POPULISM, YELLOW VESTS & FORT MCMURRAY

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To kick of the New Year I read Stephen Harper’s “Right Here Right Now: Politics and Leadership in the Age of Disruption.” It comes out my desire as a pastor and leader to be like the Old Testament men of Issachar, who are described as “men who understood the times and knew what Israel should do.” (1 Chronicles 12:32, NIV)

In my seven years in Fort McMurray there has been a growing disruption among the typical working women and men of our city who have grown more and more jaded and cynical about our political leaders, feeling overlooked and disrespected as they simply desire steady work so that they and their families can live well.

Today I hear very good people, people I know and love, people I respect, wondering out loud if confederation even works, questioning if Canada is worth preserving. There is a growing wave of populist unrest and western alienation that is growing stronger and louder. I was caught by surprise when a friend added me the Yellow Vest Fort McMurray Facebook Group. Yellow vests in Fort McMurray? Yes! And I suspect will see and hear more from them. 

I have always respected Stephen Harper. He’s a common-sense leader with a heart for the average working Canadian. He is also in my estimation a brilliant economist, whose polices as prime minister led our country into growing prosperity with balanced budgets. He is a Christ follower who worships with my faith tribe, the Christian & Missionary Alliance. He sees himself as a populist, a leader in touch with the common people. Yeah I know, after ten years his government fell hard partially out of a sense that he too became out of touch, but my respect remains. So when his book came out promising to help leaders navigate in this age of disruption, I knew it was the book to kick off my reading list for 2019! 

What follows are a few random highlights that struck me personally. There will be no quotation marks when the words are directly Harpers. For the most part these are all Harper’s thoughts with a few of my own reflections thrown in. Maybe you like me will gain some insights as we lead in the midst of this growing unrest in Alberta and across the country. With both a provincial and federal election ahead of us, it should prove to be an interesting year.  

(1)  Harper is no Trump fan. He sees both Barack Obama and George W. Bush as superior men and leaders. But he also sees it as a huge mistake to dismiss Trump because of his extreme flaws. Trump got to where he is today because he was listening to and aligning with the hearts and minds of average working Americanswhose incomes have stagnated or declined over the past quarter-century. 

(2)  The problem is that governments, whether to the left or right, whether in the U.S., Canada or Europe have often tended to end up in the hands of ideological eliteswho are more interested in promoting their ideology than addressing the legitimate needs of the average worker.  This is where you see a growing backlash to Trudeau in Canada. Trudeau is bent on imposing his ideology on Canada and the world, calling it the Canadian way, while dismissing the millions of Canadians who disagree or are being hurt by his ideological policies. 

(3)  Populism, which brought Trump to power, which saw Brexit arise in Great Britain, Yellow Vest riots in France and is growing quickly in Canada, is a political movement that places the wider interests of the common people ahead of the special interests of the privileged few

(4)  Populism can rise out of the political right or the left. Bernie Sanders is an example of populism rising out of the left. 

(5)  Current populism is not just about the economy but includes a rising push back on illegal immigration. The issue is “illegal immigration” not“legal immigration”. This push back is not primarily racist. Rather it’s fear driven arising out of the negative impact of bad immigration policies on job security, wages as well as personal security and crime. 

(6)  As Prime Minister Harper operated with a Canada first policy. In that sense he is a nationalist.  Nationalism or at least patriotism is a pretty normal state of affairs in most counties at most time. So Trumps mantra to put America first is really the mantra of being a responsible national leader. 

(7)  Nationalism and looking after the needs of your own country doesn’t mean you don’t care for what’s happening in the rest of the world. We live in a globally connected world. As we flourish as a nation, we want to see other nations flourish. But this a delicate balancing act.Take free trade as a key example:  Free trade and globalization has led to reduction of poverty on a world-wide scale. This is awesome and needs to be applauded. But Free Trade has to be balanced with the job loss and wage reductions it creates at home. Here we see Harper promoting a pragmatic over an ideological approach to managing the economy. You can also see that while he believes in less government, he’s no economic libertarian.                       

Hundreds of truckers joined the Truck Convoy in Nisku on December 19, 2018 to support the oil and gas industry in Alberta. (PHOTO BY LARRY WONG/POSTMEDIA)

 HARPER’S CONCLUSION:

Harper is sounding a passionate warning to Canada that if we fail to respond constructively to the growing concerns of contemporary populists, those concerns will heat up in the short term creating a more volatile and less hospitable country, and then boil over in the long term by substantially damaging our economic foundation

Should the current populist surge fail, Harper predicts that this will cause a frustrated populist public to look to new leaders and new solutions and flip from the right to the left. He sees the radical populist left represented by leaders like Bernie Sanders in the U.S. or a Jeremy Corbyn in Britain as huge threats with their “burn it all down” message and rhetoric that idealizes the failed socialism of the Cold War era. 

It’s easy to debate Harper’s points. We live in a polarized society. The challenge is to enter into dialogue with ideas we may or may not quickly gravitate to. The challenge is to listen to each other. 

I don’t know if Harper’s fears are over stated. But my personal sense is that all across this country we really do need to listen to the growing populist angst. Populism and western alienation are alive and well in Canada and will not be brushed aside. And I would think that it’s always to our advantage to listen to and work with the concerns of such a critical mass of Canadians, the average working Canadian. 

As a pastor leading in these volatile times, in a city on the front lines of this volatility, I need to take more time to prayerfully consider how to navigate all this. What is a Christian response to all this? that Hopefully will surface in a future post.  I certainly welcome your thoughts. Maybe leave them on themy Facebook post that lines to this blog. www.facebook.com/doug.doyle.

Happy New Year. It’s going to be an interesting one! 

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