Sunday, December 18, 2011

One Step Forward, Three Steps Back

Parliament's winter break has begun and MPs have made their way back home. Unlike recent times, however, everyone has gone home knowing that regardless of whether they have been good or bad Santa will not be giving them a trip to the polls for the holidays.

Deprived of any election rumblings, politics watchers are left with the more traditional end-of-year retrospectives and report cards. And with the NDP and the Liberals going down the introspection road, any year-end review undoubtedly leads to the Conservatives and how their eight months with a "strong, stable majority" have played out.

From the view at A Guy Watching Politics, the assessment would read something like:

One Step Forward, Three Steps Back.

More than anything else, a majority is an opportunity. It is an opportunity to govern without the fear of an election, of course. But is also an opportunity to rise above short-term politics and tackle the challenge of governing. It is a chance to consider the challenges and opportunities the country faces and set a path forward. It is a time for leadership.

Unfortunately, the past eight months have given us only fleeting glances of a government seizing the real potential of these opportunities. Let's start with the positives.

Recognizing the regional land mines and, perhaps, learning from the F35 debacle, the government managed a very successful procurement programme for the navy. It was fair, hands-off and has won deserved plaudits. In these situations, some will always lament the decision. That the process has come out not just unscathed but commended is a sign of good policy.

The Supreme Court appointments offer another example of the government taking a measured approach to a sensitive topic. As is his prerogative, the Prime Minister chose from a list agreed upon by an all-party committee. There was no major shift to the right as many feared, and the process was more or less consistent with what we have come to expect in Canada.

So, some steps forward on the process side. The Libya mission is also a good example of the government being open and clear about its objectives and, essentially, being on the right side of the argument. The government has also stepped up its efforts on the international trade front.

This would all be well and good if it weren't for the steps backward...

The withdrawal from the Kyoto Accord and the general demeanour of the government on what is the defining (environmental) issue of the day is more than disappointing - it is a failure to take responsibility. Climate change is more than an environmental issue. It is a health issue, an economic issue, a transportation issue, and a foreign policy issue.

Yet Canada is now seen as a country that fails to take this issue seriously. We are seen as obstructionist and lacking vision. Our brand is weak and we are considered to be short-sighted (for failing to grasp the severity of the situation) and single-minded (for being so desperate to protect the oil sands).

In terms of policy here at home, we have been shown as similar lack of vision. A gun and crime agenda has been relentlessly pursued in the face of all evidence and experience which suggest it is misguided. Dollars which could be used to advance the lives of Canadians will instead be used on jails. The valuable data housed within the gun registry will be destroyed.

But beyond these areas, the real issue - the major step back - has been the inability of the government to hold in check its partisan impulses. Some examples:

- the Quebecor-driven and Conservative-lead attack on the CBC
- the increasing use of closure to kill debate
- the not-so-subtle criticism of the Parliamentary Budget Officer when his office questions the government
- the reprehensible tactics used in the riding of Mount Royal to promote the Conservative party

Too often it appears that we have a government which goes to great lengths to engender a dysfunctional tone in Parliament, for the sole purpose of using that tone as a justification to ignore Parliament and move forward without debate and accountability. And with a disjointed opposition there is nothing standing in the way.


Eight months in as a majority and the Conservatives have shown glimpses of good government. Unfortunately, they have also shown an inability (or unwillingness) to keep their more partisan instincts in place.

They remain less a government and more a party; fixated more on their opposition and their political base, and less on the issues of the day. This may be good for the Conservative Party, but Canada loses.

1 comment:

  1. Great summary of the last few months. I can't say I'm surprised this government hasn't changed it's ways.

    That said, I fail to see the advantage of dirty politics at this point. The next election is years away, is this what we have to look forward to?

    Very disappointing. One can only hope that this government digs it's own grave, giving the opposition momentum.


Have a comment?

Canadian Blogosphere