Canada’s Next PM Should Lead by ‘First-Principles’ Method

September 3, 2021 Updated: September 3, 2021


We are conspicuously short of guarantees in a world struggling to recover from the pandemic. It is with fingers crossed that global leaders have adopted economic and health measures to curb the spread of COVID and stave off financial collapse. Each country has its own hurdles to recovery, Canada among them.

With a critical federal election underway, leaders need to make their cases clearly and avoid the temptation to make promises they can’t hope to keep. “Spend now and pay later” may be the mantra of politics but there is another, more effective way of steering a country toward prosperity. By prioritizing principle over policy, leaders can underpromise and overdeliver by forthrightly facing the uncertainty of our times.

First-Principles Thinking

A first principle is a foundational proposition or assumption that stands alone. It has been espoused by some of history’s greatest men, from Aristotle to Thomas Aquinas, whose first principle of natural law states: “Good is to be done and pursued and evil avoided.”

It is as much about utility as about philosophy. Elon Musk, an adopter of first-principles thinking, has revolutionized the space, energy, and auto sectors. It’s hard to argue with such massive success across multiple complex industries. From creating the first mass-produced electric car to launching that car on a SpaceX rocket into orbit, Musk has defied the laws of success and production. The man may be a certifiable genius but his adherence to first-principles thinking is certainly part of the equation.

First principles are the foundation of both the American Constitution and Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms. They are broadly defined and open to interpretation, but underscore the checks and balances of democracy. Policies are subject to changing public sentiment and black swan events, while first principles provide a guiding set of foundational ethics agile enough to pivot and adapt, but sound enough to navigate even the harshest global catastrophe.

They are principles to which leadership is subservient. When politicians fail to deliver on promises, which often happens, they are accused of hypocrisy or dishonesty  This stems in part from an over-reliance on policy initiatives rather than a framework of guiding principles. It’s a symptom of our times that leadership is far more showmanship than statesmanship, and ideals are subservient to impulse. Too often, leadership elicits a shrug or a shiver from the electorate rather than enthusiasm.

In 2015, Justin Trudeau campaigned on a promise of electoral reform, stating, “We are committed to ensuring that 2015 will be the last federal election conducted under the first-past-the-post voting system.”

By 2018, Trudeau had defaulted on that promise. Many Canadians were angry, not necessarily about electoral reform itself but with the betrayal of a key campaign promise. Such is the consequence of failing to deliver on a promise that secured an election. First principles, on the other hand, allow for a degree of flexibility and a variety of means to achieve the same ends.

First Principles in Action

The Charter of Rights and Freedoms is often cited by civil liberties groups but rarely by politicians, who have a tendency to circumvent this foundational document to achieve their own political ends.

An example of first principles that should be adopted by all parties would be to maximally uphold and adhere to the Charter, which outlines the fundamental principles that keep Canada a free and democratic nation. It transcends political parties while keeping their ambitions in check and in line with the country’s fundamental governing precepts.

In practical terms, adherence to the Charter means ending pandemic restrictions as soon as possible while granting the maximum amount of freedom to all citizens who act within the confines of the law.

Living under lockdowns has had detrimental effects on the public psyche, one being that people begin to believe that the government’s role is to take care of their every need. This trading of liberty for safety results in a nanny state where independent thought and action are deemed unnecessary or even undesirable. Fear is the great weapon of dictators, and Canada’s leadership should refrain from using it. It can certainly result in short-term compliance, but ultimately it creates a submissive society incapable of caring for itself.

A robust defence of fundamental freedoms is the hallmark of true democratic leadership, something that each prime ministerial hopeful must come to terms with. It will be the prime minister who sets the tone and direction of the country. By embracing maximum freedom as a first principle, Canada can be one of the first nations to thrive as recovery progresses and the pandemic recedes.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.

Ryan Moffatt
Ryan Moffatt is a journalist based in Vancouver.