Skip to main content
Open this photo in gallery:

The Globe and Mail

John Manley is a former deputy prime minister, business executive and lawyer.

Martha Hall Findlay is a former MP and shadow cabinet member, business executive and lawyer.

Canada Day is a day to celebrate the country – its prosperity, its economic and social progress, its abundance of opportunity for all Canadians, and its respected place in the world.

Except that there’s a problem – many Canadians do not feel the desire to celebrate. Rather, there is a sense that somehow we have stalled. Despite our enormous potential, we’re falling behind other countries on many metrics. We struggle with solutions to our challenges, especially in affordable housing and timely availability of health care – issues that most concern Canadians. Our political leaders are often focused on a few issues while missing the bigger picture.

We seem to be resigned to mediocrity when we could be excelling. As former Conservative leader Erin O’Toole pointed out in his final speech in the House of Commons: “Canada has been slowing down at a time when the world is asking us to speed up.” Former Liberal finance minister Bill Morneau stressed this same concern about Canada dramatically falling behind and not achieving its potential in his recent book, Where To From Here.

Unfortunately, the current state of Canadian politics offers us little reason to hope for better. Instead of providing solutions, our political leaders attack one another on a personal basis, while parties are more polarized than ever, entrenched in their positions. Politicians seem more and more self-interested when the times call for new ideas, solid management and renewed commitment to the common good. Watching the House of Commons has never been uplifting, but what now passes for debate would embarrass most high schoolers.

But what can we do? In almost every political conversation we have, in all parts of the country, we hear some version of “I feel politically homeless” or “I don’t know who to vote for any more – I don’t like the alternatives available now.” The Conservatives, we are told, have become populist and too far right on social issues and the environment; the Liberals too divisive, prone to virtue-signalling and too far left on economic issues; the NDP too anti-business and unrealistic.

There are many Canadians who want to vote for people and policies that are socially progressive, fiscally prudent and economically pragmatic, with a view to building our prosperity while enhancing our social progress – for a party with a vision for Canada to achieve its full potential for all Canadians.

To be fair, we have been hearing this frustration for years now – but something is happening that has inspired us to speak out: The ripples of discontent feel like they’re becoming a wave.

Andrew Coyne: Canada has room for a new centrist party, provided we can define what ‘centre’ means

The idea for an alternative to existing political choices isn’t new, yet the alternatives so far being created seem to be even more extreme than what came before. While existing parties seem focused only on mobilizing their base rather than inviting more Canadians into their tent, many Canadians might now be responsive to a more centrist approach, perhaps a “radical centre.”

However, “centrist” can suggest something in the middle, a compromise – a “mushy middle.” We think Canada and Canadians need bold ideas, based on the best evidence, taken from wherever they might originate on the political spectrum.

Bold and decisive is anything but mushy. What is needed is openness to ideas unconstrained by the labels of “right” and “left,” working instead on moving forward. We and a good number of other Canadians have, over the years, joked in asking, “Where is the Purple Party?” Not in the middle, but taking the best from the “red,” and the best from the “blue.” Perhaps it’s not a joke any more. But it’s about more than good ideas and good policies – we need governments, armed with those best ideas, to get the job done. The best ideas, the best decisions, and the best actions for the times in which we live.

It sounds obvious, but it isn’t easy, therefore like any big undertaking, we need the best possible people to provide leadership. How do we find leaders who can bring commitment to the common good, judgment, passion and competence to manage our affairs of state? How do we attract a diverse and representative group of such leaders?

We believe that the way we “do politics” now is almost certain to produce anything but that kind of leadership.

In our current system, party leadership contests are often decided by how many “instant” memberships can be obtained. And unfortunately, they are often bought or otherwise collected using the power, influence and money of various special-interest groups. Riding-level candidate nominations have become similarly corrupted, often with backroom efforts to either promote or deny certain potential candidates. The current approach is anything but grassroots democracy at work.

As we have seen in the United States, this kind of local (and, for leadership contests, national) behaviour results in the more extreme candidates winning nominations – this applies to all current parties. The result is fewer and fewer moderate candidates that many Canadian voters can feel comfortable voting for. And to top it all off, many MPs are elected, and governments chosen, with a minority of the votes cast.

We must change if we are to achieve the prosperity that Canada, a country so blessed with both natural and human resources, should be achieving; a Canada where everyone has an equal opportunity to achieve their own potential, and in turn to contribute to our larger society; a Canada that enjoys a respected place in the world, and contributes to global peace, security, prosperity and environmental sustainability; a Canada where climate change is taken seriously, and addressed pragmatically.

Imagine that in the next election you could vote for a candidate and a team that, rather than offering a shopping list of expensive promises, stood for basic values and policy principles that don’t necessarily fit any label currently on the political spectrum, but that embody the need for economic prosperity and how to achieve it; that strive for equality of opportunity for all Canadians; that insist on human rights, dignity and respect for all; and that believe that government should be a force for good, but only where needed.

What would that look like? How would such a group be organized? How would local candidates be chosen so that voters knew what they were getting in terms of political beliefs and commitments? What would those core beliefs, policies and principles be? Or could an existing party realign to create space for the pragmatic middle – a faint hope perhaps, but not to be discounted.

Maybe that ripple of discontent is turning into a wave for change. It’s time for interested Canadians to start having this conversation, to envision Canada’s enormous potential, and to consider what is needed for us to achieve it.

Former B.C. premier says centrist group should focus on candidates

Interact with The Globe