When one thinks deeply about neoliberalism, one conjures up the face of greed, rapacity and monetary narcissism. Not at all a pretty face. But here in Canada, Thomas Walkom writes, neoliberalism is concealed by a human, some would say pretty, face, that of Justin Trudeau.
The essence of neo-liberalism is globalization. Neo-liberals strive for a world in which capital, goods and even labour move effortlessly from country to country. The aim is to let the free market do its magic and maximize wealth.Once the centrepiece of the Conservative Party, the legacy of the reviled Stephen Harper is now being carried by our 'new' prime minister. Youth and attractiveness seem to go a long way on a number of fronts, including the temporary foreign worker program that grew to outrageous proportions under the previous regime:
... the Trudeau Liberals are smooth. Last week, they eliminated a rule that prevented temporary foreign workers from staying in Canada for more than four years.And Trudeau seems to understand something that Harper refused to: the need for 'social licence':
To make the move politically palatable, the Liberal government said it would also require employers to advertise among disadvantaged groups such as indigenous people and the disabled before turning to foreigners.
But the bottom line is that the new rule allows employers to use cheap foreign labour indefinitely.
In Canada, that means wooing indigenous peoples and well-organized environmental groups.... And to win social licence for oil and gas pipelines, he worked on two fronts.
One was climate change. The government established its bona fides here by negotiating a path-breaking agreement with eight out of 10 provinces (plus three territories) to impose a price on carbon.
On its own, the carbon-price agreement is not enough to let Canada meet its climate targets. But in the end, it may be enough to convince enough Canadians that the pipelines from Alberta to the Pacific coast Trudeau wants should go ahead.
Simultaneously, the government has been successfully wooing indigenous leaders — with promises of more money, a more respectful relationship and an inquiry into missing and murdered aboriginal women.And while people are oohing and aahing over this new style, globalization plans continue apace:
The free trade and investment deal between Canada and the European Union is closer to fruition. A similar deal with China is on the agenda, as is some kind of free-trade relationship with Japan.Although Walkom doesn't mention it, my guess is that Trudeau's plans for an infrastructure bank is of the same neoliberal ilk. One may legitimately ask why, when the cost of borrowing is at record lows the Liberals will kick in $35-billion and hope to attract private sector dollars at a ratio of $4 to $5 in private funding for every $1 of federal money. Obviously, if we partner with private sector interests, their rates of return will have to be much more than, for example, a Canada Savings Bond would yield. Will that mean tolls/user fees for roads, bridges, etc.? Whose interests are thus served?
But a pretty face and a pleasing manner can conceal only so much. Perhaps the government's masked slipped a bit recently, and a truer visage emerged, as Walkom notes:
As for the hallmark of neo-liberal economies — the precarious workplace of low wages and multiple jobs — the advice from Finance Minister Bill Morneau is hardly encouraging.
In effect he has said: Get used to it.