A few replies came in due to my last post and I was surprised by their disturbing tone and how some of them were laced with a sort of anger and/or a resort to partisanship, ideology or intransigence.
There is an old saying: “one gathers more flies with honey than with vinegar”. The same notion applies to the making of public policy. In a democracy, Politics is not about the act of the possible; for, in my observations, democratic politics has always been something very different: the art and use of conversation and persuasion to convince your friends and opponents to follow you. This might be a simple concept but it is a concept which we all seem to forget from time to time.
Pierre Elliot Trudeau understood this because his governments often appealed to Red Tories or fiscally Conservative New Democrats to get things done. From saving Syncrude from bankruptcy to implementing policies that Joe Clark advocated, Pierre Trudeau never let a good idea – from his side or the other – go to waste. Brian Mulroney understood this because in the depths of a recession he had a simple refrain: “Jobs, Jobs, Jobs”. As Opposition Leader, Brian Mulroney tried to appeal to the largest swath of people possible. Brian Mulroney didn’t care if you were a Liberal or a Progressive Conservative or a New Democrat, he wanted your vote and your buy-in. Even Jean Chretien understood this.
If you want to see how much buy-in they received, just look at the Government of Canada. Many of the policies that they enacted are still with us today. Our present-day Constitution was a creation of the Pierre Trudeau Government as is the modern day form of our military. While many criticize the cuts that his government made to the military, according to an analysis done by Parliament’s research branch, the elder Trudeau spent the more on defence than any Prime Minister in the last 37 years. That’s right, Pierre Elliot Trudeau spent more than the hawkish Brian Mulroney and Stephen Harper. With that being said, Pierre Trudeau’s actions on the military have stood the test of time. Therefore, the Constitutional and Military consensuses created by a government that last held power 37 years ago still remains to this day.
Mulroney’s Goods and Services Tax has also with stood the test of time; but that is not the only example from Brian Mulroney’s reign. From the reduction in Canada Post’s role to the creation of Airport Authorities to the requirement that most Crown Corporations recover their costs, or even make profit; Brian Mulroney’s legacy is quite strong. With the exception of the Gun Registry, most of what the Chretien Government did is still government policy. These three men – Trudeau, Mulroney and Chretien – were able to form large consensus and influenced their predecessors. So much so that only small changes could be made along the edges. Openness, conciliation, inclusiveness and convincing citizens of the rightness of a policy brings political success.
If you doubt that look at the legacy of Paul Martin or Stephen Harper. Or, more accurately, look at the lack thereof. From, the October “Income Trust” Surprise onward, the Stephen Harper Government didn’t feel the need to build consensus. It merely scrapped what the Paul Martin Government had on tap and then proceeded to attack every consensus that had been built. The recent Trudeau Government has not been much better attacking the few “new” consensuses that the Harper Government built around oil pipelines and pace that we should move forward at.
If one wants to change policy in a democracy, one must reach out. As a black man of Caribbean heritage, I know this fact. My ancestors were held in bondage until white abolitionists held their hands out to white slave owners. William Wilberforce, a radical and change agent of his time, persuaded the British Parliament of the rightness of his view. He started his mission in 1780. In 1807, his parliamentary campaign gained its first victory: the Slave Trade Act of 1807. That act severely restricted Slavery within the British Empire. The elimination of Slavery would come days before his death in the passage of the Slave Abolition Act (1833).
So to those who wish to read this blog, I will always reach out to those who disagree with me. Yes, I might be disagreeable at times but I will reach out. For, the only way that change can be had is if a large majority comes on side. History tells us this, but so does my experience. Since I have acted, I have learned that it is not just important to know what you stand for. It is even more important that you can explain it to others in a way that appeals to them. I have acted to be a part of countless campaigns who have witnessed the wrongs in our world and have tried to change them. As a teenager, I helped found an environmental NGO. Yet, through all of that I have had conversation with other citizens. This included New Democrats, Liberals and Conservatives who resort to partisanship, ideology or intransigence. Sometimes, I have even shown them “the error in their ways”. I have never stopped having that conversation because in a democracy, we all have to move forward together.
I can point to examples when we don’t move forward together. One can point to the Holocaust, the Irish Troubles or Apartheid. One can talk about the various injustices which Indigenous Canadians have suffered or the Internment of Japanese, German and Italian Canadians. Canadians turned away various ships like the Komagata Maru and MS St. Louis. Canadians arrested members of the LGBTQ community because they loved their own; while it was Canadians who destroyed Africville – a community of slave descendants in Nova Scotia.
Viola Desmond now graces our $10 bill because we have learned that the best outcome is the outcome which gives the most benefit to the most people. That means engaging with those who don’t agree with us in a respectful and inclusive manner. Western Development since the Renaissance has come because of talking and not because of political perfection and intransigence. Therefore, with my pen as my sword, I may be pillared but I will continue to engage all – Conservative, Liberal, Green, New Democrat and all others – and I will change the world.