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Naomi Klein: The Shock Doctrine Got Shot Down in Canada

Canada's Bush-imitating prime minister gets a political smackdown for trying to ram through radical policies.

Kim Elliott: As you outline so well in your book and in various interviews in the U.S. media, the current financial crisis holds the possibility of being one of those moments when the shock doctrine can best be applied. Can you comment on both the Harper government's economic and fiscal statement introduced last week, and on the Opposition's response to that -- that is, the formation of a coalition -- in the context of the shock doctrine?

Naomi Klein: Yes, absolutely. What I think we are seeing is a clear example of the shock doctrine in the way the Harper government has used the economic crisis to push through a much more radical agenda than they won a mandate to do.

At the same time we are seeing an example of what I call in the book a "shock resistance," where this tactic has been so overused around the world and also in Canada that we are becoming more resistant to the tactic -- we are on to them -- and Harper is not getting away with it.

What I think is really amazing about this moment is whatever happens next -- whether we end up with this coalition or not, we will have an extremely chastened Harper. So the attempted shock doctrine has failed. I think we can say that decisively.

Just to be clear, what I mean by the shock doctrine, as you know, is the use of crisis to push through unpopular pro-corporate policies. This bundling of a whole package of policies: denying the right of public sector workers to strike, the attack on public financing of political parties, with the economic program -- that is what failed, and people were offended by the opportunism of it.

This is what so many of us were worried about during the election -- the context of a Tory victory in an economic crisis, because we know that there is this pattern of using an economic crisis to push through policies that were nowhere during the campaign.

KE: This coalition gives us lots of opportunities, but it also poses some risks if it is successful. I'd like to ask you about that. In an interview you had on Democracy Now!, you said that part of the reason that Obama was appointing a host of neo-liberal economists was because there was a lack of "intellectual honesty" among progressives about the real legacy of the Clinton years. Does the Canadian left, in a Liberal-led coalition, risk losing our understanding of the neo-liberal legacy of the Liberals, who during those same Clinton years were ripping up Canada's welfare state, cutting social spending etc?

NK: I think it is really important to remember, and I've written about this in the book, and Linda McQuaig has written about it extensively, that it is the Liberals who actually implemented what I'm describing in Canada.

They were elected on an economic stimulus platform in 1993, with a huge mandate. The Tories were wiped out in those historic elections. And then they caved to pressure from Bay Street, from the corporate media and from the right-wing think tanks in the face of the debt crisis. They turned around and broke their election promises when it came to NAFTA, when it came to job creation, and the famous 1995 Paul Martin budget came down which did so much damage to unemployment insurances (which makes it particularly interesting that a key piece of the agreement for the coalition is about strengthening unemployment insurance). So we need to have long memories about the Liberals, because they have done exactly what Harper has just done, in terms of using an economic crisis for a neo-liberal about turn.

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