There is an interesting political spat going on in Canada now. The former Conservative Prime Minister – Brian Mulroney – took a swipe at the sitting Conservative Prime Minister – Stephen Harper.
To quote: “You have to do things, as I learned, not for easy headlines in 10 days, but for a better Canada in 10 years.”
This is a very harsh, and completely fair, critique of Stephen Harper’s 8 year reign as PM. As seems to be the trend in conservative politics these days, Harper has chased short term advantage on issues that play to his base – like crime and prostitution laws that address issues that legal scholars unanimously believe to be non-issues in Canada; deficit reduction, at a time when Canada’s books are the healthiest in the OECD. Meanwhile, he has virtual ignored larger, more complex issues like health care reform, federal provincial relations and climate change.
Mulroney, on the other hand, took on the toughest issues, even when he knew they might not be popular with his base – or anyone else. When Canada’s fiscal situation was worst amongst the G8, he introduced a national sales tax that was applauded by economists and policy wonks but detested by the general public. He reopened Constitutional negotiations, negotiated free trade with the United States and addressed environmental issues to such a degree that he was recently named the ‘greenest PM in history”. Mulroney understood that sometimes the electorates short term wants have to be compromised for its long term interests. This is what governing is about.
Mulroney payed a price for his hubris — his party was decimated in the early 90s and paved the way for 12 years of Liberal rule. And the Liberal rule was popular and prosperous in large measure because of the policy decisions – particularly the GST and Free Trade. Ironically, it was Mulroney’s extreme unpopularity that paved the way for someone like Stephen Harper to rise to power within the Conservative party.
So, what can be done? Mulroney was right – the electorate will always wants government to deliver more services as it continues to cut taxes. It will want government to solve complex social issues in ways that disadvantage no one.
The real question is… will we continue to punish politicians who tell us that wanting to have our cake and eat it to is childish and impossible?