Saturday, March 08, 2008

Bold Leadership

So, there's a poll out there that indicates Canadians would be more likely to vote for Barack Obama, than for any of our national leaders. This is very interesting news indeed - but not surprising.
The sad thing is, the poll is very telling. We have a very bland group of leaders. We haven’t had a true “visionary” since Trudeau. Not saying that these leaders are not CAPABLE of doing great things for their perspective ideologies... They are capable, but choose to be too guided by what they THINK people want - not pursuing what their ideologies dictate. Jack Layton isn't as much of a social democrat as he pretends to be. A lot of my NDP friends would vouch for that. If the NDP leader introduced more socially progressive policy in Parliament - a'la Tommy Douglas - they would help sway the mood of the country closer to the center, or center-left. While Canadians may not want "left wing" ideas (or what are considered "left wing" ideas by our media), repeated exposure to ideas makes people THINK about those ideas. The same philosophy has worked for the right. A conservative media bias across North America has allowed for folks to think the macho swagger, uncaring, "me first", and aggressive ideas of the right are "cool" or "chic". It seemed a few years ago that being a gun-slinger was the only way to be - lest you be considered a traitor. A conservative-biased media controlled by people like Conrad Black and Rupert Murdoch flooded the public domain with "dumbed down" editorials bashing liberalism and social democrats at every opportunity, and selling this "neoCon dream".
Stephen Harper has angered a lot of conservatives within his own Conservative Party. He certainly sent shockwaves through the hard right "Guard" members of the old Alliance/Reform bunch when he did not do enough (in their eyes) to combat same-sex marriage. He has been "faking" being a "centrist" so he can stealthily acquire a majority. Still, he has managed (not without help from South of the 49th) to introduce enough right-wing ideas to Parliament to swing Canada from center to center-right in a couple of years. What may tone him down once again is an election (gotta hid neo-con ideas from the public), and the right wing's plummet South of the border.

What about our leader? We heard him during the leadership campaign. We know he is passionate about this country. We know he is passionate about the environment. What else is he concerned with? We need to know, but more importantly the PUBLIC needs to hear it. Muddy policy talk will not create public interest. We need to put out ideas that carry and resonate with the public. Wedge issues that separate us from the Conservatives.

What areas can we create wedge issues in? How about immigration. A BOLD immigration plan to help salvage our labor force would be a good start. Something visionary that once and for all unclogs the traffic jams the Conservatives have created (we know that "real" immigration has declined since the Cons took power). We need to really open up the doors. Listen to the xenophobes howl. We also need to take REAL ACTION on the issue of foreign trained professionals. I hope - sometime within my lifetime - to see the last taxi-driving doctor, because he is working in a hospital somewhere in rural Saskatchewan. Somewhere where they can't get or keep a doctor.

The environment is fine and dandy as a "cool" issue. It's really "cool" to dress up all green for the cameras (vis-a-vis Montreal 2006). It's fine to say we want to take real action. But, when we don't take REAL action, we look like hypocrites. We have the grounding to take real, BOLD action on the environment. Dion's the guy to do it. We need to strike forth and talk about a targeted carbon tax. Not something that hits consumers directly. It needs to be something that is more industry related. Industry sets the example for consumers. Like we have cigarette ads that warn against smoking, our government CAN sanction environmental reminders, and helpful green tips on cartons, boxes, and bottles. It seems that consumers tend to "believe what they buy". A message on their purchase is the easiest way to educate them. We also need to ensure that industry abides by the rules - not just soft and continuously changing targets. Not just "empty" regulations like Alberta's joke of an attempt. BC Liberals have been bold in this vein. Time for the national party to step up.

What about Canadian corporations and MNCs? The Conservatives have created a mess in Ontario. No - wait, I'm wrong - they haven't created a "mess" in Ontario, they've openly declared war on Ontario. With industry dying in Southern Ontario and Quebec, the federal Conservatives are happy to prop up Alberta, while trying to also buy votes in Quebec. Let Ontario sink or swim on her own. You can't just neglect Canada's most populous province. That many people going into an economic tailspin will have repercussions for the whole country.

What can we do along with our MNCs that will help create jobs, sustain Canadian ownership, AND help us in areas we need help badly? How about infrastructure? Infrastructure around Canada is a real mess. The Trans-Canada highway - our great national route - is a death-trap in many places, including much of rural BC, parts of Saskatchewan, Manitoba, and the Canadian Shield Region. Yes, it will cost money. Yes, it will be expensive. It is, however, the duty of our national government to help fund - or entirely fund - these types of ventures. Local and provincial governments can't, or won't. A mega-project of this type will only help our economy. We will be able to put more Canadians to work, help the environment and transport industry (right now trucks spend countless hours idling in traffic jams), and help with tourism. Some of the world's best skiing occurs in the Canadian Rockies and points West of that. It would be a boon to those areas to have a 4 or 6 lane highway from Vancouver or Calgary to those areas. The Americans did it years ago. The Finns and Swedes have excellent highway systems in similar Northern climates. It is a shame that we cannot do the same.

What other projects need funding? What other ways can we properly invest our surpluses? We have critical needs for Northern development. We currently don't even have a permanent highway "up North". To go from Edmonton to Yellowknife you need to take a temporary road over permafrost and frozen lakes. You can't get there in the summer - by land. We need to "connect the dots" on the Northern map. This is part of exercising our sovereignty, but also of being inclusive of our Northern communities and First Nations.

Speaking of First Nations, perhaps our ONLY national shame is the treatment of our First Peoples. Living conditions of our First Nations are constantly criticized around the world. It's actually pretty much the ONLY bad thing you hear about Canada when traveling abroad. We need to invest in our First Nation communities - heavily - to ensure that we bring these vital parts back into the Canadian fold. We need to provide the infrastructure and education to ensure that these communities grow - for the benefit of all. We have a large untapped resource within our First Nations. Just who would make up the skilled workforce that helps build our national infrastructure? The large First Nations populations - particularly on the Prairies and up North - would be a huge part of it.

Education. Canada's university system should be free for those who qualify. The defeated Paul Martin government was set to make 1st and 4th year university education free (a fact that received little hoopla in the partisan politics of the time - not a single student I spoke to on the campaign trail was aware of this). Thinking BOLD would include a fully funded education, with properly funded universities and trade schools. The more we help fund our institutions, the more we can avoid the bad influence of big corporate money biasing research (vis-a-vis drugcos and big oil). Imagine a publicly funded education system that pushes real research and development that truly benefits Canadians. Imagine the most highly educated workforce in the world.

Pharmacare - REAL pharmacare. The Brits can do it. Their economy wasn't the best when they began this project, but one can certainly argue that it is very strong now. We have to take our medicare system to the next level. We can take the opportunity to bolster our domestic, generic drug companies. Proper funding for hospitals is a very important part of that process. A program of rural residencies for health professionals should become a required part of the admission requirements for medical school. We need to protect our healthcare system from commercialization. There's no "profit motive" clause in the Hypocratic Oath, and there shouldn't be one in our healthcare system.

Investment is the key word here - not "spend". What we do with our surpluses will be our legacy to our children. We can choose to squander that legacy on tax cuts that won't even be remembered past the budget (typical taxpayer response is, "when's the next tax cut"?). Or, we can choose to make this country more the envy of the world than it already is. We can have the best highway and public transit systems in the world, with the world's most advanced communications network. This, of course, will require cash, but also the skills of some of Canada's best homegrown companies (Bombardier, CN, CP, Nortel, The cable and phone companies, etc.).

What else is bold? How about closing some government tenders to foreign companies where domestic companies have the skills and expertise? We may still require some foreign tenders - but only AFTER we have exhausted all domestic providers. It's sickening to see companies like Bombardier bypassed for contracts by Brazilian, American, or EU companies. We have to have a two step tendering process, with provisions for cases where: 1) No domestic provider exists, or 2) the domestic cost is far outside of the "world average". This measure would support existing Canadian business, BUT it would also encourage new Canadian businesses. Canadian venture capitalists would be quick to create new companies to support our national ventures.

When Americans talk about the Democratic contenders as being "bold", or signifying real change, they are identifying something real. The REAL change is beyond Hilary’s gender, or Obama’s ethnicity. It is things like Obama’s refusal to accept donations from Big Oil, Big Insurance, and Big Health companies (or any big corporate interest group for that manner). No major Canadian political party can claim that. The other BIG change is that the VERY NATURE of the differences of these two candidates (Obama/Clinton) will cause people from those demographics to be “uplifted”, and receive a boost in their public perception. This will open all sorts of doors for people who too often saw a glass ceiling. Now, in America, the sky is truly the limit for those demographic groups…
It was refreshing to see the interesting comparison of Canadian leaders with Barack Obama. We really could learn a lot from our neighbors down South - no matter how strange that seems... Perhaps our leaders will take queues from the "new Camelot" that seems to be coming to America. Perhaps they will change their way of thinking. Perhaps they will help put an end to the creep of the right-wing into daily reality. Only by espousing liberal democratic ideas - and implementing them on a clear and bold platform - can we ensure that we don't all get sucked into the consumerist, pan-Americanist vortex that Harper and his henchmen are fomenting.

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