Skip to main content

Jim Prentice is Canada's politician of the year for 2014, and he didn't even win an election! Yours truly certainly didn't see the Albertan's total dominance of his province coming – one of various errors of fact or judgment that clouded this space.

"A tall order," opined yours truly, after listing a series of challenges Mr. Prentice would face as premier of Alberta. Failure would turn a province fatigued with Progressive Conservatives over to the Wildrose Party under its dynamic leader Danielle Smith. Or so it was postulated.

Oops, oops and oops. Mr. Prentice toppled his obstacles like a bowling ball scoring a strike. But, in fairness, who could have predicted Ms. Smith's brazen betrayal of principles and people when days after lambasting Mr. Prentice's government, she walked across the aisle with a gaggle of other Wildrosers and joined his government. Why do citizens get cynical sometimes about politicians and what they say?

Then there was a column, sadly typical of political prattling passing for analysis, about which federal political leader might gain or lose from the election of a Parti Québécois government. This useless speculation sprang from forgetting the first rule of political reporting: Ignore polls.

Early polls had the PQ in the lead and the journalistic pack loaded up with commentaries about what would flow therefrom. Except that, the PQ ran a disastrous campaign tactically, but more disastrously still the PQ ran on a strategic lie: claiming it would not strive for a referendum. Sensible Quebeckers smelled a rat, and turfed them from office. After all, if most Quebeckers don't even want to talk about secession, why would they elect a government overtly committed to it?

French economist Thomas Piketty wrote the book of the year: Capital in the Twenty-First Century, a 700-page door-stopper that improbably became a bestseller. Perhaps because Canada only enters his narrative occasionally, the book did not receive the critical attention here that it did in the United States. Perhaps, too, because the book deals with the swings in income inequality over several centuries, a subject that plays into concern among some Americans with U.S. income inequalities, a concern not shared in Canada about what has been happening here.

Although not as unequal as the U.S., Canada nonetheless witnessed 37 per cent of total income growth (capital and wages) for the top 1 per cent of earners from 1975 to the financial meltdown of 2008.

Discussion about income inequality has almost vanished from the Canadian political centre stage, although echoes can be heard off-stage. More debate, including in this space, should be spent talking about the challenge, because the political parties are all positioning themselves as defenders of the "middle-class," as if anyone below that elastic income group scarcely merited much attention.

One often asks in this business: What more could possibly be said about this or that issue? Haven't we flogged it to death? And yet, one learns over a career that what seems obvious in specific fact and long-term pattern scarcely ripples the public's consciousness. As in advertising, repetition seems to be the best strategy to get attention in a crowded marketplace.

So despite many commentaries about the style of the Harper government, and what it is doing to Canadian democracy, more still should have been said. Pick your starting point: impugning the integrity of the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada; demeaning the Chief Electoral Officer; trying to pack the courts with right-wing judges and former prosecutors; dropping parliamentary review of Supreme Court appointments; huge omnibus bills that prevent serious debate; unbridled use of taxpayers' money for pro-government advertising; an electoral reform act denounced by most of the country's leading political scientists; the muzzling of natural scientists; the ongoing attempt to restrict information; and so on and so on and so on.

One can make New Year's resolutions, knowing most will be honoured in the breach. Here is one, nonetheless. Forget the polls.

This is an election year, and we will be saturated with polls. They will show parties going up, and parties going down. They will be invested with enormous and usually unjustified significance by those who take them and those who "report" on them.

They turn political reporting into horse-race journalism of interest, frankly, to only a small number of political junkies such as television yakkers and newspaper columnists who talk right past what interests citizens.