Madam Speaker, internet-fuelled populism is like a twister. It is a twister that sucks in any and every manner of grievance against the so-called elites, the so-called gatekeepers, the experts or at least the well-informed. This twister is driven by conspiratorial narratives shared on and amplified by the Internet, more specifically social media.
They are narratives like vaccines do more harm than good; the government is insisting on vaccination to help the pharmaceutical giants; the World Economic Forum is secretly working to subjugate us to their dastardly interests and oppressive vision; and climate change is an idea promoted by eco-socialists and the world government villains at the United Nations who use Greta Thunberg as their apprentice.
This one was mentioned by the member opposite in his speech: The mainstream media is simply an arm of the government, and we cannot believe a word they say, even if what they say is well researched and supported by fact. Here is another conspiratorial narrative: The Bank of Canada is working hand in hand with the Liberal Minister of Finance to create inflation, especially asset price inflation, to benefit the Liberals' friends.
It all makes sense to a receptive but uncritical mind. Bill C-253 is intended to feed the conspiratorial populist narrative. There is not much to the bill itself. It is short. It is so short that it makes one wonder why even take the time to introduce and debate it.
The bill would require the Auditor General to be one of the auditors of the Bank of Canada. The bank's auditors are selected by the Minister of Finance and approved by cabinet. KPMG and Ernst & Young currently audit the bank. Bill C-253 impugns these independent auditors, suggesting that somehow they do not do their job properly, even though they are bound by professional codes of conduct.
The other problem with appointing the Auditor General as one of the bank's auditors is that the Auditor General is not equipped to audit the bank. The Auditor General's role is to audit departmental programs against stated goals and objectives and to highlight shortcomings in the effective execution of those programs. The audit process is meant to be constructive, but it is also, in essence, a critique of the government. Naturally, opposition parties use AG reports in their efforts to undermine public faith in the party in power.
This is fair game and an essential part of maintaining democratic accountability, but the Bank of Canada does not have programs per se. It has policy objectives and policy instruments. The success of its actions depends on a host of extraneous factors, such as government fiscal policy and international economic trends, including supply shocks and the like. These are all things the bank does not control, unlike a government department that has direct control over its programs.
The Auditor General does not have the capacity to cast credible judgments on the bank's policy performance in a dynamic economic context, as compared with the static context of bureaucratic programs. The trap the Auditor General could easily fall into if it were called on to judge the bank's economic policies, assuming it agreed to do so in the first place, is to come to tenuous if not potentially false conclusions masquerading as truth and fact, in the process undermining the bank's credibility with the public and risking a populist backlash.
What the sponsor of this bill does not seem to understand is that the bank's success in, say, meeting its inflation targets depends on the extent to which the public believes it will be successful in doing so. There is nothing worse for the economic welfare of Canadians than a public that has lost faith in the bank and a public that does not believe the bank can control inflation. This is what is at the heart of the dreaded wage-price spiral.
Bill C-253 is pure populism, a populist attempt to undermine public faith in a highly specialized institution, all being done for partisan political gain in a Conservative leadership race. As Andrew Coyne, who is hardly a Liberal apologist, has said:
Auditing the bank may make no practical difference to how it is governed, but that is not the point: The point is to suggest there is some sort of deep-state hanky-panky going on inside the bank, which only an outside audit could bring to light. The point is to demonize the bank, to discredit its leadership and undermine public confidence in its policies.... This is a particularly hazardous moment to be playing politics with the bank.
We have seen this movie before. We have seen what happens when Conservatives try to get their hands on independent public institutions like Elections Canada. There are a few of us here in the House who still remember the “unfair elections act” that the member for Carleton stickhandled on behalf of Stephen Harper at the time. Back then, the Conservatives invented a different bogeyman, one called “election fraud”, to justify voter suppression.
The word “conservative” encompasses many ideas and habits, none more important than prudence. The members opposite are not adhering to that Conservative value, a value that is alien to populism.