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Alex Vronces: Follow the money, but also look in the mirror

Mox | Alex Vronces | Feb 16, 2022

liberal democracy looking in the mirror - Alex Vronces:  Follow the money, but also look in the mirrorThe biggest threat to liberal democracy isn't what you think it is

The biggest threat to liberal democracy is not what most people are saying it is. It’s not the “freedom convoy” that is calling for an end to mobility restrictions and vaccine mandates. Yes, many of them are wacky. If you spent as much time as I did scrolling through your Twitter feeds, you’d have found a video of a naked man army-crawling across a cement road, in a crowd of protesters cheering him on, with party music blaring to the discontent of Ottawa’s downtown residents. The video has since been taken down. It’s wacky, but it’s not democracy-destroying. And neither is the chattering class of cottage-dwelling MacBook-wielders, who are calling for authorities to suppress what the New York Times’ editorial board called legitimate democratic expression. These people need to take a breath and count to ten more than they need a refresher in political philosophy.

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The biggest threat to liberal democracy is the poor state of our public institutions. Law enforcement and our governments should have drawn the line weeks ago. Honking your horns on Parliament Hill in the late afternoon, and occupying a small strip of Wellington Street? Go ahead. That’s a liberal democratic vibe. Breaking decibel metres in the middle of the night, and blocking the Canada-United States border? Truck around and find out. But our public institutions were so busy pointing the finger at each other that they didn’t have any hands left to draw the line, let alone hold it.

That we let things get bad enough to invoke the Emergencies Act is as clear a sign as ever that our public institutions aren’t up to snuff. Along with its emergency powers, the federal government announced a slew of measures to follow the money: authorizing banks to cut suspected funders of civil disobedience from their bank accounts, and forcing crowdfunding platforms and payment processors to register with our financial intelligence and crime unit, FINTRAC. The private sector’s role in all of this—the good and the bad—has been under the looking glass for a while now. Recently, a parliamentary committee on public safety and national security agreed to study the role of the private sector in funding extremism. The usual suspects were named: social media, crowdfunding platforms, payment processors.

Calls to follow the money are fine. But where are the other calls? We should ask whether private institutions had a hand in this, but we should also ask why public institutions have a record of being outperformed by their private counterparts. GoFundMe, the original crowdfunding platform for the “freedom convoy,” froze almost $5 million in donations on January 25 because its terms and conditions were being violated. It wasn’t until February 10 that the Ontario government froze the funds being raised on GiveSendGo, an alternative crowdfunding platform the convoy’s enablers started using. Now the convoy has turned to bitcoin. It’s a game of whack-a-mole the government can’t keep up with.

See:  NCFA Advocacy | Industry Research & Reports

Our public institutions lack capacity because we don’t invest in them to meet future logistical challenges. For example, the extraordinary power the government has exercised to follow the money didn’t have to be extraordinary. It probably could have been a business-as-usual power if the federal government had passed the Retail Payment Activities Act when it was supposed to. Passed in 2021 but not yet in effect, the RPAA will give the federal government the power to shut down any payment service provider, whether that’s for “prescribed” reasons or for reasons related to national security. This potentially broad power wouldn’t be invoked lightly, but then again, neither should the Emergencies Act.

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