The CEOs of Canada’s largest companies were worried about exactly the same thing as you were going into this federal election campaign. Which party leader is best prepared to run this country for the future?
To turn around the infamous words of former Progressive Conservative prime minister Kim Campbell in 1993: An election should be a time to discuss serious issues. In that election, won handily by Jean Chrétien’s Liberals, the major parties debated how to stir an economic recovery and bring down a large fiscal deficit. The 1988 election turned on the issue of free trade with the United States. Other campaigns have been characterized by well-articulated, opposing views on defining economic matters such as inflation and the cost of living.
So far in this campaign, the Liberals and Conservatives seem focused on talking about anything other than business. To the increasing frustration of the business community, an election that should be about big ideas and inspiration is bogged down in attacks ads, sound bites and a scandal over Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau having worn blackface in the past.
Since Wednesday, political debate has revolved around images of Mr. Trudeau wearing brownface or blackface, thoughtless acts that won’t change many votes in the business community. (The executive crowd knows a little about embarrassing behaviour at galas, after watching CEOs form samba lines with nearly naked dancers at past Brazilian Balls. The well-attended Toronto charity event closed down in 2012.)
Liberals on Bay Street, and they are legion, will still vote for the party, knowing full well the leader prefers photo ops to policy talks. Conservatives in the financial community, and there are fewer than you might think, are equally set in their ways. They were wearing “Make Trudeau a Drama Teacher Again” T-shirts long before they learned about his Arabian Nights-themed costume from 2001.
CEOs want to hear Mr. Trudeau and Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer talk about what matters to working Canadians, because that’s what’s important to them and the thousands of employees they manage. They want to know what our next prime minister will do to make Canadian businesses more competitive on a world stage. Is there a way to help entrepreneurs create world-beating companies, rather than selling out at the first opportunity? What’s your detailed plan, please, on the tax system, on trade, on infrastructure, and especially on the environment?
Instead, Mr. Trudeau is spending his time apologizing for wearing blackface, while Mr. Scheer is intent on scoring populist points. In case you missed it, Mr. Scheer’s major economic policy announcement last week was plans for $1.5-billion in cuts to “business welfare.”
Targets of the Conservative Leader’s scorn included a $12-million government grant for energy-efficient fridges at Loblaw Cos. Ltd. and a $20-million subsidy at a chicken-processing facility that Maple Leaf Foods Inc. is building in London, Ont. The Weston clan, owners of the Loblaws chain, hand out paycheques to 200,000 people, making them the country’s largest private-sector employer. Maple Leaf has 12,000 employees. Both companies are considered leaders in dealing with environmental issues such as climate change. Are these the bad guys?
Former Conservative prime minister Stephen Harper used to say his party’s policies were aimed at the folks who drank their morning coffees at Tim Hortons, not the elites who order Starbucks. Mr. Scheer is trying out the same approach, portraying himself as a man of the people, while painting Mr. Trudeau as a fan of a decaf cappuccino. It’s a divisive strategy, and it’s likely wrong.
The Tim Hortons-drinking, working-class voter shares the same frustrations and fears as the country’s business leaders, according to pollster Nik Nanos at Nanos Research. His research shows one unifying trend – coast to coast to coast – is anxiety about the country’s economic future and the standard of living of next generations.
Canadians of all income levels fear the next generation will be worse off than this one. A leader who offers a vision of hope and the promise of a better, richer Canada, will win the support of more than just CEOs.