Abu Dhabi

Populism is a wake-up call for liberal elites, says Stephen Harper

Anjana Sankar /Abu Dhabi
Filed on November 19, 2018 | Last updated on November 19, 2018 at 03.51 pm
Former Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper.- Reuters
Former Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper.- Reuters

It is hard to ignore Harper's arguments that anti-establishment sentiments are growing because people's real concerns are not addressed.

The liberal brigade may condemn the rise of populism as a modern day scourge that threatens democratic values.

But former Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper in his new book Right Here, Right Now: Politics and Leadership in the Age of Disruption, argues the surge of populism is rather a wake-up call for liberal elites, who are disconnected from the masses.

In an interview with Khaleej Times, Harper said: "Today's problems and the rise of populism is caused by the elite and anti-nationalists, who do not have loyalty to their own countries and understanding of the societies they are supposed to be representing and whose benefit they are supposed to govern in."

At a time when ultra-nationalism and right-wing jingoism are altering political narratives across Europe and America, it is hard to ignore Harper's arguments that anti-establishment sentiments are growing because people's real concerns are not addressed.

"People are responding to policy choices, as I argue in my book, that have not been well made. I am fundamentally pro-trade, pro-market, pro-globalisation and pro-immigration, but many of the policies taken in those areas have not produced good results for the public, and the public is demanding change." The second-longest serving conservative leader in Canadian history who served as the prime minister from 2006 to 2015, Harper is currently chair of the International Democratic Union, a global alliance of the centre-right parties. In Donald Trump's America, Harper argues that the president understands what his people want. Donald Trump won the American elections "because his views on the major issues are overwhelmingly in line with the American population."

"His personality is a barrier to him getting votes. But he gets votes because of the positions he take."

He elucidates how bad trade alliances and pro-immigration policies have left American people disillusioned with job losses and stagnating salaries.

"And other example is, in areas of immigration, in advanced industrial societies, where low-skilled workers already see their wages under pressure, the immigration systems that encourage the import or workers add to the pressure of local workers." While giving globalisation its share of praise, Harper believes "It has also caused the widening of inequalities in some of the western societies where the very wealthy has seen their wealth increase at a record rate and much of the middle class working class has seen a shrinkage."

Describing himself as a conservative, a person who is nationalist but not a nativist, Harper says it is important to have values that are pragmatic.

 Harper says while the current populist movements do not concern him, his biggest worry is the next big wave of extreme leftists led by people such as Bernie Sanders and Jeremy Corbyn, who want to topple the democratic capitalist system.


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