In the Chamber -- Grant Mitchell's Blog

Optimism

Posted 3/7/2013 by Grant Mitchell

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A focus on three fundamental elements of a strong society, economy and country has been lost in this time of right wing ideology.

First, economies are more than just money and numbers. Way more. They are people.

Second, people drive strong economies when they feel optimistic.

Third, Canada is not the country that it has become because the private sector built it by itself. Historically, when government has been at its best in Canada, it has provided leadership to reconcile competing interests, inspiration to galvanize action toward shared objectives based on shared values, balanced social policy supports to give people the confidence to take risks, and measured economic intervention to stimulate economic growth and jobs.

However, at the basic root of the right wing ideology are contradictory tenets that run in the face of these three observations:

First, Conservative ideology limits economic understanding pretty much to money flows (capital), taxes (ever lower), and costs (ever lower no matter what the cost) - all numbers.

Second, Conservative ideology continuously conjures up things for people to fear, the antithesis of generating optimism. It is a dangerous world, they say, where crime is ever increasing and threatening (no, it is actually in decline and we have the understanding and psychological and social science to make it decline faster); terrorism threatens our existence and our values (actually, in a world with almost no interstate wars, the world is statistically much safer than it was even 30 years ago); and environmentalists want to destroy our jobs (no, consideration of the environment, dealing with climate change, will save our economy and create huge new economic opportunities).

Turned on their ear, viewing them as "half full" rather than "half empty" (the Conservatives' default perspective), these fears can actually become the basis for an inspired optimism. We can create a crime reduced society where everyone feels safe and lives are saved before they are ever lost and ruined by criminal activity; there is much work to be done on world peace, but progress to a safer world is being made; and protecting the environment (dealing with climate change in particular) is the engine of economic greatness, not its enemy.

Third, a government that hates government has really only one objective, less government. Undoubtedly, more efficient government is important. However, it should really be only one arrow in a quiver full of ways to reach the true objectives of a successful Canadian government, to make Canada better and give Canadians a better quality of life. Any CEO will tell you that if you set the wrong objective, you will definitely not get to the right place.  We need national — the Prime Minister's — leadership on an energy strategy, a climate change strategy, a health care and public health strategy, an aboriginal strategy and a day care strategy, to mention but a few of the areas crying out for national leadership.

There is currently no national leadership on these or many other areas because the right wing ideology abhors government and reaching out to work with the provinces is seen as extending the reach of government. As hard as it is to fathom, we have a Prime Minister who will not meet with the Premiers to rally resources, seek efficiencies in the delivery of services, solve common problems and help set national priorities. It’s as if a CEO of a major firm would never call her or his vice-presidents together to deal collectively with problems, set objectives, and rally and focus resources.

Nowhere is the vacuum of national leadership more evident than on energy and climate change strategy. After 7 years in power, the Prime Minister has been unable to build a pipeline in energy rich Canada. How is a company or a Premier to bring together all the competing interests inherent in projects of the expanse, national consequence and complexity of major energy projects without the support of the Federal government?

The Prime Minister's "no-brainer" defence of the Keystone XL may prove to be a more apt description of the quality of thought he put into his Keystone "strategy". All the anti-environmental posturing from this government has sent only negative messages to BC and the US that Canada is not sufficiently committed to climate change action, among other environmental responsibilities, to be given the social license to build these projects.

The Conservative government has been pretty much absent from any other kind of messaging. And, no matter how much a company sells its credentials, it can hardly overcome a federal government's misguided air war. Imagine what will happen once the Minister of Natural Resources, charged now with building our environmental credibility, including in the US, is reminded in Washington that he refused to state acceptance of the science of climate change when asked if he did in the House of Commons.

Imagine instead what might be the product of nationally led collaboration amongst First Ministers supported by consultation with industry, First Nations and NGO leaders and Canadians at large. Imagine a Prime Minister who could inspire, rather than frighten; a Prime Minister with the spirit to pursue great nation-building objectives.  It might be that Canada could be inspired to focus on three critical elements of a successful future: energy self-sufficiency, world class education (including respect for science and research) and water certainty. Consider these elements built upon our stable democracy, good transportation and communications systems, and national public health care system.

Then, throw in a government and Prime Minister that understands that government has a role to bring us altogether (whereas a CEO of some corporation simply does not have the platform), and, watch out, Canada might just end up leading the world once again.

 

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