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Cancel Canada Day - How the right is trying to rewrite history

John Bell

July 1, 2022
We won’t go back
Just a year ago “Canada Day” was all but cancelled. The unmarked graves of hundreds of Indigenous children were being uncovered. Solidarity with Indigenous land and water defenders was building, and with it awareness and frank discussion of Canada’s genocidal colonialism.
The slogan “No Pride in Genocide” was put forward by Idle No More and other Indigenous groups and #CancelCanadaDay got results. More than 50 municipalities cancelled celebrations in 2021, replaced by vigils or community meetings. The celebrations that went ahead were mutedto say the least. 
Fast forward a year. Instead of solidarity and honest examination of Canada’s genocidal track record, Canada Day 2022 is being hijacked by the far-right, many of the same figures who organized the illegal occupation of Ottawa’s streets this winter. 
This didn’t just happen. And the right-wing pushback is not restricted to attacking Indigenous rights, but that is a crucial part of a plan to “take back Canada” for the corporate status quo. 
Although unmarked graves continue to be discovered, this no longer makes headlines. Instead we are beginning to see articlesquestioning the findings, and reasserting the old lies that the Residential Schools were beneficial. Sometimes it is masked by polite terms and up front disclaimers: “I’m not a racist, but…”  Sometimes the dog-whistle is dispensed with and the genocide denialis right up front. 
Right-wing academics and influencers, like William Gairdner and Thomas Flanagan have been at work for year denying the genocidal reality of colonial history. They are devoted to preventing the thing that poses the greatest threat to the Canada they love: solidarity between young environmental activists and Indigenous land defenders.
If those names are unfamiliar to you, rest assured they are well-known and influential in conservative and far-right circles. Let’s meet them.
Gairdner is heir to his family’s wealth and libertarian ideas.  He has authored right-wing op-eds beloved by the National Post and best-selling books like The Trouble With Canada (too “woke”), The Trouble With Democracy (too many little people getting in the way), and The War Against the Family (uppity women and gays). The through-line is a hatred of “statism” and glorification of the individual, and the holy family. Any provision of services by the state – healthcare, education, welfare, support for people with disability, etc. – is an deviation designed to weaken and control our independent human nature.
As for Indigenous rights, he opposes government reconciliation policies, as feeble as they may be, because they imply Canada has something to apologize for. He is an unabashed nationalist; his idea of Canada is based on unopposed exploitation of the natural wealth that lies behind “nation building”. The solution to the problem posed by Indigenous people’s claim to the land is simple: assimilation.
So it is natural that he adds his voice to genocide denial and writes favourablyabout Residential Schools. “I found it odd that in so many photos of Indian students in these schools, almost all look like clean, well-dressed, well-fed, happy kids. How come?” is typical of his style. 
Flanagan was a key academic of the “Calgary School”, devoted to libertarian economics, meritocracy and unfettered oil and gas exploitation. Like those who share his ideology, he extols the free market but happily looks the other way when his corporate friends go cap in hand to government for subsidies, tax breaks and handouts. He was teacher, friend, mentor and close advisor to Stephen Harper through his rise to power. Harper’s political strategy – build a right-wing fortress in the west from which to launch an assault on national power – is based on Flanagan’s ideas and financed by big oil and gas money. Like Gairdner, for Flanagan the solution to the “Indian problem” is assimilation: cultural genocide.
In 2009 he wrote a document for a petro-financed “think tank” called ‘Resource Industries and Security Issues in Northern Alberta’. Everyone who opposes conservative ideology and supports Indigenous struggles should read this document. It is a threat assessment that reveals the ultimate fear for Tory “nation-builders” – solidarity in struggle between a mass environmental movement and Indigenous land defenders. 
A year ago that fear must have seemed very real. Patriotic statues were being toppled and the genocidal nature of Canada’s “nation-building” made headlines around the world. So people like Gairdner and Flanagan went to work, lining up compliant academics and scribes to ramp up the denial machine and discredit the truth of Residential Schools as instruments of oppression and land theft.
It is noteworthy that Gairdner and Flanagan collaborated in April for the 2022 gathering of Civitas, a shadowy far-right “ideas” conference where attendees are sworn to secrecy so they can freely speak their bigoted minds. Gairdner is the founder of Civitas and Flanagan hosted a symposiumcalled “Indian Residential Schools and the Issue of ‘Unmarked Graves’”, featuring a trio of discredited academic genocide deniers. 
Other Civitas highlights include “How To Make Canada the Most Pro-Family Country in the World” and “Gender, Biology and the Woke Revolution”. If you needed a slogan for the proceedings it would be “Take Back Canada”.
For the right, “taking back Canada” begins with taking back Canada Day.
But there is a problem. When Harper was on the rise, he was able to cobble together a winning coalition by convincing the far-right bigots from the Reform Party base to bite their tongues and pretend to be pragmatic centrists. In this he had support from the likes of Gairdner and Flanagan. But the cracks were only papered over and by the end of the Harper years the neo-Tory coalition fractured, splitting off the openly racist People’s Party federally, and a multitude of far-right splinters in the crucial Alberta hinterland.
Sadly it was the COVID pandemic, which required a strong state intervention to contain, which provided a new basis of far-right unity. Racist, anti-science conspiracy theories spread faster than viruses. While this coalition pretended a populist anti-corporatism, their connections to the oil and gas industry are well documented.
A cursory glance revealed the white supremacist roots of this coalition, even though it used patriotism and vague rhetoric about “freedom” and non-existent constitutional rights as camouflage. It is reminiscent of this passage from Sinclair Lewis’s 1935 novel It Can’t Happen Here, imagining the rise of fascism in the US: “… the struggle was befogged by the fact that the worst Fascists were they who disowned the word 'Fascism' and preached enslavement to Capitalism under the style of Constitutional and Traditional Native American Liberty.” (Note: “nativism” is what we refer to as white supremacism.)
The line between conservative ideology and far-right organizations is increasingly blurred. The old centrist Harperite coalition cannot be reassembled. The Reform Party bigots have the example of Trump and a Republican style politics that is openly contemptuous of democracy. The overturn of Roe v Wade is proof, and you can bet right-wing Tories are drooling at the prospect of reopening the abortion debate.
Rather than pull the far-right to the centre, the opposite is happening. Tory MPs paid homage to the convoy movement. Interim leader Candice Bergen bought dinner for neo-nazi organizers. At least 20 CPC MPs showed up for friendly discussion with organizers of the far-right Canada Day re-occupation of Ottawa. It appears any new coalition will be far to the right of the old Harper regime. 
Pierre Poilievre and his ilk think they can harness the increasingly confident far-right for their electoral ambitions. Every day Poilievre throws another log  on the populist fire. They play a dangerous game, offering confidence and resources to fascists, risking the tail wagging the Tory dog.
I believe this Tory/far-right coalition has major weaknesses that make it possible to smash it up. Possible but not easy. It means extending the “community solidarity” model that emerged in opposition to the Ottawa trucker occupation – community activists and labour groups coming together for mutual support. Crucial to this is for organized labour to take the threat of an unopposed far-right more seriously.
Their coalition is based on selfish individualism, hatred and reaction. We are different, solidarity and cooperation are in our DNA. We need to push beyond blinkered electoral politics and rediscover the source of our power.
The far-right has showed us their priority: to destroy the growing bonds of Indigenous struggle, beginning with Canada Day. Our job is to defend and extend those bonds, to build “community solidarity” for Indigenous justice and environmental salvation. Our failure to do so carries dire threats. Let’s tell them – we’re not going back!
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