Mark Carney — Just What We Don't Need

By John Robson

Carney is the incarnation of elite presumption, predictably wrong on every issue — and if crowned leader of the Liberal Party of Canada, will crash and burn just like Michael Ignatieff, writes John Robson.

Exclusive to The Dorchester Review.  

You know what Canada needs right now? Apparently it’s Mark Carney. But arguably Michael Ignatieff 2.0 will not help us accomplish our mission.

Like Ignatieff, Carney has the ideal resumé in the worst sense of that word. Not just a Laurentian but a Davos elitist, the ultimate insider with all the right insider views. Devoted climate alarmist, beyond right and left, a socially liberal but economically conservative (his doctoral dissertation was “The Dynamic Advantage of Competition”) interventionist, smooth, wealthy, former governor of not one but two national banks that failed to see inflation coming or prevent it, scornful of the vulgar masses. What’s not to love?

I don’t want to come across as a MAGA type here, ignorant and proud of it. And yes, snobs like Carney do ruffle my rustic feathers although, or perhaps because, I rather grew up in his world. But if you think about the divisions in Canadian politics and what might help heal them, not by getting us all to share the same ideology but to reduce the vicious resentment in our disagreements, is a snob to the manner born really what we’re after?

  Flickr user World Economic Forum

Well, after eight years of Justin Trudeau’s sunny ways turned scorching, let’s listen in to a recent Carney speech to the “Global Progress Action Summit”, which already has my hackles rising. He characterized Pierre Poilievre’s stand on COVID this way:

“Carving the beast was the reflexive response of Pierre Poilievre to COVID. He saw a humanitarian catastrophe as another chance to cut taxes and spending, and it’s this Pavlovian reaction of extreme conservatives to every problem, it’s grounded in a basic misunderstanding of what drives economies. It meant that when Brexiteers tried to create Singapore on the Thames, the Truss government instead delivered Argentina on the channel.” 

A ripple of sophisticated laughter ran through the audience who know Brexiteers are sausage-fingered peasants. But if we’re unhappy with misinformation and partisan viscousness, it’s worth noting that Poilievre didn’t respond to COVID with a bold call for less government. He’s not really about bold calls.

Nor is he an “extreme conservative.” Compared to Grover Cleveland, Calvin Coolidge, George Washington, Edmund Burke or even Louis St. Laurent he’s a communist. Admittedly he has a regrettable habit of substituting partisan venom for philosophical principle. But even so he’s not a dog, drooling when a metronome sounds (yes, a metronome not a bell), and calling him one isn’t exactly “inclusive,” now is it?

Then there’s that condescending remark about “what drives economies.” One reason I find people like Carney vexing is that they think they’re so wise and learned because they don’t know enough to perceive their own ignorance. 

For instance in September 2015 “then Bank of England Governor Mark Carney gave a landmark speech on the ‘Tragedy of the Horizon.’ The concept was simple: climate change creates tremendous risk for financial markets, but these mounting risks are ignored by investors due to the market’s tendency towards myopia. The speech marked a significant turning point in finance: the starting gun in the race to internalize climate-related financial risks.”

Or not. But the point isn’t Carney’s trendily empty hyperactivism on climate. It’s that the insight that corporations are short-sighted and government must guide the economy to avoid disaster has been a staple of would-be guardians of the masses for centuries, and airport paperback refutations of laissez-faire for half a century. And while the record of governments on far-sightedness is pitiful, the most annoying part is that he (like his fans) doesn’t seem to realize it was all stale when Tony Blair was a fresh face, and is now covered in green fuzz.

To be sure, people like Carney are very good at making their audience feel smart by presenting everything they already think as true and gnostic wisdom unavailable to the rubes. (Like Ignatieff, whose The Rights Revolution based on his CBC Massey Lectures was an appalling stew of pseudo-intellectual platitudes and disregard for the giants of political philosophy and the lessons of history.) That this approach galls me especially because it seems to boost careers is neither here nor there, really. What matters, regarding Carney as Liberal saviour, is that it doesn’t play very well with the public, especially today.

Some may say it worked for blue-blood Justin Trudeau, who at one point aroused public enthusiasm awkwardly akin to a crush. But he was plausibly a man of the people as well, not only because he was cool and could “plank” and stuff but because his career consisted of part-time jobs indifferently performed.

He was not, say, a graduate of Harvard and Oxford, who spent 13 years at Goldman Sachs in the United States, the UK, Japan and Canada before becoming a deputy governor of the Bank of Canada, senior associate deputy minister of Finance in Canada, Governor of the Bank of Canada (as the youngest central bank governor in the G20), getting him named one of Financial Times’s “Fifty who will frame the way forward” and Reader’s Digest “Editor’s Choice for Most Trusted Canadian,” Chairman of the Basel-based Financial Stability Board while also Governor of the BoC, Chairman of the Bank for International Settlements’ Committee on the Global Financial System, a member of the Group of Thirty and the Foundation Board of the World Economic Forum, Governor of the Bank of England (the first non-Briton ever to hold that role), United Nations special envoy for climate action and finance, finance advisor for the UK presidency of the COP26 United Nations Climate Change conference, vice chairman at Brookfield Asset Management where he leads their ESG efforts, a member of the board of Stripe, a cofounder at COP26 and Co-Chair of the Glasgow Financial Alliance for Net Zero (GFANZ), and chair of the board of directors of Bloomberg L.P. 

That would be Carney. Whereas Ignatieff, scion of eminent Russian and Canadian diplomats, leading Canadian nationalist scholars, and the first president of the Bank of Nova Scotia, went to UCC then Trinity College where he along with Bob Rae became a torment to administrators including my own father with his mindless radicalism, then to Oxford and Harvard where they flitted from trendy enthusiasm to trendy enthusiasm leaving wreckage in their wake.

Ignatieff was once called “the thinking woman’s crumpet” and, less kindly, a “chancer,” a British term for somebody very good at aligning themselves with the views and attitudes that bring a rapid rise in the Establishment. It didn’t work out politically, including the pathetic spectacle of him calling on Canadians to “rise up” against the dictator Stephen Harper. But even after his disastrously tone-deaf foray into politics he caromed on, as “a senior resident with the University of Toronto’s Massey College, where he taught courses in law and political science for the Munk School of Global Affairs, the School of Public Policy and Governance, and the Faculty of Law.” Also at Harvard prior to a stint as “President and Rector of Central European University” the Közép-európai Egyetem better known to Hungarian conservatives as “Soros University.” His fellow intellectuals realized he was better than the voters who didn’t respect or deserve him.

Carney also seems to be a “chancer.” Unless it’s sheer coincidence that he’s had all the right views at exactly the right time, from neoliberalism in the 1990s to “quantitative easing” in the 2000s to climate alarmism in the 2020s. And of course he’s enormously talented. The problem is, he has all the wrong talents, wrong for making the world a better place and disastrously wrong for making Canada a better place.

Many people regard the rise of populism with baffled horror. But while I’ve been a “never-Trumper” since before the term was invented, the bafflement horrifies me. If they really can’t see that decades of smug misgovernment by people like them have bred legitimate mass resentment, if often counterproductive responses, they must not and will not be given another try.

Anyone who deplores Poilievre’s approach to politics, which is rarely thoughtful or generous, ought to recall that the Tories have been driven to it by Trudeau’s ruthless, effective savaging of anyone who trod the high road. To act as though Tory centrist, philosophically random, slick positioning to displace the Liberal Party once every two decades came from outer space, underground, or “extreme conservatism” isn’t just wilfully obtuse, though it is. It drips further poison into the well.

If you want to see why Carney should not enter politics, and should be shown the door if he tries, look no further than Lawrence Martin’s gushing column in the Globe & Mail this Oct. 5 under the obsequious headline “Fed up with career politicians? Mark Carney could be the cure for that.”

Columnists do not write their own headlines. But Martin, who to my astonishment still finds an audience for his droning Laurentian bromides, did write the following: “Mark Carney has been back in the news, making very progressive speeches, throwing zingers at Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre – jabs to the effect that Mr. Poilievre’s populist brand breaks societies rather than builds them up, as exemplified by Trumpism in the United States and Brexit in Britain.” 

Progressive zingers sound political to me. Still, Martin goes on to claim that “Should he run for the Liberals, which is starting to appear likely, he will be the biggest star-candidate catch any political party has made in a long time. For the flagging, sagging Liberals, what a boon he could be. The economy is the dominant issue and is there anyone better schooled in finance than Mr. Carney? He would be a source of economic credibility for the party and could help restore its reputation on the world stage. He would signal a changing of the guard that the party sorely needs.”

Um yeah. Good political optics again. Not actual good ideas. As for his touted “experience outside politics,” when’s the last time Carney put an item back on the grocery store shelf because his million-dollar salary wouldn’t cover it, or his stock options?

Martin quotes some tedious insider that Carney is prepared to run. And what’s more “if Mr. Trudeau holds on to power  – to serve as finance minister.” Oh, that’s all we need. Someone parachuted in to prop up the divisive, feckless, profligate Trudeau. Like former star candidate Bill Morneau, a gruesome disappointment in office even, one assumes, to himself? And if Carney doesn’t think Trudeau’s massive expansion of the size, expense, and incompetence of the state has been a real-world disaster, get him out of here now.

Martin also notes that Carney “is currently making many millions … He has power, wealth, comfort. If he is ready to pass on all those positions and that income for the sake of public service and its attendant risks, all the more credit to him.” Ah yes. Noblesse oblige. Also just what we need.

Naturally Martin throws in some progressive zingers of his own: “We can bet he will be pilloried by right-siders as a World Economic Forum elitist, a baron of the boardrooms, a hard-left environmentalist.” Well, what part of that claim could any sane person dispute on factual grounds? But it’s not about facts. It’s about class, about having the country run by nous not (ugh) them.

Thus an equally fawning BNN piece by Sakchi Khandelwal, who modestly calls herself “an outstanding journalist driven by a desire to inspire meaningful societal transformation,” says:

For the first time in a long time, progressives want to build. This shift is already evident in the United States … This new approach suggests that progressives will only achieve their social and economic goals in a world of abundance. Former Bank of Canada and Bank of England governor Mark Carney brought this idea to the fore at the recent Global Progress Action Summit. He posited that progressives build things that last – health care, infrastructure, schools, opportunity, sustainability, and prosperity. Conservatives, he argued, are more interested in destruction than construction.

Did ChatGPT write that passage? Which progressive over the last half-century didn’t claim to want to build things that last, like health care, infrastructure, schools, opportunity, sustainability and prosperity, or call conservatives destructive?

Then there’s “Carney’s insights must have been like an oasis in a desert for Liberals desperate for a coherent theory of governing from the Trudeau Liberals.” When she almost immediately adds “For this version of the Liberal party, which is currently lurching from one crisis to another, Carney’s vision offers the closest thing they’ve seen to dry political land in months” a desperate cry of “block that metaphor” arises from the parched drowning reader. But surely that vision-like object is exactly what the Liberals offered in 2015, and 2011, and 2008, and 2006, and 2004 and zzzzzzzz.

Carney’s PR team seems somehow to have sold her the same line as it did Lawrence Martin: “Carney’s unique combination of financial acumen, international experience, and commitment to progressive values make him a compelling alternative to traditional career politicians.” Or just one more posturing elite phoney to condescend to the hicks who don’t appreciate his marvellousness.

Just what we don’t need.

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  • Maggie Baer on

    Methinks Robson protests too much, and reveals his deep fear of Carney entering the fray of electoral politics. Thanks for listing in detail Carney’s impressive resume. You do, however, misrepresent him as “to the manner born”; contrary to your repeated charges of elitism, Carney grew up in that Laurentian mecca of Edmonton, in a middle class family, and earned a hockey scholarship to Harvard, then to Oxford, and sent his kids to a public school in Ottawa. I see a lot of education and merit in his rise. How odd that Conservative intellectuals feel the need to demean him personally and so emotionally. Hits a nerve, apparently. But it seems like many Canadians would be interested in his ideas and obvious competence.

  • ERW on

    This article is strangely bereft of arguments? I dislike Carney as much as the next guy, but the premise here seems to be that he’s clever and uses big words, which are pretty much the least substantive reasons to dislike him. Can we at least pretend that we vote because of policy and not aesthetics? Okay, he doesn’t (pretend to) drive a pick-up truck and drink $5 beer. I don’t care; that’d be a terrible reason to vote for someone.

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