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Meet the Gaggle of Ghoulish Capitalists Haunting Canada

Just in time for Halloween, Jacobin casts light on a few terrifying monsters stalking the lives and nightmares of Canadians everywhere.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in 2001.

Be on alert: terrifying ghouls will stalk Canada’s streets this Halloween. Led by an insatiable hunger for profit, prestige, or privatization, these beasts skulk around country clubs and think tanks. Clad in Ermenegildo Zegna power suits or party-casual couture, they seek new blood. Their avarice knows no limits; their venality no shame. You think the pandemic has stopped them? If anything, it has made them bolder.

These are their stories.

(freestocks / Unsplash)

Galen Weston Jr

Born with a silver spoon in his mouth and a plaid vest on his chest, Galen Weston Jr attended private school, Harvard University, then Columbia University before taking the reins of Loblaw Companies Ltd. — his dad’s grocery and retailing giant — in 2006.

Galen Weston Jr in what may or may not be a Harry Potter costume in 2011. (Jason Paris / Wikimedia Commons)

His professional life has been marked by a series of disasters. He presided over the company in 2013 during the Rana Plaza factory tragedy in Bangladesh — where Loblaw’s clothing brand, Joe Fresh, manufactured clothes. Lest you fret that this calamity affected our villain adversely, take heart! Not only did the Bangladeshi victims and families of victims who tried to sue Loblaw in Canada have their suit thrown out, they were forced to pay Loblaw $1 million for incurred legal fees!

In 2017, Galen admitted to the company’s infamous price-fixing scandal. Loblaws — in cahoots with the rest of Canada’s grocery oligopoly members — jacked up prices on certain bread products for fourteen years. Their penance for ripping regular people off for nearly a decade and a half? $25 gift cards for customers — gift cards that were only given to the customers who took the time to declare that they bought overpriced bread.

Weston Jr also stood front and center in the fight against Ontario’s planned minimum wage hike to $15 an hour, lobbying the government in 2017 and regularly crying poor in the press. Loblaw also appeared that year in the Panama Papers, having offshored their profits in Barbados. Like other chains during the pandemic, in the summer of 2020, Loblaw cut the temporary $2-an-hour “hero pay” premium given to frontline workers only a few months earlier.

Weston Jr’s reprehensibility tracks with a long history of greed and skulduggery in his family — enthusiastically busting unions, suppressing wages, evading taxes, and expanding their empire. Their current family net worth sits around $7 billion, a fortune that has enabled them to schmooze with royals and build palaces in Florida. In addition to his workaday malfeasance, Weston Jr’s penchant for dressing stupidly confounds his enemies and dishonors sartorial decency. Think Dracula without the decorum or panache.

Daniel Drimmer

If ever there was an avatar for Canada’s punishing housing market, it’s Daniel Drimmer. The CEO of Starlight Investments, Canada’s biggest landlord, Drimmer manages assets of around $20 billion. The company owns countless rental units and properties in both Canada and the United States.

Daniel Drimmer of Starlight Investments.

Drimmer’s first major foray into real estate investment began in 1994 with his company TransGlobe. Throughout the 2000s, TransGlobe developed a reputation as a notorious slumlord: coast to coast, their tenants suffered from mold, infestations, unsafe infrastructure, leaks, heating and air issues, neglected repairs, and, in one case, toxic levels of asbestos.

Starlight’s current activities include “renovictions” (when a landlord carries out an eviction of a building by pledging major renovations in the units), doubling rent prices for new tenants, and often attempting to charge above-guideline rent increases for existing ones. The company aims to extract as much wealth from the poor as possible — a modern-day chupacabra waiting in the dark to feast on the renting class.

Throughout the pandemic, Starlight properties were the sites of eviction fights and tenant organizing. The protests were in response to the company’s refusal to negotiate rents during the early chaos caused by COVID-19 as well as the usual structural problems, infestations, and neglect of their rental units. Tenants organized rent strikes and other actions against the company, even paying a visit to Drimmer’s Toronto mansion in Forest Hill.

Since the 1990s, Drimmer has been instrumental in helming Canada’s rentier economy and has built an empire — come hell or high (leaking) water — at the expense of everyone else.

(Sabina Music Rich / Unsplash)

Mike Harris

David Cronenberg only wishes he could create a creature as odious as former Ontario premier Mike Harris, the spaghetti-brain behind the “Common Sense Revolution” (CSR). In the mid-1990s, arguing that government had become too bloated — and people too content to live off the dole — Harris waged an unrelenting war on the poor. He strangled social programs and regulations and slashed taxes to create the best possible conditions for the business class. Stoking the ire of unions and workers, the CSR provoked major strikes — namely in the public sector — as well as the historic Days of Action. This resistance forced Harris to back off — or, as one commentator put it, to “blink,” granting momentary respite from his gorgon gaze.

Mike Harris in 2014. (Wikimedia Commons)

Many of his political decisions led directly to death and immiseration: he and his cabinet replaced welfare with “workfare” and destroyed social assistance, resulting in the high-profile death of Kimberly Rogers. After the deregulation and privatization of Ontario’s water treatment, a fatal E. coli outbreak in Walkerton killed seven people — a disaster for which Harris said he was “accountable” in the press, sounding a Jekyll note in his otherwise Hyde office term.

Harris also set the trend for deregulating long-term care (LTC), a decision that — in combination with successive cuts from other governments — resulted in the quality of care rapidly deteriorating in seniors’ homes. The consequence of these developments came to full fruition during the pandemic, with private-sector homes suffering “significantly worse” COVID-19 outcomes than nonprofit ones — both higher cases and deaths.

But Harris didn’t just help set the stage for the long-term care misery; he profited from it. As a part-time board member of LTC giant Chartwell Retirement Residences — a position he took only two years after leaving office — he earns a six-figure salary and has millions in holdings.

Whether enriching his buddies or demonizing welfare recipients, Harris spent thirty years of his life as the Ontario private sector’s most useful stooge — a bloodthirsty jackal slaking his terrible thirst with human tears.

Maxime Bernier

Before entering politics, People’s Party of Canada (PPC) head honcho Maxime Bernier spent a few decades bean counting in finance and representing the needy as a lawyer at corporate law firm McCarthy Tétrault LLP. In 2006, he ran in the Quebec riding of Beauce — which his dad represented from 1984 to 1997 — and joined the Conservative Party cabinet of Stephen Harper, where he achieved little more than a small amount of boring stuff.

People’s Party of Canada leader Maxime Bernier in 2017. (Parti conservateur du Québec / Wikimedia Commons)

After a failed leadership bid for the Conservative Party of Canada (CPC) in 2017, however, Bernier got to scheming on the pivot that would come to define his career. He began attacking the promotion of multiculturalism, tweeting angrily about a clip featuring Justin Trudeau’s “cult of diversity.” He gleefully went to war with the idea of “having people live among us who reject basic Western values such as freedom, equality, tolerance and openness.” He officially left the CPC, citing intractable ideological differences, and formed the right-populist PPC.

His 2019 campaign focused on cutting immigration and curbing multiculturalism, libertarian economics, slashing taxes, and ignoring climate change. He lost but returned in the 2021 election emboldened: Bernier and the PPC rose to prominence in opposition to lockdowns and vaccines — with Bernier getting arrested and fined for attending anti-vaccination protests. Though no PPC candidates — including Bernier himself — succeeded in winning a seat, the PPC won a not-insignificant eight hundred thousand votes, having captured a significant part of the aggrieved populist-right vote.

Transformed from yawn-inducing CPC lackey to PPC superstar, Bernier has situated himself at the center of racist, libertarian ethnonationalism — now on a meteoric rise in Canada. His xenophobic braying is far more chilling than zombie hissing or werewolf howling.

This by-no-means-exhaustive list of surreal, scaly characters should keep citizens on high alert this Halloween. Their craven, uninhibited desires — laid further bare by a destructive, global virus — freely terrorize their country and communities. Masks of their faces may not hang on the walls of Party City, but make no mistake: these ghouls should be taken seriously.