All posts by Chris Wiseman

A filmmaker with a blog about politics.

Sense and Ostensibility


Following is my email correspondence  with Joanthan Sas, Research Director of the Broadbent Institute, about his organization’s invitation of former (pro-war, pro-austerity) Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard to deliver a keynote at BI’s first Progress Summit in Ottawa, on March 29, 2014.

The exchange took place a couple of weeks before the summit, on March 12. Jonathan’s response appears above my questions, which preceded it:

Hello Chris,

Thanks for getting in touch and for your important questions about the ethics/rationale behind our decision to invite Julia Gillard to be one of our keynote speakers.

It’s important for me as research director to hear directly from our supporters on issues like this.

Let me say straight off that we are certainly familiar with the Labour party’s mixed record from a social democratic perspective. Many of the specific policies/positions you raise indeed concern us (immigration, cuts to education) and certainly do not align with the kind of policies we actively advocate for here in Canada. I do believe her position on gay marriage is more nuanced (though NOT where it ought to be) and I was unaware of her support for the war in Afghanistan ( I assume you mean support to continue to provide troops as in 2001 I believe Labour had already been defeated).

We invited Julia for several reasons all within the context of wanting to provide our supporters the opportunity to hear from a (ostensibly progressive) politician who has governed in the OECD over the past decade; someone who could speak directly to the challenge facing centre-left governments to make the case to their electorates for progressive policies in the wake of the financial crisis, the cult of austerity, and the fading of the welfare state.

In addition to taking on this general question, she will offer insight on other issues where we think the Australian experience holds important lessons for Canada:

1) Though under pressure from the greens, the labour government did institute a carbon tax and in the face of stern pressure from the fossil fuel industry that Canadians are familiar with. This “victory” however is controversial on the left and right. Not only is it likely to be overturned by the current neoliberal government, but many progressives are upset that the singular focus on the issue of carbon sucked up so much oxygen and meant many other important environmental goals were unmet.

Julia will be speaking specifically to this experience, to the politics of climate, and drawing lessons from it for Canada

2) Julia will also be speaking directly to challenge her government faced on sustainability issues with resource extraction and fossil fuel exports (much like Canada) being such a significant part of the economy, and a rhetorical tool for the right around “jobs.”

Julia will be drawing direct comparisons between their coal industry and the tar sands.

3) Finally, that she is the first female PM of Australia is not insignificant. We admired her anti-misogyny speech too, and will be holding a reception with Equal Voice where she will speak directly to the structural discrimination she faced and her personal conviction to see through it and to continue to encourage women to get into politics.

I hope this gives you some better context for our decisions.

As I am sure you have seen from our schedule, Julia is but one of four keynotes and one of over sixty speakers/panelist we will feature at the summit. The panels, I believe, take on the core fights that social democrats must focus on in Canada on issues like precarious work, fair wages, income inequality, indigenous rights, and green industrial policy.

Thanks Chris,

Jonathan Sas
Director of Research | Directeur de la recherche
Institut Broadbent / Broadbent Institute

My original email to Jonathan Sas:

Dear Jonathan Sas,

Chantelle gave me your email address and suggested that I contact you about the Progress Summit program. I am a Toronto-based independent filmmaker and financial supporter of the Broadbent Institute (I am also an old friend of Brendan Haley’s) [Brendan was the first Research Fellow hired by the Broadbent Institute – CW].

I am curious about the choice of speakers, specifically the choice of Julia Gillard, who explicitly advocated, among other regressive policies (see below), austerity measures after the 2012 G20 summit (<>).

I wonder, whose idea was it to invite Ms. Gillard, and what were their reasons for wanting to do so? Do austerity policies align in any way with the research and policy agenda of the Broadbent Institute?

I am not an expert in Australian politics. But a close friend who is abroad in Australia doing his PhD, was there in recent years to observe Gillard’s performance in office. He has raised several troubling questions about her political history.

Specifically, he wanted Canadian progressives to ask her:

– What was progressive about your support for “offshore processing” of refugees; for the Northern Territory Intervention into Aboriginal communities; for the American war in Afghanistan?

– What was progressive about your opposition to Palestinian membership in the United Nations; your opposition to same-sex marriage; your opposition to carbon pricing (until the Greens held the balance of power)?

– What was progressive about your cuts to post-secondary education and foreign aid?

– What was progressive about watering down the tax on mining profits?

– To be fair, we all loved your anti-misogyny speech, but what was progressive about using it to hold onto power only to cut $206 million in support for single mothers? …

Thanks for the National Disability Insurance Scheme, though. That was progressive. But it doesn’t change everything else.

Did anyone at the Broadbent Institute research these aspects of Ms. Gillard’s record, or were they unknown to those who made the decision to invite her?

Do any of these policies (aside from disability insurance) align with Broadbent Institute goals? Are there other aspects of her political record that I might be unaware of, which do?

Of course, in any movement devoted to progressive ideas, we don’t want anyone to wear an ideological straightjacket. Still, this decision appears glaring in its incongruity.

I look forward to hearing more about the Institute’s reasons for inviting Ms. Gillard.

All the best,
Chris Wiseman