Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Where do we go from here, Mr. Harper?

So, where do we go from here? I don't think it is an exaggeration to say that the political landscape in Canada has been altered significantly. As is the case with any big change, some people are worried, others are excited, and many are uncertain what it will mean.

I decided to use this blog post to provide the (unsolicited) advice I would give to the government Mr. Harper will now form. Why? Whether we like it or not we are now in this as a country for the next four years.

We need to shift our focus away from politics and towards government. We need to consider how Canada can win, and not how parties can be beaten.

This is a conversation we haven't had for five years. Yes, we have had discussion about the recession and how best to respond. But beyond that, the success or failure of parties has dominated our discourse when we should have invested in discussing Canada. This cycle needs to end now.

So with that in mind, I decided to use a few blog postings to provide my views and advice to our MPs, new and old. Today, I will start with Mr. Harper and the Conservatives.

1. Read the results honestly and respond in kind

Whether you agree with it or not, there remains a strong sense that your politics and policies over the past five years have been guided by instincts which at their heart have been partisan and adversarial. It would be wrong, therefore, to read a majority government as an endorsement of that approach, or even of the policies you have espoused.

There is enough in the results to suggest that many Canadians do not whole-heartedly endorse the Conservative platform or agenda. In Quebec there is a strong desire for change that did not include the Conservatives. In Ontario, vote-splitting and a concern among more centrist Liberals about the NDP fed your results.

This reality needs to be recognized and reflected in your approach to Parliament and to the views of others. We have moved beyond a focus on the base or the swing ridings - you are now a government for all Canadians. Show Canadians you recognize this as the privilege that it is.

2. You have what you want, but be mindful how you use it

We have spent too much time talking about the need for a majority to "get things done." To say this diminishes the role that collaboration and dialogue are intended to play in a democracy.

Power is used best when it is used with discretion, thoughtfulness and consideration. Put another way, just because you think you can do what you want doesn't mean you should. All majority governments make this mistake, but in truth yours will be watched more carefully that those in the past.

There is a reason it took three tries to get a majority. How you use the power it provides is therefore important.

Reach out. Seek opportunities to build a consensus; to get the views of others. Make these things your first instinct. Canadians did not provide a majority as an excuse for parties not to work together. Show us you recognize this point and the role you can play in helping to repair our politics.

3. You didn't run a national campaign, but you have to think about the nation

Part of your success in #elxn41 resulted from a five year campaign which focused on swing ridings, keeping your base energized, and attacking your opponents. While this helped you win, it came at the expense of a conversation about what Canada needs to succeed.

As a majority government, ask yourself whether Canada needs a tough on crime agenda to succeed in the 21st century. Where does this sit, relative to how we consider health care, or how we position Canadian companies for success in a world that has changed dramatically? To which issues should our energies be directed - the environment or issues like long-gun registries?

You have an opportunity to engage Canadians on a broader range of issues than the ones which have traditionally fuelled your approach to policy and government. This doesn't mean thinking big, but it does mean thinking more long-term, moving beyond what has too often been parochial.


I have written before about the distinction between politics and government. The challenges and opportunities we face demand the best of government, not the worst of politics. This does not have to mean active or expansive government; but it should mean engaged, open, collaborative and constructive government.

We need to move beyond the cycle of partisanship, short-sightedness and attack. The election around the corner has come and gone, and there is now a long road ahead. How we walk along it will have huge repercussions for Canada.

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