Monday, December 27, 2010

Agenda Setting...

It's crystal ball season again. No, not those ones hanging from our Christmas trees. I am talking about those magical orbs which promise a glimpse into the future; some insight into what we can expect in the year ahead.

In terms of politics in Canada, this gazing invariably is focused on the prospects of an election. Five years of minority government will do that to you. However, it actually wasn't too long ago that our look-ahead focused on the issues at hand, on the agenda.

Yes, once upon a time issues and initiatives were discussed and measured on the relative strength of their merits and importance to Canada as a whole. Of course the electoral implications were considered. But this was by no means done to the degree to which it is today. The election prism did not define our politics the way it does heading into 2011.

So, rather than speculate on whether and when we will have an election in 2011, here are some more of my candidates for "the agenda."

First, what is the role of government? Deficits, both federal and provincial, should be forcing a conversation about the role of government. Government spending in Canada rose considerably before the global economy went into downward spiral. During the crisis it increased further, to levels that are not sustainable.

Our political discourse in 2011 should therefore include focus on restoring a measure of balance to our nation's finances. Such a discussion has implications for tax policy, for example. We have already seen the impact of the GST cut on the government's coffers. The outcome of the debate on corporate tax cuts (favoured by the government, opposed by the opposition) will have a significant impact on what government can and cannot afford to do in areas like health care, the economy, education, the environment.

Second, what does the future look like for our democratic institutions? In 2005-2006, the Conservatives ran a campaign based largely on the notion that our politics was broken, that there was a need for someone to "Stand Up For Canada." For about 2 years after their victory, the government was still referring to itself as Canada's "new government" - an attempt to make a sharp break from the past.

Heading into 2011, we should be having a conversation about what the past 5 years has meant in terms of things like accountability, transparency and debate. And more importantly, what we want the next five years to look like.

What do we expect of our MPs? What is the role of Parliament? To my eyes, our institutions are damaged. We too often see either a focus on more trivial issues, or debate on decisions that have been already been made.

So, on my agenda we have "What is the role of government?" and "What is the role of our democratic institutions?" What's on yours? Thoughts?

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