Monday, October 12, 2015

Choosing Change Part 1: It's About the What and the How

One week to go.

By this time next week, the campaigning will be over and the counting will only be a few hours away. Between now and then the party leaders will be making their final arguments, while their teams will be revving up their get out the vote operations.

Of course the broad narratives are already firmly in place. A vote for "stability in an uncertain world" versus a "vote for change and an end to more of the same." A vote for "you can't trust this guy" versus a vote for "we've had enough of this guy."

It will come as no surprise to anyone who follows this blog (anyone?) or my tweets (@Politicwatcher) that this Guy Watching Politics is on the side of change. However, it is not change for the sake of change that I am supporting. Nor is it simply "Anyone But Harper" that is driving my thoughts on #elxn42.

Issues and engagement were the main reasons why I started this blog, and they are the reason I decided to post again after some time away. There are real issues that need to be discussed if we want to move the yardsticks forward for this country and for our democracy.

The parties of change - the Liberals and the NDP - represent the best chance for issues to be openly discussed. Both have tabled platforms and positions which, for me, are more reflective of a world that is not binary; where issues cannot be boiled down to black versus white.

It doesn't matter if you are talking about the economy or the environment, social policy or industrial policy, deficits or surpluses. The world is far too nuanced and complex to simply frame policy decisions in these areas into simple "either ors".

Unfortunately the Harper government has consistently done just that.

Take discussion on taxes as an example. You are either for taxes or against them in their discourse. And with that is gone a more important discussion about how we use the tax system to build the society we want.

Want another example? Safeguarding the environment and growing the economy are seen as mutually exclusive. A binary choice which blindly ignores the fact that an issue like climate change is an economic issue as much as an environmental one.

This approach is depriving our country of real and thorough debate on what we need to do if we want to succeed in a complex, competitive and challenging world.


If issues and policy are the what, then the discourse of our politics is the how.

The how is a hugely important element of a well-functioning democracy. How we encourage debate. How we use Parliament. How we treat differences of opinions. How we demonstrate transparency and accountability.

Unfortunately a defining feature of the Harper government has been its "how".

The comportment of the government has been one in which Parliament is at best a burden to be borne, but more often a place to be circumvented. It is a how that characterizes those with differences of opinion as enemies, not just of the Conservative party but of Canada.

Think of the Duffy affair and what it showed us about the PMO. Recall the muzzling of scientists and consider what that means for the development of evidence-based policy. Reflect on omnibus legislation that is drafted to preclude debate. Look at how the government advertises and how it attacks.

Simply put, the "how" of the Harper government is a how that consistently opts to offer Canadians the worst of politics at the very time they need the best of government.

Both the Liberals and the NDP have tabled positions which are intended to improve the how in our democracy. Both appear far more committed to making the discourse of our politics more inclusive, open and positive.

Of course, there are no guarantees that either will fully adopt the changes they are proposing. History is full of parties which run on change and then govern on more of the same. In fact one need look no further than the 2006 Conservative campaign for such an example.

However, while there is no guarantee of an improvement from either the Liberals or the NDP there is an unequivocal guarantee of more of the same from a Conservative government whose "how" is hard-wired into their style of governing. It is unfortunately in their DNA and won't change.


It is the what and the how which makes me a supporter or change. I believe Canada needs an open, vigorous debate on many policy issues. And I believe that without change this is not going to happen to the extent it needs to, nor with a tone befitting a country that considers itself to be among the best in the world.

But opting for change is only step one. There is a choice within the choice for change, with two parties vying to be the face of change. In the second part of this post (later this week), I will focus on that choice and what it means to me.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Have a comment?

Canadian Blogosphere