Canadian Politics – Elite Wealth vs. Elite Education (vs. Neither) – Piketty’s Analysis
Presenter: Barrie Webster
Canadian politics is often viewed through a lens derived from the historic left-right spectrum point of view. Thomas Piketty, the French economist, views it somewhat differently on the basis of societal trends since World War II.
He has studied post-electoral survey results from France, the UK, and the USA to assemble the argument that the expanded education of the traditional middle class and working class has created a new component, what he calls the ‘brahmin left’ – a new professional/administrative class “that votes left against the wealthy ‘merchant right,’ but is far from the working-class values of the traditional roots of the political left.”
Looking at 21 western democracies, Piketty has discovered changes in voting patterns. Crawford Killan, writing in the Tyee uses this knowledge to explain current Canadian political deviation from the classical left-right spectrum.
Expanding educational and employment opportunities since the 1940s have enabled working class and middle class families to climb the social ladder. The result is a new kind of middle class: professionals who identified with governments as agencies of the people rather than with the private sector.
Political parties thus shifted from representing social classes to representing ‘elites’: high income elites vote for the ‘right’ while highly educated elites (‘the brahmin left’) support the ‘left’. Less well educated voters, traditional supporters of the ‘left’, now support traditional conservative and anti-immigration parties, or simply don’t vote. The brahmin left does not attract their vote.
Further, women have become less conservative and more likely to vote left as are immigrant voters.
The general pattern Piketty has detected internationally, he suggests can be applied to Canada. High income Canadians do vote for right-wing parties, while high-education Canadians vote left. Canadian Greens, however, are 50% least educated, 40% middle-educated, and 10% highly educated. In other similar democracies: Belgium, Finland, Germany, New Zealand, Sweden and Switzerland, the Greens are dominated by high-education voters.
Piketty’s interpretation of Canadian politics, says Killan, looks at the role of gender, age, religion (or its absence), and comes up with the conclusion that in view of the environment and immigration being dominant considerations in the coming few decades, the NDP and Greens could establish a truly egalitarian post-colonial society in Canada.
Fifty years ago, Dave Barrett’s NDP was built on worker support. Killan, building on Piketty’s thinking, says that today that would not happen.
John Ivison, in the National Post, quotes Donald Savoie (2019) in commenting that Canadian democracy is being threatened. He suggests that the political institutions that we inherited from Britain were not suited to a federated pioneer society such as ours. He observes that these institutions have been squeezed aside: power is no longer in Parliament, political parties, the Cabinet, or the bureaucracy. It now resides with the Prime Minister, his immediate advisors, key lobbyists, and economic elites and the courts.
Recent Environics data shows a variety of trends in Canadian public opinion (ten areas). Noteworthy are a drop in confidence in business leaders, growing concern for the less well-off, an increased awareness in racism, frustration over snail’s pace progress towards reconciliation wit h Indigenous peoples, expectation that immigration will increase, generational differences in political perspective in Quebec, warming relations between BC and Canada, disagreement over the need for action primarily of the environment (climate change and environmental degradation) or on employment and the economy, increasing questioning of the value of federalism.