With three weeks to go until the byelection in the Fort McMurray-Lac La Biche riding, one well-known candidate used conspiracy theories and antisemitic tropes to apparently prove his bona fides.
“Telling people that they will ‘own nothing, rent everything and be happy’ is repulsive. Who will they be renting from?” United Conservative Party candidate Brian Jean wrote on Twitter on Feb. 22.
“Reject the Great Reset. Why are so many Canadian politicians enamoured with weird anti-people World Economic Forum ideas?
“I’ve never gone to the World Economic Forum. Never been invited,” Jean added in a graphic. “I am not, and never have been, a globalist.”
Jean’s campaign told Global News the social media posts were in response to frequent questions about his relationship with WEF and speak for themselves.
But the terms globalist, Great Reset and the idea of “own nothing, rent everything,” are thinly-veiled and well-worn, far-right political dog whistles that are anywhere from flat out wrong, to having antisemitic connotation.
A play for power
Lori Williams, a political scientist at Mount Royal University, said she was surprised by Jean’s tweet, given his aim to be leader of the UCP. She called it an appeal to the party’s far-right wing.
“I don’t know that these views are going to appeal particularly to people who are on the more moderate end of the party,” Williams told Global News. “But he’s certainly challenging Jason Kenney from the right… and trying to appeal to some in the party that probably belong more to the far-right extreme, the libertarian fringe – not that all libertarians would buy into this sort of thing.
“It’s appealing to a small minority of those who might call themselves conservatives.”
Fertile grounds for conspiracy theories
The use of the WEF and Great Reset conspiracy theories are the symptoms of a greater problem in politics, Michelle Rempel Garner told Rob Breakenridge on 770 CHQR on Friday.
“We’re at this point of ridiculousness in Canadian politics, where you’ve got politicians on both sides of the political spectrum ratcheting up rhetoric to inflame tensions for political gain instead of trying to give people in this country something to believe in, to trust in,” the Conservative MP for Calgary Nose Hill said.
“And that’s why there is fertile ground for conspiracy theories.”
Carleton MP and Conservative Party of Canada leadership candidate Pierre Poilievre used the hashtag “#StopTheGreatReset” in November 2020 to take aim at Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in an apparent appeal to the party’s far right.
Jean’s tweet and Rempel Garner’s own experiences of abuse in her home city spurred her to pen a commentary on her own experience at Davos and thoughts on how calling on conspiracy theories is eroding Canadian democracy.
She called the editorial an “appeal to logic and reason.”
“I’ve experienced personal violence. I can’t go out for dinner in Calgary anymore,” the Calgary Nose Hill MP said.
“It’s very hard for me to go around in my community because of personal threats, like serious threats to my safety, because people believe the theory and believe that I’m somehow part of this.”
She pointed to the past two years of pandemic stresses as the source of disillusionment with government and a lack of perceived power in the democratic process, calling it “fertile ground for people to believe that an external organization could have influence over the government.”
Rempel Garner said she sees how the WEF is an easy stand-in for people who believe an external organization is seeking to exert influence over governments. Having direct personal experience, she calls the WEF “a glorified left-wing think-tank.”
World Economic Forum
A three-minute video posted in February 2021 began to circulate on social media and claimed the WEF had a goal of “stealing everything” from citizens.
It features a man who says “let’s talk about their stated goal: ‘By 2030 you’ll own nothing and be happy.’ So the question is, how do they get us to that point? How can over 10 years they get us from having private property to owning nothing?”
A fact check by the Reuters news agency revealed the claims likely originated from a WEF social media video in 2016 that included predictions for 2030. The video said, in part: “You’ll own nothing. And you’ll be happy. What you want, you’ll rent, and it’ll be delivered by drone.”
That prediction was written by Danish politician Ida Auken.
In a further clarification, she said the piece aimed to start a discussion about technological development.
“When we are dealing with the future, it is not enough to work with reports,” Auken wrote. “We should start discussions in many new ways. This is the intention with this piece.”
Jean called the discussion-starter “repulsive,” positing it was a threat to individual autonomy.
While Jean said he has never been invited to the WEF, other conservative politicians like former prime minister Stephen Harper represented Canada in Davos in 2012.
In his address, Harper thanked WEF founder Klaus Schwab for making the forum “an indispensable part of the global conversation among leaders in politics, business and civil society.”
Much ado about resets
The Great Reset was announced as the theme for the WEF’s 2021 summit. A June 2020 press release described it as “a commitment to jointly and urgently build the foundations of our economic and social system for a more fair, sustainable and resilient future.”
Schwab also said it was a reaction to the erosion of social cohesion following the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The global health crisis has laid bare the unsustainability of our old system in terms of social cohesion, the lack of equal opportunities and inclusiveness. Nor can we turn our backs on the evils of racism and discrimination,” Schwab said in the release, adding “we only have one planet.”
Conspiracy theorists fear the Great Reset was a cover for an evil plot to benefit the global elite after the spread of a planned pandemic. They also fear the idea includes non-existent plans to impose socialism and allege it involves a plot to remove individual rights.
The conspiracy that a small group of international elites is aiming to control the lives of billions of people mirrors the New World Order conspiracy theory that became popular among anti-government extremists in the 1990s.
As documented by the Anti-Defamation League, the imagined shadowy cabal would use repressive measures and manufactured crises like terrorist attacks and pandemics to eliminate dissent and target the United States to enslave Americans.
The ADL also outlines the use of the Great Reset conspiracy theory to espouse antisemitism, after some of the conspiracy believers accused Jews of orchestrating the plot or even invoking the name of billionaire philanthropist George Soros or the Rothschild family, a banking dynasty.
A far-right conspiracy streaming platform warned of a “globalist Great Reset” as a “plot to overthrow freedom and imprison Christians around the globe.” In that October 2020 video, Rick Wiles attempted to link Pope Francis to Zionists via Jesuits and freemasonry, playing into centuries-old conspiracy theories of small yet powerful groups seeking global control.
Many right-wing pundits both north and south of the border have boosted the Great Reset conspiracy. The ADL has noted that far-right radio personality Alex Jones called it a plot by globalists to “teach us to not have money and to be poor, and that’s how you save yourself is not having a car, going to a job, then we’re going to dictate how you live your life now.”
Globalists by any other name
Globalism is sometimes used as a synonym for globalization, but the two aren’t necessarily the same.
The Peterson Institute for International Economics defines globalization as “the growing interdependence of the world’s economies, cultures and populations, brought about by cross-border trade in goods and services, technology and flows of investment, people and information.”
The PIIE traces the first wave of globalization back to the era of steamships, railroads and the telegraph, followed by postwar protectionism in the early part of the 20th century. It wasn’t until after the Second World War that the United States led the expansion of international trade, a second wave.
According to the World Bank, the average global income increased by 24 per cent between 1988 and 2013, and the percentage of people who lived on less than USD$1.90 fell by more than half.
The ADL noted the use of the term “globalist” as an antisemitic slur was a “noteworthy” theme in 2017.
“Although the term is not inherently antisemitic, ‘globalist’ is often used as a pejorative term for people whose interests in international commerce or finance ostensibly make them disloyal to the country in which they live, or who are willing to undermine the financial security of their neighbours in order to benefit transnational interests,” the ADL noted in its quantification of hate on Twitter.
“Because of the long history of antisemitic associations of Jews with money and commerce, and allegations that Jews place their transnational ethnic affiliations ahead of the interests of their non-Jewish neighbours, these pejorative subtexts quickly take on antisemitic connotations when the term is applied to individual Jews, groups of Jews, or places where Jews are known to live (i.e. ‘New York globalists’).”
On its “Translate Hate” website, the American Jewish Committee made the connection between the pejorative use of “globalist” and a political ideology that gained a foothold in the 1930s.
“The idea of a Jewish Globalist was embedded in the core ideology of Nazism,” the AJC writes. “(German dictator Adolf) Hitler often portrayed Jews as ‘international elements’ who ‘conduct their business everywhere,’ posing a threat to all people who are ‘bounded to their soil, to the Fatherland.’”
‘Take the temperature down’
Williams said Jean’s open calls to the far right are a cause for concern for Albertans who don’t share those ideas.
“It doesn’t represent the majority of Albertans, and I think it probably causes concern to a great many Albertans who would disagree with the far-right fringe that are associated with antisemitism, white nationalism, global conspiracy theory and so forth,” the MRU political scientist said.
Rempel Garner had a prescription for a devolving political discourse.
“We need to take the temperature down. Everybody does it – my party, the Liberals – and we need to start listening to each other as human beings again so that we can actually heal as a country.”