In Search of Leadership - A Rant
Canada has been descirbed as a country that functions in spite of itself. In essence, it has worked - and worked well - despite being the most decentralized federation in the world. This is not a new observation. Yet, with constant municipal-provincial-federal bickering, with more and more interest groups demanding this and that, and with globalization making global problems more interconnected, questions of leadership on a national (read "Canadian") level are becoming ever more crucial.
In an earlier blog post (see "Thanks for the email Kevin"), John Bennett spoke of the "mysteries of our parliamentary democracy." Indeed, our form of government is a strange one. Only two political parties have ever held power in Canada - the Conservatives and the Liberals. The NDP have never even formed the official opposition, while the Bloc Québécois (who, interestingly enough, were once the Official Opposition following the 1993 election) are a regional federal political party.
The result has been that both the Liberals and Conservatives have had to be extremely image conscious knowing that the alternative government has historically been waiting in the form of the other. This can clearly be seen to be playing out with the climate change debate today.
The Conservatives are in power. Their base is Alberta - home to the Tar Sands, the biggest single emissions polluter in Canada (and indeed one of the biggest in the world). In contrast, the Liberals have no seats in Alberta and would dearly love to make in roads.
Our political parties have become adept at managing political problems and of doing just enough to make it seem like they are doing something - i.e. the Conservatives climate change "plan" - and yes, I use that word loosely. The Liberals criticize this plan for not doing anything, but when the time comes they themselves play the same game - i.e. Liberal members of the Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development voting on Dec. 8th to essentially kill Bill C-311 (an NDP sponsored bill that would commit Canada to real emission reductions in the neighbourhood of 25% below 1990 levels by 2020 and 80% by 2050).
I once had a university professor who told me that it has always been easier in Canadian politics for prime ministers to do nothing. The less they do, the longer they manage to stay in power he said. Given the nature of our government as I previously described, it is easy to see why this is so.
Looking back, I find it difficult to recall the last time a prime minister said something along the lines of, "This I believe to be true and we are going to do this on behalf of Canada for all Canadians." Stéphane Dion, as leader of the opposition, tried with his Green Shift, but was unable to effectively communicate it to Canadians and was hammered by the Conservatives who exploited this weakness in various parts of the country.
So here we are today. The Copenhagen negotiations are now four days old. Canada continues to pile up Fossil of the Day awards and neither the Conservatives nor the Liberals have anything relevant to say about it. Meanwhile, the NDP, the Bloc Québécois, and the Green Party are all too small to be noticed.
Climate change will not respect borders. Nor will it respect politics, kind words, or empty gestures. Without immediate action, there will be future consequences. This is why negotiators and world leaders are meeting in Copenhagen. This is why politicians of all stripes need to listen, to understand, and to take action on behalf of Canada for all Canadians.