Conservative Party Leader Pierre Poilievre released a video on social media this week whose title contained the archetypal opposition message: “Everything feels broken. But we can fix it.” Despair followed by hope: that’s the formula for going from government-in-waiting to government-in-fact.
Of course, the content of the video itself was problematic to a legendary degree. Mr. Poilievre’s digital sermon was about the drug overdose crisis in Canada; his proposed solution – ending safer supply programs, narrowly focusing on treatment and recovery, and ramping up the war on drugs – was met with indignant criticism from across the political spectrum. Even a former adviser to Stephen Harper, Benjamin Perrin, berated Mr. Poilievre for the way he factually misrepresented safer supply and callously oversimplified the realities of addiction.
But we’re not here to relitigate that episode. The more pressing issue is the assertion that Canadians are despairing over their country; that everything feels broken to them. If that is true, then the real question becomes: Are our politicians, in government and in opposition, up to the task of fixing things?
As opposition leader, Mr. Poilievre is supposed to hold the government to account by making it answer for the ills of the moment. That is literally his job.
And there are many troubling things happening in Canada all at once. There is the overdose crisis. There’s inflation and the high cost of food and fuel (food bank visits hit a new high in March). There’s rising interest rates, pushed upward by the Bank of Canada in its inflation-fighting role; this makes life more difficult for mortgage-holders and businesses. There is the prospect of a recession, or at least a downturn, as the economy cools in the effort to contain inflation. There’s the housing shortage that has led to stratospheric home prices and rents in major cities. There is the sudden strain caused by an outbreak of pediatric respiratory diseases that is putting even more pressure on an already overburdened and understaffed health care system.
Need we go on? Life is clearly tougher than it was before the pandemic. There are big, pan-Canadian issues that affect everyone, and they need to be addressed wisely.
The fact that they are not, by politicians on both sides of the aisle, in Ottawa and the provinces, can leave a person wondering just what is broken in this country: Is it the things listed above, or is it the quality of our political discourse?
Take health care funding. Canadians want Ottawa and the provinces to remedy a perennial problem that was made magnitudes worse by the pandemic. But a federal-provincial meeting of health ministers in Vancouver this month that was supposed to address the issue collapsed without an agreement because of small-minded bickering over jurisdictional matters. In a time of crisis, this is what we get?
Take inflation. It’s fair for Mr. Poilievre to try to blame it entirely on Ottawa’s massive deficit spending during the pandemic, even if it’s mostly a global phenomenon affecting every country, and many of its causes are well beyond the control of Canadian governments.
But to suggest that people should invest in cryptocurrencies in order to “opt out of inflation,” as Mr. Poilievre did, or to announce that he would fire the governor of the Bank of Canada if elected prime minister, as he also has done, suggests that he has no serious solution to the problem, and can’t be trusted to defend the one institution best suited to bring it under control.
It also is disheartening to keep seeing provincial governments pump money into their overheated economies in the form of vote-buying disguised as inflation relief. Alberta’s UCP government, which goes to the polls in six months, this week became the latest to fuel inflation that way, to the tune of $2.4-billion.
Take housing. There are good ways and bad ways of getting more homes built. The Progressive Conservative government of the biggest province, Ontario, is choosing the worst possible one: more sprawl.
Canadians want solutions to the many problems the country is facing. Some problems pass with time; does anyone remember the security lineups at airports and the wait times for passport renewals from earlier this year?
Other problems will need intelligent political leadership to fix. Is that too much to hope for?