COMMENT: Political Translation - You Can't Buy Change

Andrew Zwicker
By Andrew Zwicker
September 3rd, 2009

Here we go again. The Liberals trying to force an election, not even a year after the last one. As much as Stephen Harper may be continuing to drive Canada in the wrong direction and as much as the fact that well over half of the country disapproves of him as the Prime Minister and less than half of the country voted for him, I still stake my claim and say it’s better for Canada in the short term to keep Harper in place…for now.

There are so many reasons why the Liberals and Ignatieff are doing exactly the wrong thing this past week. It’s almost as if they have been acting as puppets for the Conservatives during the last nine months. They give them fodder to attack them when needed and they consistently vote for the Conservatives’ motions–79 times in a row in fact. Sounds somewhat similar to the numbers Obama was throwing around against McCain last year in terms of his supporting Bush. I’d argue these numbers are even more incriminating, however. Could it be that someone forgot to tell the Liberals that they are the opposition? Or did they perhaps forget the definition of ‘opposition’?

Voting with the governing party in a minority government makes great sense as far as keeping the country together through tough times. Voting in favour of the governing party in a minority government 79 times in a row, however, without getting something in return, without forcing the governing party to make concessions and compromise with you makes no sense at all. The one item the Liberals got in return for supporting the Conservatives was the promise of a board/committee to work on and oversee unemployment insurance. This group was promised in June but is still hanging out there as merely a nice thought or plan. Nothing has actually happened. The board doesn`t actually exist and as such has never met or done one useful thing yet. Lesson one: listen to what the leaders promise, yes, but more importantly check up on them again down the road and see how many of their promises and projects actually make it to fruition.

What surprised me most as a massive error in judgement was the branding that the Liberals gave to the media as the result of their recent strategy planning session. Time and time again we keep hearing how the Liberal party is in the best shape it’s ever been, that they have raised the most dollars through fundraising (read influence peddling) than they ever have before. Now that they have money, they suddenly have a new philosophy of opposing the Conservatives on every motion. Sure it sounds like they are talking tough… but why? And why now?

To me that branding sends out a message that I hope Canadians pick up on. Several times over the past ten months there have been enormously challenging issues for our country and indeed the world to face. There were many occasions for the Liberal government to stand up and say, ‘Wait a minute you’re taking the country in a direction we believe is bad for the majority of our people. We don’t like what you’re doing and we think we can do it better,’ all the way up to the stage of threatening an election. Three times over nine months, however, it appears that after the media bravado and calling out of the Conservatives over big issues, the party treasurer must have reminded them that they had no money in the coffers and couldn’t win an election even if Stephen Harper were photographed dancing the flamenco with Fidel Castro on So You Think You Can Dance, Canada? And then they backed off.

When they had the chance to stand up, have some integrity and a back bone and say no to Harper’s stimulus plan that is late coming and most of which won’t actually get out to the people in need before the crisis is over, they said essentially through their actions that they believed the Conservatives were doing the wrong thing for the country. They then followed up by admitting that they didn’t have enough money (read votes bought) to make a legitimate run at winning. The message I get from that—and this happened three other times over the past nine months–was that we’re not interested in doing what’s best for the country. For nine months they lay down and voted ‘yes’ on nearly all of the Conservatives’ motions. They threw away their beliefs, their philosophy and lived gutless until such a point as they could raise enough money to have a chance at beating the enemy.

Ignatieff is the polar opposite of Dion. This fact played a large factor in Ignatieff being proclaimed the leader with no competition even though he lost handily in the Liberal leadership debate just a year ago. I looked at Stephane Dion as someone who put the good of the country and the good of the people far ahead of his own popularity. Ultimately that was a major factor leading to his demise, but I put that on the back of the Canadian people rather than Dion himself. The country showed in polls for several years leading up to last fall’s election that the number one issue for them (or so they say in polls) was the environment. For the first time in many years we had a politician inviting and welcoming real change and real reform, who wanted to set us up to prosper in the green economy. Then we handily voted against the environment in favour of the party with the least sound environmental policy and possibly the worst track record. The people said they wanted change, but when faced with the opportunity chose not to change at all.

That has left us in a position to fall further and further behind the world. The recent economic depression was likely the best opportunity the world has had since the great wars to make truly significant changes to the way the world is run. Many countries saw this and took the opportunity, the United States included, to begin building a new, greener economy. Canada, however, has taken several major steps backward.

We continue to be a third world country disguised through our natural resource riches as a developed country.

As much as we might like to think of Canada as a modern world leading nation (and I’d suggest that largely we were up until the mid 90s) we still remain largely a resource export country whose fortunes rise and fall with the price of oil. As the rest of the country transitions out of the oil economy over the next generation or two, Canada is working hard to bolster its resource economy. That picture seems unsustainable to me. As the rest of the world woks to reduce its oil consumption, Canada seems to have staked its future through the latest round of “economic stimulus” on supplying resources the world is trying to use less of.

It is high time that the other political parties in our country work with Harper and force him to compromise. During election years, little to nothing ever gets accomplished as any and all parties are scare of taking stances on potentially divisive issues. Unfortunately, however, all great leaps forward in the world are going to come through divisive issues. Keeping our pace of seeming to have an election every single year our government and country constantly remain in election mode and never get the chance to achieve much of anything. Seeing Dion’s big stab at major change go down in flames likely killed the chances of any politician taking radical or new stances for years to come.

So does it make sense to force our country into another election? Especially making an announcement that sometime in the next several months we’ll oppose an issue and force and election. The Liberals have have chance after chance during the last nine months to oppose the government–really oppose and not just complain and bitch about an issue in the media and then vote right along with the person you were bitching and complaining about. Now they say we’re going topple the government or oppose an issue, we just don’t know which issue or when? What good does that do?

What it does do is first prove to us all that money truly is the number one deciding factor in who wins an election–not truth and voting. Second, it shows us that Ignatieff has no backbone, no real policy and is an opportunist who–true to the Conservative attack–ads seems to be in it for himself. As much as it pains me to have the Conservatives driving our country into the ground, I can’t with any good faith say that it is a good time for an election in our country, if for no other reason than that I see no decent alternative to them.

In an ideal world the Liberals, Greens, NDP and god forbid possibly the Bloc would spend their time and effort working together. If the Reform/Alliance could get together and merge with the Progressive Conservatives than surely the left side of the equation can get together and form the party that most Canadians want, form a party that has the environment at its heart, grows the economy in new directions through fostering home grown education and innovation and supports the people at least as much or more as its supports corporations. Until that fateful day when the left unites under a strong leader (may I throw the young Trudeau’s name into the mix here?) we shouldn’t be forcing elections over no issue at all and living in a state or perpetual campaigning and no actual governing.

In a perpetual state of campaigning rather than governing over the past five years that have almost annually featured a federal election governments are limited as to their ability to cause real change. When you’re constantly campaigning the number one item on your agenda regardless of party is popularity and winning votes and certainly not enacting change. After five years of nearly ongoing campaigning and elections our country sits at least that same five years behind the rest of the world on environmental change, social reform and health-care, if I dare stir that pot. Health Care I would argue is among the top three answers any Canadian would give as to why Canada is great. Health-care in Canada is good yes, but it was great. It was the envy of the world its universal access to Canadians was one of the leading factors to our quarter century run as the best country on earth. Our fall on that list mirrors nearly identically our fall on the scale of best health care among developed nations. In part Canadians need to broaden there focus and compare and critique ourselves, health care included on a global scale rather than simply against our neighbour to the south. Yes we’re better than the US on health care but are we proud to be ranked second to last among the world’s top 24 developed nations? What else do we do in our lives that we’re proud to be second last at? Not much I’d say. So why do we accept it with something as important as our health care system?

As cliché and sad as it is to say, Canada needs an Obama. We need that charismatic leader that can overcome the need for popularity with the need to do what is right for the most people possible. I want a leader that if an issue comes up that he or she firmly believes is not in the interest of the country they will stand by their beliefs. A leader that calls elections based on a real need to do the right thing for the country rather than based on how full the party coffers are.

I remember when every year at Canada Day the Prime Minister would announce how Canada was ranked the number one country in the world to live in. This happened for the 20-some years in a row. What a country we lived in. The envy of the world. We should be ashamed and embarrassed that 25 years later we have been slipping and sliding down those rankings, eroding what made us once great.

I long for the day when Canada can again say it is the best country in the world to live in. But I don’t think our current crop of self-serving politicians will get us there.

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