Michelle Rempel Garner: I went to Davos. The World Economic Forum is not running Canada
The WEF portrays itself as a highly influential elite organization. In reality, it's an overpriced sales conference.
By: Michelle Rempel Garner
After spending the day knocking on doors during the recent election campaign, my husband and I decided to grab a late-evening meal at a local pub. We invited some friends — it was supposed to be a rare normal night amid the craziness of a campaign.
It was evening, the bar was crowded, we had just finished our meals and my husband, Jeff, spotted the trouble before I did. A thickly built man seated at the bar was paying too much attention to me. He crossed the floor of the restaurant, camera in hand. His actions and his posture clearly said that he was bent on physically harming me, causing an altercation, or both.
As he charged forward, he started yelling at us about the World Economic Forum, demanding that I answer questions about my “ties to Klaus Schwab.”
It wasn’t until much later, at home after the situation had been diffused and the shock was just starting to wear off, Jeff asked me, “Do you think people actually buy into that stuff?”
For me the question has never been whether or not people buy into conspiracy theories about the World Economic Forum.
The better question is why, and how this is impacting the Canadian political system. Concerns about “The Great Reset”, the World Economic Forum, and the apparent plan to turn Canada into a communist state is one of the underlying conspiracy theories that motivated some of the protesters who have participated in the truckers protest recently disbanded in Ottawa. It is an increasingly mainstream assumption in Conservative circles.
The World Economic Forum was founded by a German engineer and economist named Klaus Schwab in 1971. Its stated mission is to “engage the foremost political, business, cultural and other leaders of society to shape global, regional and industry agendas.”
The WEF probably could be better described as a left-of-centre think tank and lobbying facilitator that hosts annual meetings in the tony Swiss ski resort of Davos. There, lobbyists, politicians, the media, and some parts of academia from all over the world mingle in eye-wateringly expensive hotels placed between narrow snow-covered streets.
Companies who pay sizeable fees to the WEF meetings seemingly get access to members from other industries, key thought leaders, and policy influencers from around the world. In return the WEF gets the prestige of hosting these types of meetings. For thought leaders and influencers, WEF meetings and access to its broader community can serve as a way to diversify one’s knowledge in many different fields. Think LinkedIn for the c-suite but in person.
In the last two years, a volume of conspiracy theories regarding the WEF and Klaus Schwab began to circulate on social media. They arose after the think-tank arm of the WEF published what could generously be described as an overwrought leftist article called the “Great Reset.” The document was light on details and heavy on change-the-world rhetoric.
The paper suggested that global pandemic recovery efforts could be used to alter many global institutions in a way that leftists would favour. It was released in June 2020, at a time when much of the world was sitting in fresh pandemic lockdown measures.
The Great Reset was published by a global organization best known for the secrecy of its elite members during a time when fear about COVID and its response dominated global media. In other words, it was a Molotov cocktail launched into a rapidly brewing gas bed for conspiracy theories regarding the origins of COVID.
The conspiracy theories related to the Great Reset went nuclear when a video of a meeting Justin Trudeau had at the United Nations in late 2020 surfaced. In the video, Trudeau was quoted as suggesting the pandemic could provide for a "reset."
This was the proof point that made the theories believable for many.
My encounter at the restaurant in fall 2021 wasn’t the first time I had men aggressively confront me in public about the WEF, and these incidents have taken their toll. Two weeks earlier a group of men had spotted me door knocking on the street in Calgary. They spun their car around, jumped out of it and aggressively came at me demanding that I “answer questions about Klaus.” Before that, the threats and accusations had been coming into my office’s inbox for over a year. If you like to see a sample for yourself, check my mentions on Twitter.
It’s terrible. But it’s no mystery why it’s happening.
In January 2016 I woke up to an email with the subject, “You Have Been Selected as a Young Global Leader (YGL)”. I thought it was likely spam, but upon opening it I realized it was no joke. The YGL program is a big part of the broader WEF programming. Businessweek magazine described it as: "the most exclusive private social network in the world.” This is an overstatement; but members do include the likes of Sergei Brin, Ivanka Trump, Mark Zuckerberg, Amal Clooney and many of the top up-and-coming political leaders in the G20.
In Canada, Andrew Scheer is a YGL, too. So is Justin Trudeau.
I didn’t give the award much thought. I was 36 at the time and had had other similar honours bestowed upon me. Prior to running for office, at age 29, I was named one of Canada’s Top 100 Most Powerful Women by the Woman’s Executive Network. I was 33 when I was appointed to federal cabinet. I’ve made my way on the Maclean’s Power List, won Parliamentarian of the Year awards, and other “most influential people” lists. These are all honours, to be clear. But none triggered the response that being a YGL did.
At my own expense, I went to a meeting of the community in spring of 2017 to check out what being a YGL was all about. The meeting was no different in feel from an academic conference, if a bit more global in nature and with more high-profile politicians and CEOs in attendance.
In January 2018, like many other conservative Canadian politicians have in the past, I attended the annual WEF meeting in Davos. To make it affordable for myself, I rented a tiny Airbnb about a 30 kilometre drive outside the conference site. I packed a lunch. I trudged through the snow in a parka and boots while the motorcades of world leaders drove by. I watched Justin Trudeau give a speech to an empty theatre with members of the Canadian Parliamentary Press Gallery who had travelled to cover the event.
At both these conferences, and in a subsequent session I attended in New York, I attended sessions and respectfully debated with others. Everyone I interacted with was professional and thought-provoking. When I interjected with my right-of-centre leanings, no one ejected me into the streets.
The WEF is certainly elitist, but, to my eyes, it fell far short of being a cabal bent on global domination.
So why all the conspiracy theories?
First, the content, timing, and title of the Great Reset document was blissfully naïve and arrogant at best, and flat-out crackers worst. Video also emerged of Klaus Schwab implying that the WEF had influence over attendees who had secured roles in the cabinets of several countries, including Canada. When I saw it, I was shocked at the presumption of the claim that he had influence over Canadian lawmakers by simple virtue of giving them an award. I guess this was done to increase the WEF’s prestige, or to convince companies to fund the organization — in other words, it was marketing — but it showed incredibly poor judgement and eroded his credibility.
Justin Trudeau didn’t help matters, either. My observation of Trudeau in policy interviews is that rather that exhibiting a depth of knowledge on a subject, he tends to repeat whatever fashionable buzzword that’s circulating. I took his “reset” comment at the U.N. meeting not as a mark that an evil super villain had got to him, but rather as a suggestion that he knew the language of the WEF and wanted an invite back to the Davos party scene, or help with a high-profile post-political gig. And frankly, the Great Reset document wasn’t much different in principle to what Trudeau had broadly already laid out in pre-pandemic election platforms and budgets. The Liberals, alas, don’t need help coming up with profoundly bad ideas.
But members of my party haven’t helped, either. Bots and trolls propagating the Great Reset conspiracy theory on social media probably made the temptation to comment on it too great. I remember giving the very slightest of nod at the onset all this in a statement. I said that Canada didn’t need a reset but a plan to get out of the pandemic, mainly because my constituency my inbox was full of people asking if I was in the WEF’s nefarious camp or theirs, and because I wanted to make clear that I thought the paper was bunk. But some of my colleagues, likely seeing a bigger political opportunity, went all-in, and suggested that fighting the evil but functionally non-existent Schwabian-Trudeau Great Reset was of paramount importance.
Et voila — what started out as an overwrought white paper became a mainstream conspiracy theory.
And I have been harassed ever since.
Where conspiracy theorists are correct to note that the WEF is elite and opaque; that is its nature. It literally bills itself as an elite club. Rather, they are wrong to assume that a legislator in Canada could be influenced in all matters simply by attending a conference, receiving an award, or reading a badly conceived white paper. In Canada’s democracy, we are accountable to the needs of our constituents.
Every day, as a legislator, I am subjected to thousands of data points; people seeking to influence me and the decisions I make. Those can range from people signing a petition asking me to do something, or a corporate lobbyist sending my office information, a constituent who requests a meeting, social media, a debate in the House, and more.
My attendance at a meeting of any type is a speck of sand in a beach of information and demands that I and every other MP is subjected to on a daily basis. And every few years, my ability to critically examine this information in a constructive, unbiased way and then make sound decisions is measured by my community via a general election. So far, I’ve managed to earn the trust of my community, which is why I’ve been repeatedly returned to serve again. Even if the WEF — or any other organization — wanted me to be a slave to their policy, it couldn’t happen. And I can confirm that it has not. And as much as I do not support Justin Trudeau, I would wager a safe guess that Canadian electoral politics and personal ambition have much more impact on his policy decisions than Klaus Schwab.
Further, Canada’s lobbying rules and accountability mechanisms for parliamentarians are strict. We cannot accept gifts from lobbyists. Corporate election donations are banned, and individual donations are capped at $1,675 a person. Outside organizations can’t buy a member of Parliament off, which is a very good thing for our democracy.
In this context, believing that Klaus Schwab has the ability to materially influence the Canadian government is preposterous.
The rise of this conspiracy theory does belie a worrying trend, however, where average Canadians feel that they have no levers available to them to change the status quo.
Over the last two years, pandemic restrictions have meant that Canadians have lived through a tremendous loss of control over their lives. They have lived through the fear of the unknown for months at the start of the pandemic. They have watched politicians weaponize critical issues like vaccine hesitancy for personal political gain. They have watched public-health officials change their position on vital public-health measures without clear explanations.
I actually can’t fault Canadians for looking for a way to blame their problems on some sort of shadowy global antagonist. That school of thought causes much less of a headache than believing that a wide breadth of government officials in their own G7 country could have royally screwed up all by themselves.
So who’s to blame that conspiracy theories and related angst are so rampant, and what’s to be done about it?
First, and perhaps the hardest problem to fix, is that the political class in Canada has a hard time resisting the urge to politically weaponize tough issues that are fodder for conspiracy theories. This needs to stop.
Second, Canadians need to value critical thinking and empower each other with tools that meaningfully change politics. Volunteering to help change political party policy and elect candidates to office are great examples of work that affects change.
Third, organizations like the WEF, who find themselves at the heart of conspiracy theories, should take a hard look and ask themselves why it is so, and do what can be done to fix it. This principle extends to governments, leaders and multinational institutions that are perceived to be so useless and infantile that they would be taken over by the leader of a glorified think tank. To ignore the impact of the growing spread of discontent with the state of our institutions — the perception that they only serve to get the rich ever richer and keep the poor powerless — is to do so at all of our peril. These institutions need to do better too. Policy impact is made though courage, personal action and sacrifice, not cocktail circuits.
Fourth, social media platforms reward user behaviour and content that deepens personal bias. Canadians need to acknowledge this and interact with these platforms knowing that they are being manipulated into not questioning the information presented to them.
Fifth, those who would mainstream conspiracy theories with newspaper columns or statements in the House of Commons need to do better. It’s fair game to critique the policies of an organization, their lobbying tactics, or their impact on politicians. It’s fair game to critique the policies of an organization, their lobbying tactics, or their impact on politicians. However, someone choosing to platform stuff that a Twitter bot should give their head a shake. All this does is validate the actions of stalkers and aggressors, and diminish the importance of using more constructive political tools to affect change.
All this has a cost. Our country is angry, and it is tired. Some are escalating their anger and frustration into larger and more organized acts of civil disobedience. So I pray that we can collectively get this right, and fast. From a personal perspective I fear that if we don’t, the next time someone approaches me on street or in a restaurant it won’t just be a phone that’s pointed at me.
Michelle Rempel Garner is a Conservative MP who represents the riding of Calgary Nose Hill.
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Thank you. This is an excellent explanation regarding WEF and conspiracy issues -- or as a convenient cover for them! [/Joke]
I would add a few items that lead to some of the conspiracy issues on both sides. On the observable information side, I would also add a few items:
1) Ngaire Woods, founding dean of the Blavatnik School of Government, University of Oxford, at The Great Narrative: A call to action, streamed live on Friday the 12th of November 2021. English subtitles, saying the following:
“The good news is the elites across the world trust each other more and more, so we can come together and design and do beautiful things together. The bad news is that in every single country they were polling, the majority of people trusted their elite less. So, we can lead, but if people aren’t following, we’re not going to get to where we want to go.”
2. When asked about in Parliament, a question about Klaus Schwab and this "cabinet infiltration" was ignored, labelled a "conspiracy theory", and then dismissed without being addressed.
3. UN airplanes at North Bay airport on Feb 20, including one that looks intentionally blacked out. This is a few hours from Ottawa, at the same time as the mass police action in Ottawa. There appears to be no public information on why they are there. If it is related to the Ottawa protests, why would multiple UN planes be there for a Canadian protest? Is it UN police brought in to help? What are the implications and legalities of foreign personnel used in policing Canadian protestors and why would the UN support this?
4. The use of the Emergencies Act as the first engagement step of the government, with no effort to even discuss issues with the protesters, no existing plan as far as when mandates will end, and no discussion about planning for a plan. No engagement with the issues at all, implying that the issue is not about science or safety as is being used in other jurisdictions, or WHO and other orgs being against vaccine mandates and passports: (https://adnausica.substack.com/p/who-keeps-on-trucking).
Combined with the divisive rhetoric, the wrong group of people by vaccination status instead of risk status, and the obsessive single-mindedness about vaccination as the only thing that matters, the implication is the mandates are not about a scientific plan, public health, bioethics, but some other purpose. It appears to be more of politically divisive purposes rather than some global "compliance to authority", but it can fit the latter hypothesis too.
5. The tracking functions of the digital passports, tracking locations of millions of Canadians, and as noted by the protest spokesman, Ben Dichter, the government is tracking which citizens are approaching the border and can to the same with any location in Canada to keep track of who is where. That is fairly dystopian monitoring of the citizens.
These are all indicative of large issues with respect to transparency, engagement, and information availability to the public. The evidence fits multiple hypotheses; it can fit the narrative in this article or it can fit the "global cabal" narrative.
Simply ignoring the questions (#2) and calling it a conspiracy theory just furthers the conspiracy theory. An answer similar to the article here at The Line would have been much better. There's no explanation; just dismissal. That's a problem.
As suggested here in the article, the secrecy is a problem. People in positions of power, wealth, and influence meeting behind closed doors while talking about trusting each other and working together, and with poor relationships to "the people", implies an ingroup of global "elites" who think of themselves as elites and a ruling class, at odds with the people they "rule over". There's a atmosphere of self-importance, entitlement to rule, and dismissal of their "lessers".
The idea of global "elites" meeting at such organizations in general seems like a very bad idea. The same sort of conspiracies grew out of the Bilderberg meetings as well. If conferences like this are going to happen, they should either exclude politicians or should be a lot more transparent.
I know some of these overlap with the article here, but one that I think needs significant highlighting is, "Those who would mainstream conspiracy theories with newspaper columns or statements in the House of Commons need to do better."
Indeed. On the political side, the PM himself and the House of Commons and Senate debates were quite good examples of this, suggesting the protests were extremists, foreign-funded, racists, misogynists, anti-vax, violent, desecrated the War Memorial (didn't happen), defaced the Terry Fox status (a Canadian flag and a sign saying "Freedom"), and all sorts of insults and conspiracy theories.
The press has been similar to worse. Even The Line here, which claims to reject "bullshit", has published multiple articles claiming that the protest was anti-vax and that the organizers wanted to overthrow the government and insert themselves into it. They confused the Freedom Convoy 2022 with the group, Canada Unity, which had a convoy to Ottawa in Oct 2016 and delivered an MOU to the Senate on Dec 10. Freedom Convoy 2022 started by completely different people in mid-January with a completely different approach. Canada Unity then pivoted their approach to match it and some of them volunteered to help: https://adnausica.substack.com/p/protesting-the-pretext-of-the-protests
The Line has also tried to portray the protests as having a "dark side" and that, while there were "some" people who thought it was all a peaceful protest effort, that in reality there was something else afoot. Except, its stated objectives and approach from the start were peaceful and only about the mandates and passports and that never changed. If there was a dark side in Ottawa, they stayed quiet for 3 weeks, hid themselves well, did nothing, even when the police started beating and assaulting protestors they still did nothing. No guns, no bombs, no fires, no gangs ... nothing. It was entirely consistent with its founding intentions stated publicly many times.
But, will we see the press .-- including independent outlets like The Line -- apologize for their conspiracy theories and getting it wrong? I doubt it, but one can hope.
Politicians and the press have a much greater responsibility because information is their job and people listen to them. People en masse do not listen to me or other commenters on the internet.
Compare the level of bullying and harm. The author here had to deal with some guy seeming threatening in a bar. Sounds quite unfortunate and a little scary. Mainstream press from places like CNN, CBC, and CTV had to deal with boos and hisses, people yelling at them to go away. Indeed, tough.
Now compare that "bullying" to all of the broken families split based on press and politician lies about the protests, or about the risks of unvaccinated people before that. All of the people with lost jobs. Those arrested, banks accounts seized, vehicles seized, lives ruined.
Politicians and the press seem to complain about how hard they have it for having to deal with intimidation, sometimes based on conspiracy theories and sometimes based on bad things that they actually do. That seems completely oblivious to the mass suffering that they, themselves, cause on the populations.
Politicians are supposed to represent the people. They are supposed to listen, engage, and address concerns. They are servants of the public, not critics of the public. The Press are supposed to hold politicians to account, not take ideological sides and not attack the citizens. Neither are supposed to lie, and both have immense responsibility to check their facts, correct their mistakes, and apologize when they get it wrong. Otherwise, many people can get hurt. And they have.
When we have a political class and press that do their jobs properly and with integrity, the population behaves well. We are very far from that place right now. I personally ask that both politicians and the press do some internal evaluation; Are you aiming to tell the truth or just "win"? Are you aiming to inform or to promote a narrative? Have you checked your facts or are you just accepting what you are told?
This is your job. It is not our job; we don't get paid to perform these functions. We get nothing out of writing these comments. My goal is only to correct the mistakes and to fact check the claims of the press and politicians because I care about the state of our society. I don't care about "winning", I care about integrity and honesty. Can you please do the same.
Again, thank you for this article. It is good, but I fear the people who need to hear it won't listen.
It would be nice if MP's acted like our representatives in Ottawa as opposed to Ottawa's representative in our ridings. Then people might feel like their MP was working for them, not for the government, or PMO.