It's an easy criticism of our political system to say that it focuses too much on the tactical and short term, and too little on the most critical choices facing the country. In post-Thanksgiving mode, thankful for the general state of our democracy and the relative health of our economy, I hesitate to restate this criticism.
Instead, a few suggestions of issues where I think a vigorous public debate among our political leaders about policy alternatives would restore some lustre to our political system:
1. Governments in the United States and other parts of the world are pouring money into the transformation of their economies creating new energy alternatives and seeking better carbon outcomes. Biomass based energy is one of the most rapidly developing areas, one that will have potentially major repercussions on demand for energy as well as supply of biomass feedstock, such as forest fibre. Canada's stake, as the world's largest exporter of forest products, and one of the world's biggest suppliers of energy to the United States, could hardly be more material. We need our leaders to chart a course for the country, one that exploits our comparative advantage and embraces our environmental responsibilities.
2. By many accounts, the U.S. dollar may weaken compared to other currencies for a long time. Whether a function of brutal fiscal problems, or a deliberate plan to stimulate American exports, the challenges for Canada may be without precedent. If not a typical cyclical swing, but a fundamental shift, it will demand creative policy and concerted focus. How much to worry is easy, what to do is hard - especially if the most obvious tool is hiking interest rates. This is a leadership question, one that calls out for clear positions.
3. Our involvement in Afghanistan is a matter that is growing increasingly uncomfortable, as the United States openly debates the likelihood of failure in that country, unless significantly more troops are involved. We have gone from justifying our role as a trusted ally of the Americans in the fight against terror, to stalwarts in nation building and human-rights protection, to preparing to depart regardless of what we can say or not about the efficacy of our mission. Lately, the U.S. Administration has opened the door to the prospect that the Taliban could remain in positions of some authority for the long term, and there are rampant concerns about the legitimacy of the recent election. For the sake of our forces and their families, and for the idea of letting Canada have a clear and notable voice about a cause on which we have lost lives and spent treasure, we need our leaders to deliver fresh, clear assessments of where we are, and what we will or might not be able to accomplish.
It's curious, and perhaps good news that these are not really matters of hugely charged partisan division, at least not yet. But maybe we'd be better served if they became that way. Politics is at its best when parties are competing to offer the best solutions to the biggest problems. In the last few days, we've seen signs that Stephen Harper and Michael Ignatieff are raising these issues. Let's hope for more of the same going forward.