Sunday, April 22, 2012

Standing In a Policy Desert

I was born into a politically useless family.

When voting day rolled around the only thing certain was that my mother and my father would always vote.  They'd get in the car, drive to the poll and cast their ballots.   They made a point of never discussing who they planned to support.  On the way home, however, it seemed they talked about little else.   Often my mother would break the news saying, "well we canceled each other out - again."  See, politically useless.

My Dad more often than not voted Tory.  Mom tended to vote Liberal.  But neither of them was married to either party and every once in a while something happened where they both changed sides.  One thing this led to was discussion, debate, focused on policy instead of parties.   Their understanding of policies and underlying circumstances might be rudimentary, perhaps even incomplete, but they tried to make sense of what these policies were and what they meant and whether they were good or awful for themselves, their family or their country.   And it was by being involved in these discussions that their children became politically aware, engaged.

For what is politics absent policy?  Surely it must be as pointless as trying to breath in a vacuum.   Stripped of policy, politics becomes about as relevant as hitting the three-dollar window at the horse track.   Yet, today, I think policy has become something of a spent force and, increasingly, we're left simply voting for the home team.

Paul Martin, bless him, had too many policies and a number of them were brilliant.   Focusing federal health care spending on serious conditions such as cancer and heart disease - terrific.   Responsibility to Protect - great.   The Kelowna Accords - long overdue.  Decriminalizing marijuana - a breakthrough in common sense.   All of those would have truly improved Canada had it not been for that damned, Chretien-era Sponsorship Scandal.

Dion had a policy, the Green Shift.  It was a sound idea and even today it's the one idea that's expected to prevail throughout the developed world.  But Dion was much too politically clumsy to handle his signature policy.   He wasn't the prime minister, merely opposition leader.  That meant he lacked the resources of government without which it was impossible to sell the Green Shift.  He was weak in appearance, slightly arrogant and less than fluent in English.  Before Dion was prepared to unveil his Green Shift policy, Harper pounced pre-emptively.   Harper, not Dion, framed the narrative of the Green Shift and Jack Layton was right there with his own shovel helping Harper dig Dion's grave.

And then along came the second train wreck, Ignatieff.    If there was ever a guy who ought to have been able to sell bold policy, it was the Harvard professor.   Yet he was an utter, contemptible failure.   If he had any success it was limited to stabbing Dion in the back.

The global meltdown of 2008 fell straight into Ignatieff's hands like political manna from heaven and dropped right through his fingers.   Harper was so overwhelmed, so out of control, he prorogued Parliament.   He called "time out."

With Canada facing the greatest economic crisis since the Great Depression and Parliament sent home for an extended recess, one would have thought the leader of the opposition would use that opportunity to help the country and his party.   He could have and he should have used it to gather the best and the brightest he could attract to take the measure of the problem and come up with a Liberal stimulus/recovery budget proposal, something that made sense to Canadians.

Ignatieff and his handlers should have known they were looking at an opportunity in which Harper was truly vulnerable, at his worst.  This was a moment demanding vision, something Harper has never had.  It was a moment requiring the government to massively borrow and wisely spend, truly Herculean challenges for someone as ideologically strangled as the Born Again Buffoon.

Let Harper put up an inept budget.   Throw a really well thought out, viable alternative in his face and then bring down the government.   If there was ever something to fight an election on, something in which Harper was vulnerable, that was it.

So what did Ignatieff and his handlers do?  Sweet Fanny Adams, that's what.   He took the opportunity as paid leave and used it to finish a book on his maternal ancestors.  HE DID WHAT?  Yes he did.   And when Parliament returned, Iggy hadn't done his homework.   He had nothing to offer, nothing to hold over Harper's head, nothing for the country or his party.  He was so totally unprepared to bring down the government that he had no choice but to support the godawful Harper budget and then embarrass himself and the Liberal party by boasting he was putting Harper "on probation."

And that was the moment when Harper completed his mission of moving the Liberals from Sussex Drive to Stornoway to Motel 6.  Iggy, having been transformed from a bull into a steer, meandered along whiling away the time with cross-country bus trips and barbeques and a ridiculous "thinkers' conference", setting himself and the party up for Harper to turn the next election into a referendum on this lazy, useless ass of an opposition leader.   All Layton had to do was wait for someone to yell, "next."

It's been a succession of bad and weak policy that has consigned the Liberal party to a roach motel out on the highway.   And they won't be coming back until they've got something to offer Canadians.  And now here's the thing.

Earlier this week, the global consulting giant, KPMG, released a study identifying 10 "megaforces" that will be confronting business over the next twenty years.   The report stresses that these are interconnected - they all have to be effectively dealt with starting with the most powerful megaforce, climate change.   So if business is going to have to deal with these challenges, who can possibly believe Canada and our fellow Canadians won't be confronted with similar megaforces over the next twenty years?   There are huge challenges, some of them threats, looming but you would never know it from the leadership of the Conservatives, Liberals or NDP.  It's all "out of sight, out of mind" to them.

I don't much care who leads the Liberal party.   If they can't even acknowledge the problems that are beginning to impact not only the world but also Canada and if they can't come up with clear policies to respond to these challenges, it doesn't make a damned bit of difference who supposedly leads the party.   Because that person in reality won't be leading the Liberal party.   He or she will merely be babysitting it hoping that everybody else explodes.

No comments: