If I ask how you think public policy is going in Canada you may have trouble deciding whether to laugh or cry. Or possibly yawn if you aren’t Canadian, but we believe the world is fascinated by our affairs so pay attention. Also, our problems may actually be very like yours unless you are currently having a civil war or something really terrible on top of the pandemic, too much government, arrogant politicians, and philosophical confusion. So let’s take a minute to consider how things are going as a first step to pondering what might be done. After all, somebody has to.
Essentially, the CCP virus pandemic has somehow given people in government permission to do stuff they apparently wanted to do for a long time, like spend vast sums they don’t have with insouciant disregard for the future, flatten the private sector then transform our economy into something all green and hope it’s not mould, and boss us around with a shifting set of justifications (masks don’t work and borders should not be closed until they do and should, and we’re trying to flatten the curve to avoid a second wave etc.). And many politicians seem to be enjoying it a great deal. Which is one of the things that leaves others of us uncertain whether to laugh, cry, or both.
For instance, our federal government recently announced that it was expecting a deficit of $343 billion next year. Then it said in consequence it believed it was time not for prudent retrenchment and reliance on the tried and true but for some genuinely dramatic, transformative initiatives costing at least another $100 billion.
One might put this troubling notion down to the particular philosophical, programmatic, and partisan orientation of the party currently in power and its current partners further left. But here’s where our problems become morbidly fascinating and spread into your public arena like, say, mould.
The idea of moving Canada dramatically left may excite progressives. But it puzzles me. And not just because I don’t like the result of earlier surges left. Because there’ve been so many over the past quarter or half century that it’s hard to see how we could go much further left let alone why we’d want to. As my erstwhile National Post colleague Andrew Coyne wrote four years ago, for better or worse the left had been “running the table” on every imaginable public issue in Canada for decades, from economic to social to foreign policy.
Actually that statement is not quite correct. What he wrote, on March 12, 2016, was not exclusively about Canada. Rather “Across North America, the right is in disarray. It isn’t only at the ballot box that conservatives are in retreat. It is in the broader contest of ideas. On issue after issue, the left has been running the table, whether overturning orthodoxies long considered invincible, like the taboo on deficits, or opening new territory for the expanding state, from pensions to pharmacare to a guaranteed annual income. Perhaps the most startling advances have come in the social issues. From same-sex marriage to legalized marijuana to assisted suicide, public opinion and legislation seem in a headlong race to see which can undo centuries of custom and precedent the fastest, while across the multiplying fronts in the wars of identity — racial, sexual and the rest — one famous victory follows another.”
This prospect might seem so repellent that you want to push it away. See, Trump won and… But as Abraham Lincoln supposedly might once have said, a settler woman watching her husband locked in mortal combat with a bear does not need to shout alternately “Go husband” and “Go bear” to have a reasonable idea how the battle is proceeding. And since Lincoln is one of those people who said many more things online than in real life, yet I can’t find a source for this one, I’ll quote Coyne again instead: “I do not say this is a good thing or a bad thing. Some of these developments are welcome, some are not. I record it only as a fact. The energy, the impetus, the advantage today is all on the left.”
Facts are stubborn things, John Adams really did say. And whether you think the dominance of the left is good, bad, or a mixed bag has nothing to do with whether it is real, just as who you wanted to win, say, the Second World War should have had no bearing on your assessment of who actually was winning it in June 1940. Or whether the position in front of you on the chess board is good, tolerable, or horrible. Which of course brings me to Erin O’Toole.
In case you’re not Canadian, and possibly even if you are, the connection with the newly elected leader of our hapless federal Conservative opposition is as follows: In order to make a difference in our national affairs, and in order to deserve to make one, the new Tory chief and his acolytes need to consider three things in order.
First: Is Coyne’s description correct? Second: Is it a bad thing and if so in what ways? Third: What can we do about it? Just as a sensible chess player tries first to assess objectively what is happening on the board, then to decide which factors favour each player, and only then determine what moves can shift the balance in our favour.
Thus far O’Toole has not done so. As readers fascinated by Canadian politics will know, he campaigned for his party’s leadership as the true conservative against his supposedly, and actually, “Red Tory” main rival Peter MacKay. But as soon as he won O’Toole emphasized his pro-choice views, embraced the Paris Accord, and endorsed managed trade.
To his credit he did also proclaim himself very aware of the threat from communist China. But he has no obvious plans to strengthen our dilapidated military, just as he has no plans to balance the budget, free up Canada’s internal trade, reduce federal involvement in areas of provincial jurisdiction like post-secondary education or health, loosen the straitjacket of the Canada Health Act or, well, anything conservative.
Perhaps he has not noticed that the left is running the table. Or perhaps he approves. But if so, he doesn’t need to do anything including run for office. Undeterred by looming public insolvency, private economic collapse, or increasing regional tensions, the prime minister already has a plan, or, given the absence of details, an intention to move rapidly leftward if he can locate any files on which it wasn’t already done years ago.
If O’Toole is worried, he’s also off to a bad start. But as Lyndon Johnson should have said and Harold Wilson actually might have, a week is a long time in politics. So our Tory leader can still come up with policies that at least try to stem the tide. As can your local would-be conservatives. Provided they first figure out what’s going on and whether it’s bad.
Of course there’s something else a chess player can do after a sober evaluation of the situation on the board: resign. As former world chess champion Garry Kasparov really did say, about Russian politics, “There is no good move in a lost position.” But first let’s at least look at the board for a bit.