was adopted unanimously by both houses of parliament in 2010. The Harper government did nothing to fulfill that resolution. Now Canadians are mobilizing to insist that the current government do so. Read Earl Turcotte’s article on page six and prepare to do a lot of emailing from your computer this summer. We have a new campaign!