… that Erin O’Tool’s recent shuffle of his shadow cabinet which sees Pierre Poilievre moved to be the critic for Jobs and Industry a “portfolio” which does not exist in the Trudeau cabinet signals two things:
- A laser-like focus on working and middle-class Canadians ~ the ones, especially, in the suburbs and smaller communities in the so-called Golden Horseshoe region, surrounding Toronto; and
- A longer range plan to reshape government so that the Industry (and Trade and Commerce) portfolio is the big creative one in government while Finance is responsible, mainly, for ensuring that revenues are adequate and that debts are being paid.
I have noted before that, in 1982, the American singer/songwriter Billy Joel wrote a recoded a song called ‘Allentown.’ Although it never became a “chart-topper” it was popular, in some part because it is, simply, a very good song, and partly because it became something of an anthem for those displaced when the giants of American heavy industry, rather than modernizing, automating and retraining their workforce just “outsourced” production to (mostly) Asia. The song ~ read the lyrics ~ was something of a cri de cœur for a generation already scarred by the Vietnam War and it expressed, I think, the deep frustrations into which Donald J Tump later tapped. Mr Joel saw and felt a social problem. Mr Trump understood the anger that lay underneath the frustration and he stoked it and used it to become President of the United States.
That frustration is here in Canada, too, and, as in America and Britain, the global COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated it. In an article in Foreign Affairs, Oren Cass, who is the executive director of Ameican Compass, an organization which aims to restore what I would call traditional British and Canadian Conservative, Australian Liberal-National Coalition and US Republican values, says that conservative politics has descended into “dogmatism” and he says that “Now is the moment for conservatives to reassert their claim to the right-of-center … [because all around the world] … serious problems created in part by the absence of a robust conservatism require conservative solutions. Progressivism, meanwhile, is increasingly obsessed with identity politics and the bugbears of its overeducated elite. That makes it uniquely vulnerable to competition from an ideological message focused on the worries shared by most Americans, regardless of their race or religion, about the foundations of their families and communities … [see, again, ‘Allentown’, and he adds, from an American perspective] … In politics, the odds usually favor incumbents, but the establishment that is flying conservatism’s banner has lost its vitality and now hunkers down behind crumbling walls, reciting stale pieties that few still believe. The circumstances today suggest that a realignment around a multiethnic, working-class conservatism might just have a chance.” He might be talking about what I have described, in the past, as ‘blue-collar conservatism.’
I believe that the ‘big idea’ that Erin O’Toole and Pierre Poilievre need to grab is an old one “jobs! Jobs!! JOBS!!!” And the key jobs that they need to try to create are blue-collar ones. The ‘gold standard’ for jobs is one which a young person without a university education can get and which, if (s)he works hard, will allow her or him to buy a car, marry, start a family, buy a small home in the suburbs and, eventually, have a boat or a cottage, too. That was the blue-collar expectation when my friends and I were in high school in the 1950s, ’60s and even in the early ’70s. It faded in the 1980s and had, essentially, disappeared by 2000. Now, in the 21st century, in too many instances, blue-collar is almost synonymous with the hopelessness of the precariat.
First, we must recognize that the changes that took place in the 1970s, ’80s and ’90s cannot be reversed. Heavy industry production has shifted and it’s not likely to shift back ~ Robert Lighthizer is wrong; all those great “metal bashing” jobs are not coming back to America, or to Britain or Canada, because those “jobs” are now being done by machines. But there are still many, many good jobs to be had in mining and processing the minerals, including petroleum, that go into the robots and assembling the robots and servicing the robots, too.
We have allowed our education and training system ~ and make no mistake, our schools, colleges and universities do both ~ to drift away from what should be our societal aim, to produce good citizens who are productive members of their communities, and, instead, to divide into two streams:
- One educates and trains e.g accountants, biologists, chemists, dentists, economists, engineers, lawyers, mathematicians, physicians, physicists and philosophers; and
- The other turns out actors, baristas and public relations copywriters.
A few, mainly populist-conservative politicians are talking, at last, about trying to change that. It is an important task because it requires an attitudinal change. We, Canadians, need to appreciate, once again, that there is real dignity in work … and there is none in lining up at a food bank or living on social assistance. Being a janitor is dignified, being an unemployable “community activist” is not. The unemployed “activist” and the barista with advanced degrees in gender studies probably think that Justin Trudeau is doing a great job. The janitors, the welders and construction workers and the truck drivers, all union members, by the way, are likely to despise Prime Minister Trudeau, as all thinking Canadians should, and to share many Conservative values, too.
That’s the background that I hope Messers O’Toole and Poilivre understand. More, tomorrow, on where I hope the Conservative Party of Canada is headed ~ where I think it needs to be headed.