Tuesday, December 30, 2014

On limited victories

Truly, I wish Andrew Coyne's latest actually described policy-making in Canada, and not merely the state of theoretical political debate.

But in fact, we live in a country where "let's consider whether a trade agreement actually has benefits, rather than signing whatever gets shoved in front of us" has been shouted down by two national parties and the corporate press as an extreme view.

In fact, the "progressive" premier put forward as the paragon of leftism is from a government which brags about both trashing regulations for the sake of trashing regulations, and imposing perpetual real-money cuts to the public sector.

And in fact, we're seeing far more Crowns actually privatized (in whole or in part) than we're seeing proposals for any meaningful new public institutions or programs to meet our evolving needs.

Now, it's true that there are more "serious proposals on the table" for progressive ideas than conservative ones. But that's primarily a function of the fact that being serious isn't a prerequisite for the radical changes generally preferred - and regularly implemented - by the right.

Building an effective program or institution requires ample planning, consultation and review. And so we can fully expect people who believe government can and should provide those things to carry out at least some of the necessary advance work on a regular basis.

In contrast, destroying one takes a single swing of the wrecking ball with no previous warning or debate. And right-leaning governments across the country have been following that pattern for decades, with no sign of letting up anytime soon.

At the federal level alone, the Cons have privatized or eliminated core functions of AECL, the Canadian Wheat Board and Canada Post, not to mention set up a ten-figure P3 promotion apparatus put in place to ensure infrastructure is built to benefit big business over the public. And all this based on precisely zero advance discussion, and in the face of evidence showing them to be asinine ideas from any standpoint other than one focused solely on turning public investments into private profits.

Which isn't to say the contest of ideas doesn't matter: obviously if we want to build a better world, it's essential to have some idea what it looks like. But well-crafted, thoughtful policies are only a necessary precondition, not a sufficient one. And there's not much to celebrate as long as the right (in whatever party guise) is able to treat anti-social vandalism as a viable governing strategy.


  1. In Canada in 1993 I voted Liberal. Mistake. Kim Campbell,. newly minted PC leader., ran on continuing ( God Save the Tories or Gouge and Screw in the vernacular of the times ) the GST ( General Sales Tax ) and the Free Trade Agreement ( which meant no further subsidizing on internal freight ) leading to 2 people being elected on their ticket in the whole country. The Lib leader Jean Chretien was thus elected in a landslide...and promptly governed on the basis of the policies he had run against rather than a Mao size Red Book of election promises...of which none were kept. So we have been bleeding dry ( especially for farming ) on the basis of higher internal freight costs vs. north-south routes at a fraction of the distance for a population strung out along the border. So when you want politicians to stand and deliver I am far too experienced in being had to be an optimist.

    1. I share your pessimism about politicians left to their own devices. But I see that another area we need to work on rather than a basis to give up: instead of focusing solely on an election or a party at a time, we need to ensure that there's enough meaningful public pressure to hold leaders who present progressive platforms to their word, and ideally to make even right-wing politicians think twice about straying too far from the public interest.

  2. Anonymous12:51 p.m.

    Thank you for this post. I read Coyne's piece on the way to work this morning and thought that either he or I was out to lunch. Of course, Coyne is a strong neo-liberal free-market-is-almost-inviolate type so he may actually think that Wynne and the Ontario Liberals are left-wing. IMO, the Liberal party is left wing in much the same way that Al Gore is a communist (an actual epithet hurled at Gore by some semi-respectable pundits).