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A vision for Canada

GB Geo-Blog

A vision for Canada

John Manley, a senior ranking cabinet minister in the Chretien Liberal governments in the 1990s, argued in a lecture at the Ivey School of Business that “new politics” are needed. Specifically, he lamented that the 1960s was the last decade when governments in Canada had great ambitions and Canadians were excited about the future.

He asked: “How will we resolve complex issues of public policy if the way we do politics and make public policy generates an ever-increasing spiral of cynicism that keeps our best minds focused on private matters, or working outside institutions where public policy is implemented?”

The problem since the 1970s, with the possible exception of the Mulroney period, is that neither of the major political parties has provided a vision for Canada. Neither has given a reason for Canadians to be proud of their country and to want to work together to achieve the vision and make the country great.

Regionalism, pettiness, and lust for power have driven Canadian politics and our political leaders. John Manley should have asked: What do the Liberals stand for today? Where does Ignatieff want to take the country?

I became involved in policy making in Ottawa in the 1970s, and I saw three fundamental problems. Policy was driven increasingly by polls. The party pollsters became the de facto policy advisers. Second, most politicians and their pollsters knew little about the major issues and problems. And, the political parties generally developed only two or three policy initiatives during the election campaigns, so that whoever won, generally ran out of ideas within 12 months of winning office. There was no process to replenish the policy ideas.

Manley suggested that there are at least three areas where governments must take the lead and play the key role: health and security threats; challenges to our industrial base; global energy and climate change challenges.

I have joked that I was the one-half of the three and half people who developed the outlines of the National Energy Program in 1980, and I have always been proud of my involvement. That program cost the Liberals Alberta. Does anyone believe that any federal government will have the courage to develop policies which will threaten the oil patch, especially the oil sands? So much for leadership on the energy and climate change issue.

As for challenges to our industrial base, I wrote the platforms on industrial strategy for the provincial Liberals in the mid-1970s, and for the federal Liberals in the 1979 campaign and the 1993 Red Book. I am probably among only a handful of people who understand the problems, and can put forth some possible solutions. Instead, what we have been getting for the past 30 years has been the same drivel: reduce taxes, and invest more in education, training and R&D. (During the Mulroney era, privatization, deregulation and free trade were thrown into the policy mix.) None of these ideas have addressed or will address the challenges to our industrial base. But all we get from the political parties are the same suggestions.

There is no leadership! There is no excitement! There is no vision!

There are only crass politics, lust for power and short sightedness.


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