Monday, January 31, 2011

Speech! Speech!

So, the holidays are over and the House has returned. But for how long? Increasingly, it seems like the parties are gearing up for a spring election.

As I considered the prospects of a spring trip to the polls this past weekend, I came across an article in the Globe and Mail by Ian Brown entitled "State of the elocution: Obama and the history of political rhetoric." The article discusses the decline of the political speech. It's a good read and worth checking out.

It got me thinking about what I want to hear in the speeches that will be given in the coming weeks, and sadly, what I expect to hear.

I expect to hear a lot about coalitions and hyper-partisanship. I also expect to hear language intended to frighten or scare the voter. This isn't what we need.

So what do I want to hear? I'll start with some of what I would like to see from Mr. Ignatieff in terms of tone and direction...

"Ladies and gentleman, once again Canadians are going to the polls. We are being asked to choose. Not just choose 'who we want to govern Canada.' No, we are being asked to choose what type of society we want to live in. We are being asked to choose what should define the Canada of the 21st century.

This election is an opportunity. It's your opportunity. An opportunity to consider what's important to you and your family. An opportunity to ask yourself whether you see your priorities reflected in our politics; in your democracy.

Over the next month or so, the Liberal Party of Canada wants to engage you in a dialogue about Canada. We want to share with you our vision for a Canada that is productive and competitive; that is fair and compassionate; that is open and democratic. A Canada where differing points of views are celebrated, not marginalized. A Canada where both families and businesses can thrive.

Why? Because you have a choice.

As you consider the choices before you, ask yourself the following:

- Are the things that are important to my family getting the attention they deserve?

- Is my job or my pension safer today than it was 5 years ago?

- Will my children inherit the opportunities they deserve or the problems we weren't brave enough to tackle?

Our position is that the choices the government has made are not your choices. That the priorities of this government do not reflect the priorities of Canadians. That on so many of the defining issues of our day - health care, the environment, competitiveness and democratic reform - the government has chosen to marginalize debate rather than engage Canadians.

What can you expect from a Liberal government?

1. A commitment to investing in Canadians, and not just corporations. Yes, a productive, competitive economy needs business. But business needs you. We believe that social investments are just as important to our economy and prosperity. These are investments we will make - in families, in education and higher-learning, in health.

2. A commitment to a more open and engaged government. Engagement, debate and transparency are democracy's oxygen. Unfortunately, they are in short supply today. We will invest in our democracy so that you have the information you need to engage and to hold us to account.

3. A commitment to developing real solutions to climate change. This is one of the defining challenges of our generation. We need to move the dialogue away from one of fear and loss, and towards real discussion on what needs to be done. This means considering how we use energy. But is also means investing in innovation and in new technologies that can make Canada a green-industry leader.

Like much of the world, Canada is at a cross-roads. We see a world filled with both challenges and opportunities. And we need to act.

If we fail to act, the problems won't go away - they will get worse.

If we fail to act, the opportunities will be lost.

Too often over the past 5 years, Canadians have suffered from the worst of politics at the very time they needed the best of government. Today we have a chance to change that. We have a chance to re-set the discourse in Canada.

A Liberal government will be balanced and innovative. We will not have all the answers, but we are committed to asking the right questions. We are committed to engaging you on the future of your country.

I stand before you today asking you to make a choice. To choose a real, national alternative to the politics of the past 5 years. To choose the Liberal Party of Canada. Thank-you."

So, there it is. In fairness, I will use the next post to put down some thoughts on what Mr. Harper might say. In the meantime...


Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The worst of politics or the best of government?

"A statesman is someone who does something for his country. A politician is someone who does his country for something."

I read that quip a long time ago, but it's something that has always stuck with me. Not because I see it as some irrefutable truth; but because as old as it is, it tends to sum up how so many people feel about politics and politicians today.

Before diving in on this point further, let me clear. I believe that there is a very strong sense of public service among many from our political class. A belief that there is a real contribution that can be made to life in Canada. This commitment to public service is reflected in some measure of sacrifice - time away from family and home, being perhaps the most significant. This is my view, and I believe that many share it.

So if that's the case, why do quips like the one above continue to resonate? Why are people disengaged from their democracy? Why do we see so much mistrust? I have some thoughts.

Let's look at the past year. Prorogation was seen as a tool to avoid accountability. Scandal was seen as more worthy of debate than issues. Pandering trumped dialogue and engagement. And attack ads continued to be the communications vehicle of choice.

It's because of issues like these that we have a government that has done a reasonable job on the economy, but still can't stay in "majority territory" for any sustained period of time. It's also the reason why we have an opposition that cannot mount a sustained challenge, despite the mis-steps of the government.

That bring us to today. Depending on who you listen to we have an opposition / "coalition" that is going to recklessly force an election, or a government that is ratcheting up the rhetoric and making the types of announcements that typically precede a call to the polls.

So if this is the case, what do we want? I have written on this blog on more than one occasion about the need to position Canada for success in the 21st century. Building a 21st century economy is about more than business. It's about health, the environment, security, social development, productivity - all supported by strong and functional democratic institutions, and an engaged citizenry.

In many respects, the world is at a cross roads. The economic landscape is changing, with power shifting to emerging markets. Environmental issues cast a long shadow, as do imminent demographic challenges. Global security remains an ongoing concern.

Canada is facing very real challenges and opportunities. We are faced with choices and we need to discuss them.

At this time, I expect the best of government. Unfortunately, too often I am faced with the worst of politics. For me governing is not about having all of the answers; but it does mean asking the right questions and then listening, engaging, communicating and making choices.

So as we consider the prospects of an election, that is my challenge to our politicians. Put aside the worst of politics and show me the best of the government.


Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Shuffle Kerfuffle, and reading between the lines

So, there it is. A very minor shuffle; tweaking borne of necessity. With Mr. Prentice having left government, the Environment portfolio needed full-time minding. This was the principal driver for the shuffle and the main move of note.

What does all of this tell us? On the surface, not much.

- We have Mr. Kent as the newly appointed Minister of the Environment...a clear promotion.

- Ms. Ablonczy replaces Mr. Kent as Minister of State (Foreign Affairs)...essentially a lateral move, though to a role with more profile and travel.

- Mr. Menzies becomes Minister of State (Finance) elevation from being the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Finance, with greater (or perhaps just additional) responsibilities.

- Mr. Fantino walks into the House and virtually straight into the Minister of State (Seniors) role vacated by Ms. Ablonczy...not the "crime and security" type role that had been envisioned, though security is probably a bigger concern to seniors so it sends a decent message.

That's what we saw. What we didn't see were any existing Ministers being moved out of their portfolios, either because of performance or due to the fact that they will not seek re-election. We also did not see any shuffling among Ministers, and the major economic portfolios were untouched.

Yes, this was essentially a "steady as she goes, let's just focus on what needs to be done" shuffle. Fair enough.

What I found more interesting was the commentary by the government and by the opposition. It's here where you don't have to read too much between the lines to see how the parties are trying to frame the ballot box question.

In terms of the government, the focus will be on the economy and their management of it through the economic downturn. Hence the messaging about "staying the course" and "time for stability."

The government's hope is that the voter sees that it has a plan and a team in place, on the job and delivering results. And just in case anyone was in doubt, it would be a coalition that would prevent the government from getting on with managing the number one priority for Canadians.

In terms of the opposition, things are inevitably more difficult. I think all parties would agree that the economy is the priority, so the key will be in making distinctions between their respective positions and that of the government.

For now I will focus on the Liberals. I think their positioning will highlight two things. First, they will focus on the choices that the government has made in its management of the economy; choices which they will argue do not reflect the priorities of Canadians.

We will see corporate tax cuts, fighter jets and prisons contrasted with investments in people, skills and social programs. Their hope will be that voters see the government's choices as out-of-step and short-sighted and not contributing to building an economy and a society for the 21st century.

Second, they will need to distinguish themselves from the NDP. This will mean continued focus on being the only real alternative to the government. This was the messaging that came out of the by-elections and it is the messaging we will see during a campaign.

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