It’s the economy, stupid, was the slogan used by Bill Clinton when, as Governor of Arkansas, he ran for the presidency of the United States in 1992. According to various media reports, the economy is the key issue in this year's Canadian election and it was the sole focus of a recent leader’s debate. To some extent this is understandable, given the decline in economic growth, the drop in the Canadian dollar, and uncertainty and instability in the world economy. The political parties are giving this issue extra attention, with the NDP promising new initiatives and a balanced budget, and the Liberals – in what is arguably the most honest platform – proposing a deficit budget for the next two or three years to finance major spending on infrastructure to stimulate the economy. For its part, the ruling Conservative Party began by asking for our support for the great job it had done in managing the economy and then, as the economy showed signs of sliding into a recession, shifted gears and ask for support as the only party with the experience to govern during these perilous times. [It takes a certain chutzpah to claim you deserve support because things are great or things are not so good.]
Two emails that I received in the past week reminded me of the citizen engagement revolution underway in municipal government. One was an invitation from the Mayor of the City of Kingston to subscribe to his new monthly newsletter. [I did] The other was a regular communiqué from AMO (Association of Municipalities of Ontario) linking me to a new survey of the widespread social media use by municipalities.
The recent image of the small body washed up on the beach made the Syrian refugee crisis all too real. The almost universal response of Canadians was that our federal government needed to do more. When we learned to our dismay how long it takes to process a refugee application – in part because of a lack of sufficient staff in various oversees offices – no one nodded approvingly at the lean bureaucracy that saved us tax dollars. Instead, we demanded that resources be allocated to address this humanitarian crisis.
It is unfortunate that it seems to take a crisis to remind us that our government plays a valuable role. The anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attack on the Twin Towers occurred at the same time as the refugee crisis claimed center stage and that earlier tragedy also provided a powerful message about the importance of government. People suddenly were less enthused about the logic of contracting out airport security to private firms who paid their staff minimum wage. Complaints about overpaid and underworked public servants disappeared, as we watched the heroic effort of police, ambulance workers, and many other public servants on the front lines in response to 9/11.
As Canadians consider how to vote, or whether to vote, in the upcoming federal election, we need to look beyond the prevailing negative views of government and recognize its positive aspects.
It is difficult to know whether to laugh or cry at various comments from the Harper Government and the media in recent weeks.
The Conservative Party, even before this long election campaign got underway, asked for our support because it had done such a great job of managing the economy and deserved to continue in office. With widespread signs that the economy is sliding into a recession, we are now urged to support the Conservatives as the only party with the experience to govern during these perilous times. [It takes a certain chutzpah to claim that you deserve support because the economy is flourishing and then because it is tanking.]
C. Richard Tindal, Ph.D is a retired Professor of Government. He taught for 30 years at St. Lawrence College, Kingston and was an occasional Visiting Professor at Queen's University. He has also written and consulted extensively about government.