Can OWS Get Traction in Canada?

Tony Keller, executive fellow at the Mowat Centre at the University of Toronto (amongst other things), advances the sensible Canadian reaction to the OWS movement, arguing that many of the reforms protesters in the United States are calling for have already been realized in this country.

I suppose one could quibble with some of the assertions made (e.g., though they didn’t need bailing out, the Canadian government did in fact backstop the banks here during the height of the crisis with significant amounts of public money and while corporations may be prevented from contributing directly to the political system, they still exert considerable influence over it through less direct but nonetheless coercive means). Still, the key points Keller makes are, it seems to me, essentially valid ones.

19 Comments

Filed under Canadian Politics, Economy

19 responses to “Can OWS Get Traction in Canada?

  1. Brad Dillman (TRN)

    Well, I attended Occupy NS in Halifax last weekend. As I walked there, I organized my mental notes. My first reason to attend, I thought, was to show solidarity with OWS. I think they have it far worse than we do, and I hoped calmly adding my voice and face to the crowd could raise awareness and hopefully improve the credibility of the movement (though some are adamantly polarized entirely against it anyway).

    I found people of all sorts there, more than a few union members, but only 1 protester that suggested capitalism should be scrapped; everyone I spoke with thought that would be a disastrous discontinuity. Not that many were looking for a handout; most just wanted fair access and opportunity. And I do sympathize that some executive bonuses are difficult to fathom.

    Since there aren’t any specific demands, I don’t expect OWS to have much direct impact beyond raising awareness and hopefully sympathy (as long as things stay peaceful). Perhaps OWS will inspire some spin-off events with more specific goals and more directed impact.

  2. I think the Canadian version of the Occupy movement will have an entirely different endgame than the US versions. Because the movement is in such flux, goals have not yet been fully identified. I would not say that because of the different goals, the Canadian versions will fade away. My feeling so far is that the Canadian version will be more in line with the Canadian progressive platforms. In Canada, the emphasis will be on politics rather than just the economy and banks. But it is too early to tell. Let’s give the movement in Canada some time. We most likely will all benefit from their efforts, no matter what side of the fence you occupy.

  3. It should be interesting to see what specific proposals eventually emerge from the homegrown movement here. Just calling vaguely for “social justice” etc., isn’t really all that helpful to the discourse.

  4. Roland

    Unfortunately the key issue–the maldistribution of wealth that has arisen in our society since we embraced neoliberalism–is an enormous issue. Therefore the solution is unavoidably vague. Currently there is no political party in Canada, not even the NDP, which is willing to face the matter head-on. What can one do, then, except pile into the streets and hope for the best?

    Canada’s credit bubble hasn’t burst yet. We have been helped by the high demand for our raw materials. But fundamentally, Canada’s banking sector isn’t much more sound than its counterparts elsewhere in the modern West. People have borrowed too much, and too much investment has been made in non-productive sectors.

  5. Jane

    OCCUPATION WALL STREET Marine stops NYPD – this guys is a “HERO”

  6. Sgt. Shamar Thomas on Countdown:

  7. I think there’s a bit of willful blindness on the part of Keller here. While the protestors may not be articulating it, the big thing for Canada is that, since the 80s, we’ve been converging with the United States in many policy areas. We’re engaged in a race to the bottom on taxes. Inequality may be less than in the US, but it is increasing here and we’re still squarely in the “Anglo-American” group of countries as far as that goes. Chretien’s campaign finance rules were wonderful, but Harper has already begun dismantling them. The Liberals managed to smack down the banks, but does anyone really doubt that within a decade or so everything will be forgotten, allowing our already international Canadian banks to get involved in more dangerous financial hijinks?

    As far as the inability of the protestors to present a fully costed and planned policy platform, the criticism continues to seem strange to me. People are treating this as the first time that folks have ever protested about certain issues rather than to push for specific changes. So much mocking of the movement because not everyone in the crowd is an economist or social scientist with concrete solutions, but surely that’s for policy entrepreneurs to take care of (a task which the NDP are entirely unable to accomplish).

    There’s a big opportunity for a political party to redefine itself as something other than populist left or right. If only there were some party in Canada in search of such an opportunity at the moment…

  8. trainman

    Roland,

    The OWS crowd haven’t presented a logical argument. They are simply protesting the fact that they aren’t as well off as other individuals (the 1%), and that’s it.

    As has been pointed out already, that’s pretty useless in and of itself. The reason the US finds itself in this situation is because the United States provides many freedoms, including the freedom to innovate and the freedom to succeed. Along with those freedoms come the freedom to digress and the freedom to fail. And the folks that haven’t succeeded are upset that others have. But what do they propose to do about it? Legislate a redistribution of wealth, to take away from those that have earned it and give to those that haven’t? Changing the rules of the economy midstream to reduce the rewards for those that work hard and innovate and increase rewards for those that don’t?

    The reason that people are asking the OWS crowd to present a formal argument is that doing so will force the OWS folks to follow their demands to a natural and logical conclusion. Those asking this of the OWS folks have probably already done so and realized that the demands are not achievable. They’d just like the OWS to wake up and smell the reality of economics and democracy.

    “So much mocking of the movement because not everyone in the crowd is an economist or social scientist with concrete solutions, but surely that’s for policy entrepreneurs to take care of…”

    Unbelievable. Did you read what you wrote?? You’re suggesting that the very entrepreneurs the OWS are railing against should come to their aid by articulating their vision?? If the OWS wants to move their agenda forward then they can articulate it themselves. They can hire their own policy advisers, and invest their own time and effort in communicating their agenda.

    Your statement is exactly what’s wrong with the OWS movement. If the OWS wants something, they have the freedom to go out and get it, a freedom that is unparalleled anywhere in the world. If they don’t like debt, then they shouldn’t go into debt–not a single person in debt to a bank in this country was ever forced or coerced into doing so. Blaming others for one’s own mistakes is no solution at all.

  9. Craig Chamberlain

    (Financial security, and all the good stuff that goes with that? Successful bandits need only apply.)

  10. You’re obviously not particularly bright trainman, but for everyone’s sake do just a touch of reading before mouthing off, begin by simply googling “policy entrepreneur”. Sheesh.

  11. Peter

    Shiner:

    You seem to have abandoned substantive arguments for drive-by snipes. A guy as bright as you knows well enough that is the low-value occupation scrip of the Internet. It’s been a while since your own blog has dealt with anything but good deals on beer, but you do still seem to like wading in on occasion to throw shadow punches and then disappear. You are a birght guy, so how about sharing with us your own well-thought out views on the OWS crowd.

  12. tofkw

    Peter, trainman’s last paragraph is almost directly lifted from a statement Herman Cain made just a few days ago criticizing the OWS protests. He may be good at selling pizzas, but I don’t consider Cain anywhere close to being an intellectual (and he certainly sucks at economics). If trainman wants to come in here with a closed mind spewing tired, old GOP and FauxNews talking points, he’s practically asking for the snipes.

    And this old argument that the market crash was all the poor people’s fault and that the financial institutions are not to blame has already been thoroughly debunked long, long ago. One need only read the FBI’s concluding statements in their investigation as to who they think was to blame when the sub-prime bubble finally burst.

    And to date, no arrests have been made, and no new legislation has been enacted that addresses the findings in that FBI report. THAT is what the OWS protesters are marching about!

  13. Peter,
    I have no interest in arguing with trolls. Trainman didn’t make any substantive point, only demonstrated ignorance. There’s no response I can make to:

    Unbelievable. Did you read what you wrote?? You’re suggesting that the very entrepreneurs the OWS are railing against should come to their aid by articulating their vision??

    It’s not a serious point and it’s being made by someone with no interest in a serious discussion.

    I’ll debate someone with knowledge and a logical point. Blogging about good beer (I’m insulted that you think I focus on good deals on beer) is far more productive than repeating what is said a million times over on the web by far better writers and far more interesting thinkers than I. I’m fed up with the tit-for-tat discussions, scripted responses, and lies that characterise most internet “debate”. Please, point out to me where I’ve thrown “shadow punches” and vanished. I certainly haven’t done so on purpose, I simply don’t have the time to monitor every thread of every blog waiting for form-letter responses. I’d rather correct folks on obvious lies or complete misrepresentations than try to convince internet partisans of the error of their ways.

    I gave my views above. I think OWS protestors are angry about serious issues and I think there’s an opportunity for politicians to step into the gap. What else do I need to say?

  14. While I find the vagueness of the OWS protest a bit frustrating at times, it’s fairly ludicrous to expect them to “present a formal argument” and policy brief delineating what the solution to the problem of egregious wealth disparity should be.

    Unlike the Tea Party that simply wanted to take a wrecking ball to government (except for their own entitlements, of course) and tear things down — which is a pretty radical and extremist position, although it was never characterized that way in the mainstream media – these folks sense that something has gone incredibly haywire with the status quo and are looking for answers…

  15. trainman

    @shiner,

    You’re obviously not particularly bright trainman, but for everyone’s sake do just a touch of reading before mouthing off, begin by simply googling “policy entrepreneur”. Sheesh.

    A scintillating argument to be sure. Maybe you should google policy entrepreneur, it means exactly what I inferred it meant. Hmmm, I wonder how many enterprising and politically engaged lawyers work for banks on Wall Street helping them influence policies and then figuring out ways to profit from those policies? Go ahead, google it, I dare you.

    If you think that your statement above in any way constitutes a rebuttal to my post, then you need to seriously brush up on your understanding of debate.

  16. trainman

    @tofkw

    Peter, trainman’s last paragraph is almost directly lifted from a statement Herman Cain made just a few days ago … If trainman wants to come in here with a closed mind spewing tired, old GOP and FauxNews talking points.

    Well for starters, I’ve never even heard of Herman Cain, and I couldn’t tell you what he said just a few days ago, but if he has the same insight I do, I’m not sure what that has to do with the point I’m making. If you’re suggesting that my offering an argument that is similar to one offered by another individual, nullifies that argument in and of itself, you obviously should join shiner in gaining an understanding of logic and debate.

    And this old argument that the market crash was all the poor people’s fault and that the financial institutions are not to blame…

    Please, show me where I said that the market crash was all the poor people’s fault?

    If you’re intent on rebutting arguments I didn’t make, you don’t have to bother posting on this blog, as you can do that by yourself.

    And to date, no arrests have been made, and no new legislation has been enacted that addresses the findings in that FBI report. THAT is what the OWS protesters are marching about!

    So that’s what you think, eh? Well, good luck finding a source to state that fact. What little structure that exists around this occupation does not claim any specific agenda, other than to “take back the power”.

    Which returns us to our original point…That is why the OWS crowd is being asked to state their objectives and demands, and as per my post above, what ever they do demand, it will be a real head scratcher when it comes to understanding the practical implementation.

  17. trainman

    Please, point out to me where I’ve thrown “shadow punches” and vanished.

    Ok Shiner! I’ll show you…

    My post made the following points (in summary):
    1. As a result of freedoms in the US, freedoms both to be successful and a failure, some people are rich and some people are poor. How are the OWS proposing to change our freedoms to avoid this?

    2. The OWS crowd is being asked to formalize it’s position/demands so that we, and they, can understand what they think is the right solution to the countries problems.

    3. And once the OWS crowd has defined their raison d’etre, they can use their own resources and time to try and achieve it.

    See what I did there, made succinct points and provided the rationale/reasoning behind them.

    Then you, responded as follows:

    You’re obviously not particularly bright trainman, but for everyone’s sake do just a touch of reading before mouthing off, begin by simply googling “policy entrepreneur”. Sheesh.

    You didn’t address point #1, you didn’t address point #2, or #3. In fact you didn’t address anything in the post. You simply made an unfounded assertion that I wasn’t bright, and I should do a google search.

    Maybe you should google “shadow punching”.

    You also tell us how you’re “…fed up with the tit-for-tat discussions, scripted responses, and lies that characterise most internet “debate”.” People in glass houses dude.

  18. Oh for the love of…

    Just because I like Peter,

    1) This is complete BS. This isn’t the first time the issue of inequality has come up. Inequality in the US is not due to the freedoms they have. That’s not my opinion, it’s the finding of decades of research on inequality across developed countries. Income inequality in the US is due partly to changes in technology and education, but it is mostly due to specific enactments on the part of various governments and/or policy drift as the economy matured and evolved. Do you really believe that some magic switch was flicked in 1970 that made the beneficiaries of this massive income growth work harder? It wasn’t. The growth in the top 1% in the US was due mostly to changing fiscal policy and changes in the rules governing the relationship between owners and managers. I don’t know why the OWS has to propose anything, we know why some countries have lower gini coefficients than others. We know how tax systems and redistribution programmes affect the gap between incomes. We’re not reinventing the wheel here, the US is the outlier, not the rest of the developed world.

    2) No, the OWS is being mocked for being a bunch of confused and naive hippies, don’t pretend you’re just a disinterested bystander looking for answers. Protesting rotten conditions is entirely legitimate, especially when we have policy levers that can be used to address those conditions.

    3) You’re suggesting they plan a heist? This is what I mean by unserious. Since the mid-20th century it’s been generally agreed that the government has a role to play in tweaking the results of the game in order to avoid the whole thing spinning out of control. Inequality ends up being good for nobody in the long run, the cause of the poor sooner or later stops being their problem.

    Opinions are like assholes dude, before you want to talk about something get your facts straight and make just a teensy bit of effort to understand the issue.

  19. tofkw

    ”Well for starters, I’ve never even heard of Herman Cain.”

    Here he is, with a blunter version of your argument:
    http://abcnews.go.com/Politics/cain-tells-occupy-wall-street-protesters-blame/story?id=14674829

    – – –

    ”Please, show me where I said that the market crash was all the poor people’s fault?”

    Right here:
    “If the OWS wants something, they have the freedom to go out and get it, a freedom that is unparalleled anywhere in the world. If they don’t like debt, then they shouldn’t go into debt–not a single person in debt to a bank in this country was ever forced or coerced into doing so. Blaming others for one’s own mistakes is no solution at all.” – trainman

    This is the Republican’s strategy for deflecting the blame from Wall Street to the poor and working class for taking out the sub-prime mortgages in the first place. You’re parroting this well, so I question your stated ignorance.

    – – –

    ”So that’s what you think, eh? Well, good luck finding a source to state that fact.”

    This statement is right from the Occupy Wall Street website:

    “OWS is fighting back against the corrosive power major banks and unaccountable multinational corporations wield against democracy, and the role of Wall Street in creating the economic collapse that has caused the greatest recession in nearly a century.”http://occupywallst.org

    Ok they don’t mention it specifically, but I can’t see how this can be accomplished without arresting some bankers and drafting new regulatory legislation to make Wall Street accountable to the US electorate. If you can see a way around arrests and legislation, I’d like to read your ideas.

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