Pierre Poilievre: Good politics versus the public good.

It’s been a little over a week now since Prime Minister hopeful Pierre Poilievre won his decisive and definitive victory to become the new leader of the Conservative Party of Canada.

There has certainly been much potification since that point on what that victory means for the party, and indeed, what it says about our country in general. Every major news outlet has run feature pieces on Poilievre, and on how he managed to draw such a base of support from a party that has been, if we are being honest, somewhat fractured for a number of years now.

The work for the conservatives now will be to determine how Poilievre can win the hearts of traditional armchair tories. Yes, his was a decisive victory and yes he increased party numbers, but those are both indicative of his individual popularity, as opposed to support for a platform. The young people who flocked to Poilievre may be numerous, but whether they will come out to vote is another question.

Regardless, it is unlikely that those self same-same armchair tories (who do vote) will flock to either Justin Trudeau or Jagmeet Singh in the next election. Poilievre will undoubtedly quickly begin to look for ways to break up that particular marriage, and if he succeeds, could easily ride the current wave of unrest rumbling across our nation into 24 Sussex Drive.

The big question, of course, is “Then what”?

If there was any doubt about where Poilievre would take this country, economically speaking at least, it was swept aside even before he addressed his supporters. From this commentator’s perspective, it was not Pierre Poilievre’s speech that indicated what Canada would look like under his leadership, but rather the words of his wife, Anaida.

In introducing herself and her husband to the crowd, Anaida spoke glowingly about her own immigrant father’s struggles when he first arrived from Venezuela, and of how he went from managing a bank in his home country to picking vegetables in Canada to earn a living, eventually opening his own small business in Montreal. Ms. Poilievre wrapped up her thoughts with this very quotable line.

“There is no greater dignity” she declared “than to provide for your own family”.

Although her father should certainly be lauded for his efforts, the inclusion of this particular type of “pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps” anecdote in what was essentially an extension of Poilievre’s acceptance speech is of note.

Poilievre himself is reportedly a student of Milton Friedman, the Nobel Prize-winning economist who was one of the founding fathers of the neo-liberal movement. One of the key tenets of neo-liberalism is that government interference in economic matters only gets in the way of an individual’s ability to amass wealth, and that if folks simply work hard in life, they will ultimately succeed.

In an ideal neo-liberal society, it would be market forces, not government, that would be the major influencer in our lives. Once government gets out of the way, (or so the theory goes) individuals are “free” to generate their own individual wealth. The most admired individual in a neo-liberal model is one that pays for their own health care, pays for their own children’s schooling, and to Ms. Poilievre’s point, runs their own business.

Neo-liberalism also proposes that public entities, such as schools and healthcare, should not exist, but rather should be run by private interests. If the private sector can offer a similar service to the public at a lesser cost and generate revenue, why support a public sector at all?

Is it fair, the theory asks, that my tax dollars go to the fund the CBC if I get all my information from organizations like True North Media?

What about hospitals? If I can afford private health insurance, why do I need to pay taxes and wait in line so others can access services?

What about schools? If I can afford to send my child to a private school, why should I pay any money to support public ones?

Even better, why not give me the money it would have cost the government to send my kid to public school and let me shop around for a better option?

There will always be a certain segment with which this type of thinking resonates. This is largely because there is a major, international network of organizations dedicated to convincing the general population that the idea is a good one. The fact of the matter, however, is that allowing free market economics to run the show simply does not work for most of us.

The real-estate sector is a great example of this. Certainly the recent economic boom has been generating a great deal of wealth for certain individuals, but it would be hard for us to conclude that sky-rocketing, unfettered-by-government-interference housing prices have served the collective good. As another example of neo-liberalism run amok, the absolute mess of profiteering that has marred the American education system over the past few decades should serve as a warning to us Canadians about the danger of making the same mistakes here.

When it comes to politics, I like to consider myself non-partisan. I have voted for all three major parties over the course of my ballot casting career, and have seriously considered putting my name forward to run for at least two of them. And to be perfectly honest, although I haven’t seen enough of Poilievre’s platform to make a determination one way or the other, I am glad to see that our current Prime Minister will at least face a run for his money come the next federal election.

However, whether it be public parks, public hospitals or public schools, neo-liberalism, at its very core, seeks to replace the word “public” with “for-profit” in them all. If those principles are indeed what will guide Mr. Poilievre’s hand on the rudder, we may want to seriously consider where that course will take us as a nation.

Neo-liberalism places individual good over the good of the collective. For my money, that doesn’t sound particularly Canadian at all.

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Filed under Education Policy, Neoliberalism, Public education