Thursday, January 5, 2012

Defining Progressive for a 21st Century Canada

In recent weeks there has been a lot of discussion about what Canadian politics will look like over the course of 2012. Much of that discussion - including here - has focused on the government, and how a Harper majority will act during its first full year.

The focus on the Harper government is understandable, particularly when one starts to consider the upcoming budget. However, politics watchers should be focusing equally on the events that will play out among the NDP and the Liberals.


Over the course of the 2012, the NDP and the Liberals will each be very busy. The former will choose a new leader. The latter will review, well, everything, as it prepares to choose a new leader in 2013.

However, there is a more important undercurrent to the efforts of both parties. As they move through their respective processes, the NDP and the Liberals will be taking big steps towards redefining what it means to be a progressive party in twenty-first century Canada.

Whether this redefinition results in two or only one progressive party remains to be seen. There will be plenty of time for a hard look at the need for and the likelihood of success of a merged party.

At this juncture, the more pressing need is for the progressive elements of the Canadian political landscape to take some time to do what, frankly, they failed to do properly over the past decade. Rather than lay out a credible and consistent vision of what a progressive party represents, both parties let the Conservatives do it for them.

That is not to say that the NDP and Liberals were silent. More that since 2006 they have been essentially on the back foot; reacting to the Conservatives' formidable communications regime.

The Liberals were the big losers in this game. However, the NDP's recent electoral success masks to an extent their own challenges. In many respects, their success was the result of Mr. Layton's appeal and the Liberal implosion.

Now, deprived of Mr. Layton the party has shown signs of drift at the very time its rookie caucus needs direction. Moreover, I would bet that few Canadians could tell you what an NDP government would look like. On a number of policy files this fall, the Liberals tended to play a more effective opposition role.

So, what to do...

To start, move away from the traditional left-right dichotomy and present a progressive vision for Canada. This vision needs to shift the dialogue such that progressive does not become a new way of saying left.

Rather, progressive needs to be defined as being about balance; about carefully and openly considering the challenges and opportunities the country faces, and collaboratively developing solutions.

It should define what fiscal responsibility means in progressive politics. Progressive cannot be simply about opposing spending cuts or raising corporate taxes. It needs to represent a balanced approach to what is an legitimate issue.

Being progressive should also be about promoting a real dialogue about how priority policy areas (health, the economy, the environment, education and foreign policy) are inter-connected.

More often than not, policy options in these areas are presented as being independent of one another. They are not. Progressive politics should be about connecting the various policy threads and telling the story in a way that connects with the voter.

This doesn't mean playing down to the voter. On the contrary, the voter needs to be challenged to see the big picture and the options a government needs to consider.

In the end, progressive politics must stand for something which resonates with Canadians and which is credible. It has to move our policy dialogue away from absolutes and the tendency to see options as mutually exclusive. It has to be more than a default to the Conservatives.

So come on NDP and Liberals - give it some thought and show us what you've got. Canada is waiting.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Have a comment?

Canadian Blogosphere