COLUMN | Foreign influence

Columnist Andre Carrel talks about politics

COLUMN | Foreign influence

By Andre Carrel

My MLA is calling on the provincial government, in the words of his party’s press release, to “take action to ensure that our democratic institutions and values are respected.” How could anyone resist that call?

If the call were coffee shop chatter, I’d give it a high-five. However, when a call of this kind is made by a person or a group in authority, I mull over the idea’s underlying principles and its broader implications before passing judgment. My MLA’s call for action was prompted by the discovery that six Canadian groups actively opposing the government-approved energy projects have received over $4 million from American organizations. That is seen as a “coordinated assault on our economy funded primarily by foreign money which hijacks aboriginal issues and seeks to freeze B.C. out of the global energy market with no concern for the tension and adversity they create in First Nations communities.”

The dominant political ideology, not just in British Columbia, but in Canada and, with few exceptions, in the rest of the world is neoliberalism. This ideology’s principal attribute is a focus on the economy, with demands for structured free-market methods, few restrictions on business operations, the expansion of property rights, and the opening of national borders to welcome multinational corporations.

This translates into the current reality of foreign investment in the exploitation of resources buried in our province. The sale of our resources to foreign buyers, returning profits to foreign investors is hailed as a success so long as it “creates” a few jobs for local people. This is a simplified summary, but a 560-word column does not allow for much more.

It should not come as a surprise that projects of the size typical in the energy industry will divide communities, be they affected directly, indirectly, or not at all. People need not be affected, not even remotely, to take a position on any issue. Gay, mobility, and many other rights are of no concern to me personally. However, democracy gives me ‘the right to have rights’, to take a forceful position on any right, and to do so with financial support from wherever I can get it.

What my MLA calls for shines a light on the conflict between neoliberal and democratic principles: whose rights are supreme, the citizen’s or the corporation’s? Would it upset my MLA if I were engaged in a campaign in support of the pipeline project, especially if he knew that my campaign relies on financial support from foreign sources? Would the government and the legislature, having approved the project, deem my campaign to be an example of “foreign-funded political interference”?

If “we” – human citizens as opposed to corporate citizens – allow our legislature to give our government the power to decide from whom “we” may receive financial support for a campaign opposed to government policy, “we” will have reduced our democracy to the status of a hood ornament.

Elections are important, but the relationship of elections to democracy is comparable to the relationship of grocery shopping to a healthy diet. It is a good start, but a healthy diet requires a lot more than a few carrots and some broccoli in a reusable shopping bag.

I have never met nor spoken to my MLA. Maybe someday we’ll have an opportunity to exchange a few ideas on what makes a healthy democracy.

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