Michael Fortier, an unlucky former Minister of Trade and former Conservative Senator from Quebec, suggested in a letter to La Presse last month that it might improve the political climate in Quebec if a referendum on the constitutional status of Quebec was conducted only once every fifteen years. Immediately, Stephen Harper’s communication/crisis management team ridiculed the idea. Fortier will survive the scolding.
Of course, political elites in Quebec will not easily turn their pet issue over to a calendar. However, Fortier was at least trying to find a way out of Quebec’s growing malady: constant attention to the big picture and neglect and retrenchment on the management problems of collective daily life.
Whatever the fate of Fortier’s idea in Quebec, the idea of making up our minds on one big thing at least every fifteen years would be an awesome leap forward for the rest of Canada.
Since the close defeat of the Charletown Accord in the national referendum in 1992—eighteen years ago—a grey old man’s mantra has settled over our national affairs. It asserts that the distinguishing economic, social, and political characteristics of Canada are settled and needn’t be disturbed. Of course, a handful of utterly central questions for a self respecting democracy (for instance, the authority of the Crown and Govenor General, the status of the Senate, the appointment of judges to our Supreme court, whether we can be closer or should further away from the United States) are up in the air, in seminars and in pending files. Isn’t that the safest place to keep them?
The problem of making a career out of avoiding big challenges is that skilful small thinking gets too big a head. Leaders and schemers start believing that incrementalism and procrastination are always enough, the responsible course. In the spirit of Michael Fortier, this blog is dedicated to the notion that those who care about politics should exercise their appetites for change, and their skills in persuading others to make a real difference.
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