If you listen to Pierre Poilievre, the leading — and rightmost — candidate for the Conservative Party’s leadership, Canada is a dictatorship suffering under the thumb of the tyrant, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. To escape from the authoritarian rule of the Liberals, Poilievre (aka Skippy) promises to make us “the freest place in the world.” In a recent interview published in Macleans, Poilievre used the words freedom or freedoms 24 times. In one answer to the interviewer, Skippy said,
I believe in freedom of speech on the internet, so governments shouldn’t control what we see and say online.
Which exposes his massive ignorance of how the internet works, at least in democracies. Liberal, democratic governments DON’T control what people say on the internet. Laws about defamation, libel, and hate speech can be applied to any medium (the former two usually only by individuals, not governments). All the social media platforms are either owned by individuals or corporations, and they can censor or permit users pretty much as they please because it’s their ball, their playground, their rules. Even so, it takes really nasty, violent, dangerous or even criminal activity to get yourself banned from, say, Twitter (which, of course, Donald Trump managed to do to himself).
Democratic governments around the world have decried their inability to stop the spread of misinformation and disinformation online. From anti-vaccination claptrap, to pizzagate, to Trump won in 2020, to the insurrectionist movements (like the Caanadian truckers’ convoy that Skippy supported), to the fake Liberal truck tax, the stream of lies, misinformation, and conspiracies online seems unending. It’s pretty much open to anyone to spread whatever they wish.
And they do so, as do foreign agents, such as those working for Putin who used social media to influence the 2016 and 2020 US elections as well as spread COVID-19 disinformation. As one report noted:
Foreign actors have engaged in information warfare to intensify divisions on both the far left and right, by tapping into the tide of frustration that is rising with the second wave of the pandemic: isolation, social distancing, financial trouble, the unpleasantness of wearing masks and most importantly, our fear.
Does Poilievre mean to start telling individuals and corporations how to run their online platforms? To tell them whose voices they must allow on these platforms? If so, that doesn’t sound like “freedom” to me: more like Orwellian, authoritarian control. Or does Skippy merely want to stop the few flaccid attempts by these owners to halt the flow of alt-right racism and misogyny?
Poilievre commented in a rightwing-site interview:
Don’t be silenced. We’ve all heard about herd immunity, well there’s an attempt to drive ‘herd consensus’ and to prevent anyone who has a contrary point of view from stating it out loud. Those who are confident in the factual underpinnings of their position should not fear debate, they should welcome it and the people in the community should speak up when they hear things that don’t make any sense to them.
Well, Skippy, being “confident” in your beliefs is irrelevant to the science or to the facts. Every conspiracy advocate is confident they’re right and all the non-believers are wrong. And making sense doesn’t matter to the facts. The genetics of mRNA vaccines makes little sense to me because I’m not a geneticist or virologist. Simply because I don’t understand, doesn’t mean I have any credibility if I speak up against them. But credibility doesn’t seem to matter to Skippy, as long as you speak up against it.
Herd consensus? Oh, you mean asking people to pay attention to what the doctors, virologists, epidemiologists, and nurses tell us about controlling the pandemic. The “factual underpinings” come from these people, from actual laboratory research and peer-reviewed studies, not from some character in their basement making YouTube videos ranting about aliens bringing COVID to cull humanity.
Skippy must think that the claims made in videos from unqualified sources are more credible than the advice of our highly experienced, professional medical officers of health who are in contact with their peers, hospital staff and doctors worldwide.
Skippy loves Youtube and isn’t shy to boast about it:
“My wife and I have been known to watch YouTube and your channel late into the night once we’ve got the kids to bed,” he told the host during an interview on a recent broadcast. “I’ve learned a lot.”
The article continued; “Poilievre added people should “not be afraid” of discourse.” Which, given his support for the alt-right, insurrectionist trucker convoy, is ironic. The truckers sure didn’t engage in discourse when they blockaded downtown Ottawa, honking air horns 24/7, and bullying residents and businesses for obeying mask mandates. Handing out an ultimatum to dissolve the government was hardly a discourse.
When the right grouses about free speech, it usually means their freedom to say what they will, not what others say. The right is very keen on banning books that contradict their ideology, pseudo-religion, racism, or fantasized version of history. Or math: Flordia governor Ron DeSantis banned 54 math textbooks recently, without giving specific reasons, but one has to wonder if he had a problem with math classes in school and this is how he gets even. Salon Magazine called the Repugnican campaign to ban books “their mission to spread ignorance.” But I digress.
Skippy added in the interview,
We should allow families to make their own decisions—I believe in a country where if you want to raise your kids with traditional Judeo-Christian values, you can do that. If you want to live the secular or even atheistic life, you can do that too. You can marry who you want, make your own personal decisions with minimal interference by the state and maximal freedom for individuals and families.
I won’t, for the moment, get into the argument about just what “Judeo-Christian” values he might mean (stoning? slavery? rape? incest? adultery? lying? deceit? collecting enemies’ foreskins? they’re all in the Bible), suffice to say that the term is often used by the pseudo-Christian Talibangelists who wish to install an authoritarian, white supremacist theocracy on us, based on a very selective and very repressive interpretation of their bible.
I’m not sure which decisions our government doesn’t already allow families to make because I can’t find anything where Skippy explains what they are. But if you repeat a lie often enough and loud enough, people will begin to think it’s the truth (a rule about the “illusion of truth” often attributed to Nazi propaganda minister, Joseph Goebbels).
Skippy may not know what those decisions are because he’s had to face so very few of them himself. Certainly not work-related dilemmas. Since graduating from university with a BA, he has not held any other job aside from being a politician or a political shill (including a [volunteer?] stint in the Campaign to Draft Stockwell Day and selling Reform Party memberships for Jason Kenney).
In Canada, you are already free to believe and practise any religion, or not to practice any. Aside from abuse and child pornography, you can raise your kids pretty much as you see fit, in any religious or nonreligious tradition. It’s even remarkably easy to pull them out of public education and homeschool them (even though this generally makes them more ignorant than a public education). You can already marry anyone of any sex, choose your own bank, your own car, which city you want to live in, which phone to buy, which stores to shop at. You can freely move around the country, too, working and living anywhere you wish.*
Ah, but our various levels of government implemented those “oppressive” vaccination and mask mandates (most of which were actually implemented under provincial, not federal jurisdiction). These were, of course, only enacted after much consultation and argument with health officials, doctors, lawyers, and epidemiologists to protect people, control a raging pandemic, and save our healthcare systems from collapsing.
And let’s not forget: the few federal mandates such as those on international travel were matched by almost all nations worldwide. Even if Canada had not implemented them, Canadians still had to obey the mandates of other nations in order to visit them.
People DIED from getting COVID and many of those infected are suffering long-term effects. It’s still raging as I write this (Ontario is in its SIXTH wave of the pandemic). It would have been a lot worse, with MANY more deaths and hospitalizations if those mandates and all those free vaccines had not been brought in, or were ended sooner (just look at how Trump’s delay in responding early killed so many Americans). Yet Skippy thinks having to wear a mask or get a shot was a violation of some imaginary freedom:
You don’t get to take away someone else’s freedom because they made a personal health decision that you don’t like.
How oppressive: to require people to wear masks in public, and to get vaccinated against a highly contagious virus in jobs where you managed public healthcare. How awful that Trudeau took away our freedom to infect others and cause even more deaths! A recent commentary on Breachmedia noted about Skippy’s politics:
As the pandemic has unleashed new dynamics into Canadian society, he has built up greater support, lashing out at “gatekeepers” in speeches peppered with conspiracy theory dog-whistling and appeals to the anti-vaccine movement.
In the Macleans’ interview, Skippy claims,
I believe in individual responsibility.
But not, apparently, taking responsibility for the results of your actions on the health and lives of others, not for contributing to the greater good or general welfare of the nation, not for how what you do affects the neighbourhood or community, not for any obligations living in a free society requires.
The whole point of representative democracy is that we elect people to take responsibility for us as a community, as a province, or as a nation, and allow them to pass laws accordingly. Individuals can’t pick and choose what laws to obey simply because they don’t like or disagree with them, or they run counter to some QAnon conspiracy. We can always elect a different government or candidate when we disagree with the former one. Yes, you can protest a law, but not disobey them.
And quite frankly, you cannot make personal decisions about a vast array of things you do, not without causing harm or occurring some penalties. You can’t decide to drive your car on the sidewalk, you can’t decide to shoot at strangers, you can’t decide to burn your neighbour’s house down, or beat your dog with a whip. You can’t decide to drive without a licence or insurance, to shop naked, to defecate on a public sidewalk, to drink booze from the bottle in the liquor store, to walk out of a store without paying for goods… society has rules we all agree to obey, if not always wholeheartedly. The opposite of society is anarchy: a place where everyone is free to do whatever they please.
…there are tens of thousands of people who have gathered on overpasses, beside highways, on sidewalks across the country to demand that governments give them their freedoms back.
So what? That doesn’t legitimize anything, any more than arguing that, because thousands of people are still smoking, that makes it safe. There were many more people who weren’t on the overpasses and highways; many more truckers who were not part of the attempted insurrection than participated in it. Shouldn’t the majority have a voice, too? The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, as Spock often said (the science officer, not the Dr.).
And those “tens of thousands of people” were also being fed a tsunami of lies, misinformation about COVID with a heavy dose of anti-Liberal propaganda on social media by Skippy’s alt-right friends, Fox “news,” and Putin-backed agents (emphasis added):
With access to seven million Canadian households plus French-language TV from Quebec, RT [Russian TV] has been serving up a steady diet of anti-vaccine and anti-mask articles since the beginning of the pandemic as part of long-standing propaganda campaign to destabilize democracies by dividing their citizens.
During the Ottawa occupation, it offered one toxic editorial by Sputnik France (another Russian state agency) that described the Canadian state as “dictatorship” and the “first iteration of a Chinese-style social credit regime in the western world.”
And here’s Skippy calling Trudeau a dictator… just like RT has been doing. Coincidence? Methinks not. Libertarians are, at heart, authoritarians.
I should throw in a comment about those many other limits on our freedoms: child car seats; seatbelts; smoking bans; smallpox, measles, and polio vaccines; requirements for driving; car and truck safety laws; speed limits; property and income taxes; pet laws, gun laws, property standards and noise bylaws, drinking laws, and about all sorts of limits governments have put on our personal freedoms for the past 155 years of our nation’s existence, and yet we haven’t become a dictatorship yet. To live in a civilized society is to accept such limits to your personal freedom so that others can enjoy their lives as well. And to protect public services and systems like healthcare. It’s a compromise we all have to make.
And I should also throw in a comment about how both federal and provincial governments have made similar medical decisions and even mandates to protect the safety of Canadians since the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918. Kids already have to be vaccinated for a wide range of diseases while in school, including tetanus, diphtheria, pertussis, polio, measles, mumps, rubella, chickenpox, meningococcus, hepatitis b, human papillomavirus (HPV), diphtheria, and pertussis. Will these be eliminated by Skippy’s “pro-freedom” ideologues so parents have the “freedom” for their kids to be ill, disabled, or even die?
Skippy’s blather about freedom is pernicious. He keeps pushing his “freedom” slogan, implying Canada isn’t free because his pro-vaccine opponents and the Liberals have made it so. It’s just a bumper sticker slogan, not the truth. How very Donald Trump of him.
Given that the Canadian Fraser Institute and the US Cato Institute — both ultra-rightwing policy centres — rank Canada as the 6th most free nation in the world out of 165 nations measured (2021 rankings: see here). We are on par with Finland (8.85 out of 10), and not very far behind Switzerland (9.11), New Zealand (9.01), Denmark (8.98), Estonia (8.91) and Ireland (8.90). The USA comes in much below Canada, at number 15.
Canada’s “personal freedom” index — defined here as “an individual’s freedom of opinion and expression, equality before the courts, security of private property, and freedom to come and go” — is ranked even higher, at 9.4, which puts it even higher on the list of nations in that category (the USA is lower at 9.09: see full report here, p. 27, and 108-09). It’s hard to imagine what exactly Poilievre wants to do to make us even more free. Or why he thinks we need it.**
Russia — much beloved by the alt-right, Fox “news,” and the Repugnican Party — slinks in at a miserable number 126 (6.23, with a personal freedom score of 5.9; likely over-rated today, since this survey was done before Putin’s war and his aggressive campaign of arresting, silencing, jailing, and often killing dissenters, rivals, and opposition).
Skippy’s “freedom” slogan reminds me of what Aleister Crowley, that con-man-mage of the early 20th century, wrote in his Book of the Law in 1904:
“Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law.”
It’s always been a Libertarian goal, to reduce or even eliminate government and all its laws, bylaws, regulations, controls, safety protocols, all forms of public ownership, and let the elites and the corporations own and take over running everything. They envision a Mad-Max world of feudal kingdoms where workers are basically indentured servants or slaves to the tribal warlords or dictatorial tycoons who run their fiefdoms as they see fit.
A future under Skippy’s ideology looks pretty scary to me.
(Watch for more posts debunking Skippy in the near future…)
* The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms should be read by every Canadian. It states as its very first principle, and this is VERY important (emphasis added):
The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees the rights and freedoms set out in it subject only to such reasonable limits prescribed by law as can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society.
Got that? Even our open, democratic society admits there may be restrictions necessary. It adds (emphasis added);
2. Everyone has the following fundamental freedoms:
a) freedom of conscience and religion;
b) freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression, including freedom of the press and other media of communication;
c) freedom of peaceful assembly; and
d) freedom of association.
3. Every citizen of Canada has the right to vote in an election of members of the House of Commons or of a legislative assembly and to be qualified for membership therein.
Freedom of “other media of communication” already exists in Canada, no matter what Skippy claims to the contrary. And the internet is a medium of communication.
Notice it also says “peaceful assembly” — an alt-right insurrectionist truckers’ convoy waving Nazi and Confederate flags, blaring horns all hours, bullying and intimidating residents of the city did not meet that criterion.
** The “freedom” report underscores the pro-corporate/anti-worker/anti-socialist/libertarian views that both institutes foster in their rightwing ideologies:
Economic freedom can be seen in capitalism or “laissez-faire” economies, where the means of production (manufacturers or suppliers) are privately owned and the government has little to no control over businesses.
In other words, laws that protect the public from harm by corporate pollution, protect workers’ rights, have our banks meet stringent requirements, and also tax corporations and the elites fairly are laws that don’t contribute to the rightwing version of “freedom.” It’s the old “conservatives good/liberals bad; rich good/poor bad” slogans disguised in economic bloviation.