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Is Mark Carney eyeing Trudeau’s throne? Canada has always been a capitalist plaything

Carney has not been quiet about his political ambitions. Credit: Getty

Carney has not been quiet about his political ambitions. Credit: Getty


May 21, 2024   6 mins

In Canada’s House of Commons, the Conservative leader of the opposition, Pierre Poilievre, often taunts the Liberals by speaking past the faltering prime minister Justin Trudeau and instead making reference to “the next Liberal leader”: by this, he means none other than Mark Carney, the central banker who is suspected of harbouring grand political ambitions.

After years rising through the ranks of the transatlantic financial elite, Carney has done little to deflect such rumours: in fact, a spate of high-profile speeches in recent weeks convey the impression that he is angling for something more than a plum retirement spent writing ponderous meditations on the future of capitalism. But if the ex-governor of the Bank of England is indeed biding his time for a shot at the top job, Carney will have to distance himself from Trudeau’s most unpalatable policies, while also positioning himself as the better alternative to Poilievre. And it appears he is doing just that, with public statements criticising Trudeau’s signature carbon tax and the recent, much-hyped federal budget, which he argued could have been delivered with more fiscal prudence.

Naturally, Carney has attacked Poilievre as well, for being a “lifelong politician” — as opposed to a Harvard-trained economist like himself — whose tax cut-heavy programme is a “Pavlovian reaction of extreme conservatism… based on a basic misunderstanding of what drives economies.” So far, his strategy for outshining both Trudeau and Poilievre involves brandishing his credentials as a technocrat who can pontificate on interest rates and business cycles in a way that his two would-be rivals never could. However, Poilievre, who has excelled with his pugilistic, anti-elitist rhetoric, will no doubt relish this contrast of images and may take notes from the likes of Jacob Rees-Moog (a Poilievre lookalike both physically and ideologically), who clashed with Carney in the lead-up to the 2016 Brexit referendum.

The battle lines for Carney in Canada would be very similar to the contest between Remain and Leave: making an explicit connection between his enemies in Britain and those in his home country, Carney reminded his audience: “Brexiters promised that they were going to create Singapore on the Thames, [they] actually delivered Argentina on the Channel… Broken Britain… sound familiar?” — a reference to Poilievre’s case that “Everything is broken” in Liberal-governed Canada.

Indeed, Carney would make for a far more intellectually compelling opponent and foil to Poilievre than the distinctly non-intellectual Trudeau, since the two represent two diametrically opposed conceptions of capitalism. On the one hand, Poilievre, like his UK counterparts Rees-Mogg and Liz Truss, believes in the primacy of unfettered markets and the individual as the surest agents of prosperity — to the near-total exclusion of the state, a view generally referred to as “neoliberalism” or what their common inspiration Margaret Thatcher dubbed “popular capitalism”, Right and Left-wing versions of which have, of course, predominated in the West since the Eighties, corresponding with a rise in inequality. On the other hand, Carney embodies a distinct form of political economy with roots in Canada’s past, in which states and corporations alike work to harness market forces toward common good outcomes, what Carney calls “mission-oriented capitalism” (something his frenemy Boris Johnson might have endorsed in his more communitarian phases). This is an approach that may in theory hew close to social democracy, but which in practice elevates a class of corporate elites to manage society’s competing interests. Neither seems particularly inspiring but Canadians may soon have to make a choice between them.

Today, the neoliberal model that Poilievre holds to has been much dissected and debated: he will try to roll back superfluous local regulations in the hope that market forces will deliver, without further need for guidance. But much less is known about the paradigm and lineage that Carney belongs to. What exactly would a Carney government look to do?

One way of answering the question is by shedding more light on Carney’s historical antecedents. For this, we may turn to Peter J. Cain and A.G. Hopkins’s theory of gentlemanly capitalism, which posited that the strategic and economic policies of the British Empire in its heyday, encompassing Canada in its founding era in the 1860s, were determined by transnational financial elites in the City of London, as opposed to the provincial manufacturers and smallholders whom the desire for colonial markets is sometimes attributed. The modern equivalent of the “gentlemanly capitalist” class would be typified by the Mark Carneys and Klaus Schwabs of the world: their outlook was shaped more by their shared material interests, straddling the empire, than by their local and national attachments.

Canada’s global orientation has often been determined by the direction of capital flows. As historian Andrew Smith has shown, in his application Cain and Hopkins’s thesis to the Dominion of Canada in particular, 19th century Canadian elites were resolutely pro-British because, in the age of “Anglo-Globalization,” that’s where all the big investments came from. By the same token, 20th-century Canadian elites became pro-American because the centre of wealth and power had transferred to Wall Street and Washington. In the 21st century, then, it is no surprise to see Carney fraternising with Schwab, Christine Lagarde, Larry Fink and other such figures at places like COP26 and the World Economic Forum. Just as previous generations of Canadian rulers had to “kiss the ring”, so to speak, so must he. And it is easy in this era of populist discontent for critics to attack Carney over his golden rolodex: they may charge that the shady and corrupting influence of “globalist elites” would be inescapable under a Carney administration — whereas Poilievre has explicitly banned his future ministers from ever setting foot at the WEF.

Yet there is a reason for this lasting concord between Canada’s rulers and the lords of finance, namely that for a country so large and so sparsely populated, there is never enough capital in Canada to service its insatiable developmental needs, whether it is the construction of railroads to settle the frontier or the production of armaments to win the Second World War. Thus, the nation’s two longest-serving prime ministers, the Conservative Sir John A. Macdonald and the Liberal Mackenzie King were known (and criticised in similar terms) for their cosiness with the reigning globalist elites of their day, whether it be the mighty Barings Bank in Macdonald’s case or the Rockefellers in King’s: it is fair then to say that from imperial times to today, Canadians have never stopped “kissing the ring,” whoever may be wearing it.

“For a country so large and so sparsely populated, there is never enough capital in Canada to service its insatiable developmental needs.”

If Carney truly wanted to follow in the footsteps of these great Canadian statesmen and make a difference, he would turn his golden rolodex from a political liability into a policy asset, that is, a means to solving the greatest challenge confronting Canada today: the housing crisis, ranked as among the most severe in the developed world. After all, Carney once raised an astronomical sum of $130 trillion for financing climate investments at COP26, something he could not have done were it not for his intimate connections with asset managers and institutional investors the world over: could he do something similar as PM? Solving Canada’s exorbitant housing shortage is said to cost $1 to 2 trillion, a fraction of what Carney gathered for the climate. He could then employ his technocratic expertise in blended finance and public-private partnerships to steer those investments toward a national industrial policy geared toward the mass manufacturing of housing for both the rental and ownership markets (an idea that is slowly taking shape among certain policy thinkers). This would be a titanic financial endeavour that could generate hefty returns for investors in the decades ahead, since the only thing that matches the astronomical costs of Canada’s housing crunch is the astronomical demand underlying it.

For there are millions of young middle-class Canadians, including even the children of affluent families now priced out of emulating their parents’ standard of living, who are willing to spend their hard-earned dollars on the dream of owning a home, but are practically prevented from doing so by the draconian Nimby-ism of local governments across Canada. There is, in other words, a vast underserved market potential which a coalition of large investors could profit from: Canadian household debt is estimated to be at a staggering $3 trillion. It is precisely the kind of problem that calls for the large-scale coordination that only “mission-oriented capitalism” can mobilise.

Whatever the case, there is a strong chance that future politician and Liberal leader Carney will act in ways that confirm every accusation of elitism and arrogance that his Conservative opponents have levelled since his return to Canada. (One can hardly read his book Values without getting a sense that he just knows so much more on so many topics than you and all your friends.) But all the ambition and lust for power in the world would probably be worth it if he could deliver on the one, all-consuming issue that threatens Canada’s social peace and economic prosperity.

Of course, there is also the possibility that Carney, whether he ever wins an election or not, would just end up like Trudeau, who said all the right things at the start only to fall short miserably — in which case, Carney and Canada’s Liberals should prepare themselves for a lifetime of panic and pearl-clutching. For they will have handed power to Poilievre’s Conservatives indefinitely, before being exiled into a state of perdition that another Canadian expatriate-turned-Liberal messiah, Michael Ignatieff, once aptly referred to as Fire and Ashes. If Carney isn’t careful, that could be the title of his next book as well.


Michael Cuenco is a writer on policy and politics. He is Associate Editor at American Affairs.

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UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
28 days ago

God save us from the technocrats

Right-Wing Hippie
Right-Wing Hippie
28 days ago

He was great in The Honeymooners.

George K
George K
28 days ago

Canada was created as a purely economic project to facilitate subsidies for the development of the territory. It could be a strong case to go back to the “founding principles ” or rather lack thereof. I only wonder how on earth did we end up being the ultra liberal showcase and a warning to other nations?

Jim Veenbaas
Jim Veenbaas
28 days ago

Ya. No one will be voting for Carney. Good luck with that Liberals.

Lancashire Lad
Lancashire Lad
28 days ago
Reply to  Jim Veenbaas

Unfortunately, Canada appears to be populated by a great number of “no-ones”, judging by its election results.

Mustard Clementine
Mustard Clementine
28 days ago

I don’t think any Liberal here in Canada, no matter who, has any chance of being elected this cycle. They’ve simply been in power too long; there was a similar energy when Harper was voted out, we were just sick of him collectively – but this is compounded by a much more palpable decline in living standards, under the watch of our current government. Even if Mark Carney might be a decent option for PM – were I him, I would let Trudeau wear the likely epic failure sure to come for the Liberals, and wait to swoop in later if/when Poilievre proves just as disappointing.

Barry Stokes
Barry Stokes
28 days ago

Carney is a technocratic eco-loon, and one of the main cheerleaders for Klaus Schwab and the elites of the WEF. On those counts alone….NO THANK YOU. One more thing, he has had a charisma by-pass.

Francisco Menezes
Francisco Menezes
28 days ago

The problem is that it is racist to rescind legislation. Poilievre will not undo the woke madness and economic frivolity in Canada. Too many people’s jobs depend on maintaining the status quo. Bureaucracies are a perpetuum mobile, unless an extreme external cause like a meteor, nuclear war or economic depression burns them to the ground. And even then people will be begging for their shackles. Because remember: no shackles, no virtues.

Bryan Dale
Bryan Dale
28 days ago

Since the removal of Thatcher and retirement of Reagan, there has only been one major government in the world backing free markets and that was theTrump administration, whose policies of tax cuts and deregulation saw workers wages rise at the fastest rate in decades and inequality shrink for the first time in just as long. The world is now returning to what you call “neoliberalism” with the likely return of Trump, the election of Javier Milei in Argentina (post-Brexit Britain would do well to copy him) and possibly Poilievre in Canada. Carney, who is widely despised in Britain, would hold Canada in its croney capitalist state with declining prosperity and increasing inequality.

Jim Veenbaas
Jim Veenbaas
27 days ago
Reply to  Bryan Dale

Trump is not a feee market guy. He is all about tariffs and economic nationalism. We can debate the merits of it, but he’s not a free market guy.

james elliott
james elliott
28 days ago

Carney would follow Trudeau’s disastrous program of direct WEF alignment which has – quite literally – destroyed Canada in less than a decade.

He represents continiuity – no matter what lies his expensive spin doctors feed him to say.

Canada will not elect him.

Champagne Socialist
Champagne Socialist
28 days ago
Reply to  james elliott

“quite literally – destroyed Canada in less than a decade.”
Looks like James doesn’t know what “literally” means!!!
No real surprise – the bug eyed WEF conspiracy loons aren’t known for their intelligence, are they?

Hugh Bryant
Hugh Bryant
27 days ago

If you are a socialist then why do you constantly defend anti-democratic elites? It’s a mystery. I suspect you don’t actually know what socialism is.

D. Gooch
D. Gooch
28 days ago

“Jacob Rees-Moog (a Poilievre lookalike both physically and ideologically)”
OK, now you’ve gone too far!

Peter Johnson
Peter Johnson
28 days ago

The problem with the authors thesis is that all the elites that Carney has connections with are dedicated to destroying Canada’s biggest industry – oil and gas. Canadians no longer care very deeply about global warming and it is Trudeau’s carbon tax that is his biggest liability. I also believe that even though they don’t say it out loud – more and more are becoming skeptical of The Science. A bit like Covid mandates and vaccines they demonstrate this through their actions – not their words.

Hugh Bryant
Hugh Bryant
27 days ago
Reply to  Peter Johnson

Most people are not so much sceptical of ‘the science’ but of the ability of our useless politicians and bureaucrats to to fix this or any other problem.

Dave Canuck
Dave Canuck
28 days ago

Carney is just another tweeker, tweek here and there and expect real change to happen is delusional, Canada is too ungovernable for real change, full of contradictions between federal, provincial and municipal governments, the system spins its wheels and it’s virtually impossible to get anything done. It’s a farce that we have the 2nd largest land mass in the world with only 40 million people and we can’t even build homes for people, says alot about where we are going. You would think that someone can figure out how many immigrants we can take in and balance that with available places to live , for starters. The genius Trudeau government brings in 1 million people and they can’t even consider the housing capacity, making life miserable for millions of renters in our cities, just for that incompetence they deserve to be tossed out, in addition to endless incompetence in health care, passports, out of control spending, no foreign policy to speak of, national defense in tatters. Hell they can’t even pay their employees properly with the Phoenix fiasco. It’s become embarrassing to be Canadian. And sadly Poilievre is just another opportunist waiting to pounce, mostly incoherent blabbering.

Ian McKinney
Ian McKinney
28 days ago

Carney isn’t as smart as he thinks he is, and he and his ilk are directly responsible for just about every crisis we currently face.

I wouldn’t wish him on my worst enemy.

Thankfully, I think most Canadians are likely to agree with me.

G M
G M
28 days ago

The Canadian housing crisis is caused by massively high immigration rates that has overwhelmed the Canadian housing industry, and its health care system.

Reduce immigration until housing demand = housing supply.

But Carney and his elitist friends rarely talk about that because they think they know better than anyone else.

Peter Johnson
Peter Johnson
27 days ago
Reply to  G M

But that would be racist. Literally every service job in Canada is now filled by people from overseas – which suits large businesses just fine – but is driving down wages and putting huge pressure on housing and government services. Of course many of these people are treated very poorly and are exploited. Of course this is exactly what the Mark Carney’s of the world want to see. A beaten down and compliant workforce with no real sense of national identity.

Walter Lantz
Walter Lantz
28 days ago

Carney (likely at the behest of the Liberal power brokers) is floating the idea of assuming the leadership simply to test the waters. Trudeau’s halo is now a tarnished boat anchor. The Libs are trying to figure out if replacing Trudeau with a known name will save them from electoral purgatory. (It won’t).
For his part, Carney (another WEF disciple) is likely interested only if he can step into the PM job. He doesn’t strike me as the type keen on being a caretaker leader, mucking out the stables of a decimated party trying to re-build for a future election.

Kevin Kilcoyne
Kevin Kilcoyne
27 days ago

Considering the demand for housing is;
being driven largely by unskilled mass immigration and international studentsmuch of the housing issues stem from local governance and not federal issuesit does not stand to reason that Canada is ‘a vast underserved market potential which a coalition of large investors could profit from’.
More likely it is an overpriced bubble propped up by government subsidies destined to burst once state subsidies of developments ends.

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
27 days ago

Please – show me the $130 trillion “raised” by Mark Carney. Unsurprising that you link to an article on Bloiomberg, the house organ of the climate cabal. Mark Carney has gone from being a capable governor of the Bank of Canada to an aspiring dictator. God help Canada if he is ever Prime Minister. Unlike Trudeau, he is actually intelligent. Who knows what evil ends he would have in store for the beleaguered country. Canada would descend further into a WEF-inspired rathole. Luckily, he is almost entirely lacking in charm, so I suspect his future in electoral politics is limited.