As of this Monday (November 2) the Canadian Federal election is barely 2 weeks completed and there has been more talk and speculation on all sides as to who won and lost for what reasons. In listening to a number of these analyses, most seem to be coming to the wrong conclusions in my view. Just to add to the mix of views, here is my analysis in terms of why the Conservatives lost, why the Liberals won, and what key changes I think should be considered over the next 4-5 years.
Not withstanding the NPD feeling they have been “hard done by” by the Canadian people, their performance in this last election was actually remarkable compared to past elections and no one should feel to blame in terms of misjudging the attitudes of the Canadian population. If the NPD made any mistakes it is that they are fighting their own legacy as being “a King maker, but never a King“. The NPD did not do themselves any favours by also promising to abolish the Senate completely. Personally, if Tom Mulcair hadn’t made this a key election promise, I might have voted NPD. But this for me was a deal breaker. I simply cannot, and will not, vote for a party whose key platform is to dismantle our system of Government. Bad policies can be reversed. Dismantling of our system of Government is forever.
Reform Party Failure – No matter how you cut it, what we have been calling the Conservative Party for the past 12 years is just the Reform Party with an updated brand image. Keep in mind that this party was the result of a hostile take-over in 2003 orchestrated by Peter McKay, John Walsh, Stephen Harper, and others after guarantees were given in writing by then Progressive Conservative Party Leader Peter McKay to NOT merge the parties. The Reform Party’s ultra conservative right-wing Republican agenda has never fit with the views of the majority of Canadians and if there was a single primary failure of the CPC it was to misjudge the extent it could push Progressive Conservatives toward those extremes.
Building a Culture of Fear – There is only so many times you can tell the Canadian public that they are in mortal danger from everyone in the world before people start to realize that the rest of the world are people just like us. Maybe not with as many freedoms or civil liberties in some cases, but still like us. Ask anyone in the world if they want a Canadian as a friend and the answer is a resounding “yes”. So why are we building walls between our neighbours when we should be trying to tear those walls down? Canadians get it. I don’t think the Conservative National Council does thou and this crisis in Syria has just proved to exemplify exactly how compassionate Canadians really can be – terrorism or no.
Crushing Dissent – Governing through the muzzling of scientists, party members, and anyone else that happens to disagree or may call into question your political ideology is paramount to the creation of a dictatorship no matter how much you choose to dress it up in the guise of democracy. Democracy is about open dialogue, not media control and censorship.
Take it or leave it omnibus bills – Another US Republican tactic that when used in a collaborative fashion where all parties essentially agree on the way forward can be used as a positive force for change. Unfortunately that is not the way the Harper Government used this tool. While several good pieces of legislation were passed using this mechanism, just as many terrible ones were also included that never should have been. An omnibus bill should only ever be used when all parties agree, not just the one with their finger on the purse strings.
Developing policy based on ideology, not facts – what is in the best interest of Canada is not always in the best interest of the Party agenda. Being in power means being able to see past a general party philosophy and do what is right, not just what is right wing. That means recognizing the actual facts of a situation and not those that just happen to be convenient or can be twisted to suit your ideological purposes.
Negative Ad Campaigning – Running negative ads about people 36 months before an election is both unethical and morally wrong. No employer would accept it if the candidates started smack talking about other job interview candidates before they even applied for an interview. Any HR manager will tell you this is wrong. It is not appropriate in the work place and it is certainly not appropriate in Canadian politics. In fact, go ask CUPE what they would do if any of their members tried that during a open competition.
Dismantling Canada Environmental and other Natural Resource Policies – This is wrong on so many levels that it would take a book to detail them all. Better yet – go ask Elizabeth May exactly how much damage the Conservatives have done. This is a topic for another blog to come later.
Removal of Canadian’s rights and freedoms – There is only so far that Canadians will tolerate government interference in their personal affairs. In fact the really funny thing is that while the Conservatives were promoting Canadian History, and specifically the war of 1812, the whole reason why Upper and Lower Canada stood up to the Americans was because they saw it as an assault on their personal properties and freedoms. Today however we have Bill C-51 and other assaults on Canadian personal assets and freedoms including things such as Net Neutrality, freedom of speech, and freedom of association. I guess we really did learn our history lessons and decided that American style transgressions against our way of life is not in the best interest of Canada. Transferring powers to control what people think and do is just unethical and immoral no matter how you justify it through a culture of fear.
Retribution not Rehabilitation – Canada is a land of tolerance, not retribution. Building more prisons is not the answer to lowering an already low rate of criminal behaviour. What we needed was real action that looked at the causes of these types of behaviours, not a US Style incarceration system that punishes as many ordinary people in extraordinary situations. In fact there is still a major outcry to combat mental illness in this country that is going unanswered and would do far more toward making Canada a safer country that building prisons and creating a “no leniency” set of standards for incarceration.
Exclusionary Policies – I don’t know if you have looked at the inner workings of government recently but some of the best work is done through a consultative process with engaged stakeholders. Rather than considering these groups a threat – like, I dunno, Provincial Premiers maybe – it would have gone a long way if maybe you talked to some of them once or twice in 12 years other than the Premier of Alberta. Ya know, just sayin . . . . .
Having said that, the other side of the coin can be just as disconcerting. Winning an election is a very emotional experience for those caught up in the heat of the moment. We do not always make the clearest of decisions when we are surrounded by a mob mentality. We can, and do, allow ourselves to get swept up in the moment. So a few things for consideration:
It’s not about You – The election was about removing the Conservatives, not about electing the Liberals – Replacement of a governing party that is not well liked is never about the policies or promises of the party coming into power. The Liberals should treat their first term as if this was a minority government until they have established a level of trust with the peoples of Canada. The second term is almost always about policy – but now is not the right time to replace one extreme ideological bent with another one without considering the facts.
Stop the Madness – Engage on removing as many of the Conservative policies and legislative acts as possible that are hurting Canada, our environment, and our freedoms. There has been so much damage done in the short time these policies have been in place and they need to be removed as soon as possible. Please start with Bill C-51.
Remove the muzzle – Allow Scientists to speak out and engage the community in constructive dialogue again. Focus on engaging with the community again to provide research based policies rather than engaging in a specific direction simply because it is in the Liberal policy and ideology book.
Restore Canada’s Peacekeeping Role – The reason Canada is a joke militarily is because we have abandoned our historic role in the world of being a country of Nation builders. We should be doing what we do best. Canadians have always thought outside the box – we get the job done better, faster, cheaper, and with more effective results when compared our big brother to the south. We aren’t the Americans. We should be playing to our strengths globally, not trying to mimic a war machine that is outside of our capability to emulate.
Beyond that – we have BRAND IMAGE around the world in this area which has been eroded by the Conservatives to the point where we are considered to be just another branch of the US military complex that goes where we are told to. Jean Chrétien, for all his faults at the end there, at least had the decency to stand up for what was right in 2001-02. History has shown it was the right thing to do then and it is the right thing to do now. “Once you start down the dark path, forever will it dominate your destiny, consume you it will.”
Build Up Canada’s Knowledge Infrastructure – Having an infrastructure development program for roads, bridges, and other physical assets is all well and good. Our knowledge industries however need as much help, if not more. There is no reason why the next Google shouldn’t come from Canada. We can’t do that however if all that investment capital is flowing south of the border. Canada needs a way to compete with the Microsofts of the world.
That means building international relationships, not just hoping that the next Blackberry or Corel will have the connections to extend their reach globally. This is a new economy and we need new tools to be competitive with market spaces that bring sustainable economic value – not competitive on building one off pipelines that have no lasting economic value for Canadians after they are built.
Let me put this another way. If all you are good at is building a one-off, then your seat at the table of power only exists as long as your goals support those around you. Once you have done your piece of the puzzle, your seat at the table is gone and no one cares that you built a pipeline, or a space arm, or whatever else. The goal should always be to have a permanent seat at the table and we can’t do that by simply investing in one-offs.
Multi-Lateral Governmental Engagement – There are hundreds of opportunities for Canada to be the leader in regulatory modernization however that will never happen so long as Canada is constantly taking a back seat to the US, EU, and other regions. Canada has the capabilities to take on these strong leadership roles and should be actively engaged in doing so. Especially where such leadership opportunities help support Canada’s knowledge infrastructure and investment in global solutions through private-public partnerships.
Start actually answering questions – I don’t know if you are aware, but you’ve won already. It is all wonderful and fluffy that you are willing to answer people’s questions on facebook. But the honeymoon is going to be over sooner than you would like it to be. Telling people to read the Liberal Policy Red Book online is not an answer. It’s a deflection. People will only accept that type of an answer for so long before they will start insisting on answers of substance – even if it’s in the Liberal Red Book and people can read it for themselves. If there is one place you are going to lose the collective support of the Canadian people it is through deflection on questions of substance rather than just answering them, even if you don’t get all the speaking points from handlers correct 100% of the time.
Strengthen the role of the Governor General – Move the ombudsman, and all government / policing oversight so that it reports directly to the Governor General. What this will do is remove the capability of the Military, RCMP, CICS, and Federal levels of government from investigating themselves thereby providing real accountability and transparency. This should include black book projects and other matters of National interest notwithstanding the fact that many of these are beyond top secret. Provide proper funding and require the Governor General’s office to report monthly to Canadians on those matters that can be disclosed, and report to Parliament on those matters which may require sensitivity.
Improve accountability to the Canadian Public – There should be a standing policy that no information is so secret that it can’t be shared with the Canadian public at the appropriate time. Information that may be ‘embarrassing’ to the Government is not an appropriate excuse for classifying information, not in the interest of national defence, secret or higher. The only way for Canada to improve and strengthen our federal system of government is through open dialogue no matter how hard those conversations might be to have at a given point in time. We are adults in this country and, while we may not show it all the time, we are capable of having a constructive dialogue without bringing down the Government.
Senate Reform – If you are going to open up the door to proportional representation then maybe it may be more appropriate to focus on the Senate rather than the House of Commons. What I would recommend is that the number of Senators be increased proportionally to the House of Commons and to peg the number of seats at 1/3.
So with 338 seats in the House of Commons the number of Senate Seats should be 112 rather than the 105 that exist currently. Further, have Senate seats be proportional to the number of Provincial votes cast during every other Provincial election. Allow some distance to exist between the Federal election of House of Commons members and those of the Senate so that the balance of control isn’t skewed due to having Senators selected at the same time as a Federal election. In other words, Senators would sit for 2 provincial terms and then be required to give up their seats pending the outcome of the following provincial election, not the federal one.
Next blog post will be about Senate Reform as this has too many facets to it to be discussed here. Suffice to say, the first by the post system for the House of Commons really isn’t that bad of a system and may make far more sense to leave in place if the focus on proportional representation gets moved to the Senate as part of an overall approach to Senate reform.
I guess its obvious that I need to state that these are simply my opinions and do not represent the opinions of anyone else.
— Kevin Feenan