Tory leadership candidate Pierre Poilievre’s pledge to make Canada “the freest nation on earth” may be the silliest campaign promise on earth. Why? Well, to start, we’re already almost there. .
There are indeed insipid freedom rankings by right-wing think-tanks like Cato and Fraser, beloved of right-wingers like Poilievre, that batten on “personal” and “economic” freedoms — e.g., can you do anything you want and get rich as hell (or alternately, live in a cardboard box under a bridge, if that’s your thing)? From this dubious data they tote up a comparative Freedom Index.
And Canada ranks #8 of 165, a mere .36 of a point behind Switzerland, which is surely a statistical tie. In fact, because those ahead of us are all smaller, less diverse, therefore easier to govern, etc., I’m giving us the lead.
The whole exercise has all the indignity of august Canadian universities grovelling and sweating over where they stand in the innumerable global uni rankings that now jostle for space. So by Poilievre’s own right-wing standards, Canada’s already ahead of almost everyone — including the U.K. and U.S., ranked 14 and 15. So what’ll he devote his effort to as PM — housing? Climate? Health? No: making us even freester (since we’re already freest). How gloriously pointless.
But let me pause to calm down and say why it’s basically idiotic.
- You do not “make” a people or nation free. They free themselves. Either by literally rebelling, or replacing their leaders. We don’t require Poilievre to fire the gatekeepers, as he likes saying, who are either elected or appointed by those who were. We vote them out and it’s done. The notion that Poilievre must himself free(er) us reeks of arrogance and smells of top-down leaderism.
- “Freest” as a comparative adjective is bizarre. Freedom’s not about checked boxes. You could do the same with love: most loved on earth, in town, on your street — but why would you? Everything varies with what you value about freedom: getting to shoot your mouth off, or be crazy rich, or endanger others by refusing to be vaxxed and exposing them to you.
Or alternately, being able to achieve freedom only alongside others, as Percy Shelley wrote: “What art thou Freedom? O! could slaves / Answer from their living graves … Thou art clothes, and fire, and food / For the trampled multitude— / No — in countries that are free / Such starvation cannot be…”
It essentially comes down to freedom for me (“personal freedom” à la the indexes) or freedom through commonality, as in Shelley — or FDR’s New Deal. Note in passing that the foundational revolutionary French demand for Liberté immediately appended equality and fraternity.
But let’s skip directly to the germinal event in the current blahblah about freedom in Canada: the truckers’ convoy which Poilievre embraced. In fact, it was less truckers than truck owners who could bring and stay in their rigs. Actual truck drivers were largely absent, since they were on the road working.
The freedom demanded there was almost all “personal”: snarling traffic, blaring horns till residents felt deranged. And an ultimatum to end COVID mandates — which BTW never forced anyone to get vaxxed, but did prohibit participation in public situations to protect others’ freedom not to get sick.
So some people’s “freest” might easily be other people’s utter hell. Such complexities do not simple campaign slogans make.
During the civil rights years in the U.S., there was an anthem called “Oh Freedom!” When the singer sang, Over me, others echoed, Over me — because we were fighting for freedom over us all. I had a dear friend who occasionally slipped into schizoid phases and if we were out walking and singing that, he’d sometimes chime back, Over you. He took it literally. It was delightful.
I feel as if Pierre Poilievre responds, Over you, to calls for freedom, especially from those he favours. He’s a personal freedom kind of guy who doesn’t view freedom as a necessarily shared activity. Nor does he have the excuse of being endearingly nuts. It’s just the way he thinks.
This column originally appeared in the Toronto Star.