Seamanship Quotation

“In political activity, then, men sail a boundless and bottomless sea; there is neither harbour for shelter nor floor for anchorage, neither starting-place nor appointed destination.”
— from Michael Oakeshott's
Political Education” (1951)

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Canada’s “uninspiring” national election

Beyond watching how ambitious people act under extreme pressure, the biggest high for journalists following politics is the prospect of a defining issue being resolved in an election—the idea (often false) that a new course for Canada will be settled, in one day, in polling stations across the country.
With a conservative campaigning for “stability” against a liberal whose central message is that the conservative is dangerous, Canada’s election is offering little excitement. Amongst pundits who seek drama in Ottawa, the anguish is coming to the surface.
Lawrence Martin produced a classic in the Globe and Mail yesterday with the headline “This campaign’s about plodders, not prophets.” Without bothering to dredge up a single accomplishment or historic decision, he defines our history according to leaders who were either plodders or prophets and concludes that Canadians are living in an “era of grinders.”
“Governance has been given over to around-the-clock political infighting. No leader looks boldly to the future. We talk about the fiscal deficit. A bigger problem is the inspirational deficit, and it’s seldom been so high."
The man seeks to be seduced.
For a moment he imagines that Michael Ignatieff “gets it” after he recently exclaimed “Rise up, Canada.” Yet, Ignatieff quickly failed him by only offering equality of opportunity as his vision. “Hardly invigorating” the enigmatic pundit shrugged. For Martin the pretense of a new vision is more alluring.
The persistent unwillingness of the three national leaders to tackle any issues outside their campaign scripts is boring. If you’re a professional outsider like Lawrence Martin speeches aimed to mobilize partisans will leave you cold. Also, democracy is short-changed by the systematic avoidance of choices that are back in Ottawa waiting to be addressed—for instance, electoral redistribution, border security, and the rising dollar—and the pressure to raise interest rates as well.
Nevertheless, Martin’s search for a new national vision to energize Canada’s federal government is out of joint with Canada’s circumstances.
The alternative to minimalist conservative leadership in Ottawa is, by shades, a return to strong federal government with a point of view, a strategy, and cash to participate in every element of the federation’s politics. This is most often expressed on the social issue of health care and the economic issue of building a competitive, high skilled labor force.  
For the center left, these issues excuse greater, not less government leadership. Yet, the size of government involvement pales as an issue compared to the need to make government involvement now more productive and efficient. Those management issues—that are testing the very credibility of big government itself—are emphatically the responsibilities of the provinces and their electorates.
Economic reformers believe the surest way to restore a more generous and experimental quality to our political culture is to reform the economy.  They insist that raising disposable incomes must be secured in a robust economy rather than borrowed from the future by the state. Unlike the Seventies, however, that truism doesn’t lead only to better economic management and more strategic initiatives by the federal government.
Any chance to define a vision in Canadian national politics now must accommodate two pesky realities: on vital social issues provincial governments have the lead, politically and constitutionally, and on most economic issues we are in the same boat as the Americans, except they have a vote.  

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