When is a promise not a promise? When it’s made by a politician.
For the last several years, the preferred way for politicians to seek your attention has been to produce a book of political promises which forms
the backbone of their campaign. Because colour counts in our democratic process, the Liberals have always produced a Red Book and the Tories, a Blue Book.
Well, thanks to Finance Minister Jerome Kennedy, this mainstay of the traditional political campaign may well be a dinosaur.
Kennedy says we should not call the things written in their Blue Book “promises.”
He says using that language leaves a false impression. “It’s a blueprint or a platform as opposed to an absolute promise,” he told The Telegram.
It may be arguing semantics, but isn’t a political platform a series of promises, whether you put them in a book or not? Given Kennedy’s reputation as a courtroom lawyer, you’d be hard pressed to challenge him in most matters, but on the surface this seems pretty obvious. Shakespeare had it right in “Romeo and Juliet” — “That which we call a rose, by any other name would smell as sweet.”
Granted, the bard was speaking of love and not war, in the political sense anyway, but his point is well made. Things are what they are no matter how we choose to name them.
Call it a commitment, call it a political platform, call it a series of proposals, but in the political context those policy books constitute a set of promises made by a political party in the hopes of winning election.
Kennedy called it a blueprint, and in his world that is not the same as a promise. But how is it different? Isn’t a blueprint a promise?
If a developer offers to build a house based on a specific blueprint, isn’t he promising that the final product will be as the blueprint indicates? If he builds you a different house, based on a different design, guaranteed you won’t be happy. Someone with Jerome Kennedy’s legal training would haul that developer into court demanding redress.
Kennedy is trying to argue that the government is not obligated to address the things in the Blue Book, and that the administration is allowed to do as it pleases and ignore political promises because they aren’t promises at all and, therefore, not binding.
The Blue Book is full of ambiguous promises, despite Kennedy’s assertion.
The word “will” surfaces throughout the entire text: my government “will do this” and my government “will do that.”
These are declarative statements meant to build trust and confidence in voters. They are promises. The book is written to give voters assurance that the government knows what it’s doing and the people in charge are trustworthy.
For example, there is nothing in the Blue Book about collapsing all of the province’s school boards into one operation.
There is a promise to evaluate course offerings to ensure that Level 2 and 3 courses are career-relevant and the promise to encourage schools and boards to partner with industry and labour to promote skilled trades, but the big educational change we are about to experience was not part of the 2011 Blue Book’s vision.
In 1994 in the U.S., a Republican congressman named Newt Gingrich singlehandedly won the House of Representatives from the Democrats for the first time in 40 years, and he did it without using a book of promises. Instead, he produced a one-sheet wonder that he called his “Contract with America.”
His little paper listed just 10 things he promised to do if the people elected a majority of Republicans to the House.
They won, big time. His contract left no doubt as to his intentions. Our Mr. Kennedy could take a lesson.
If that Blue Book meant so little, as Kennedy implies, then it’s time for a political rethink on how we elect governments.
Randy Simms is a political commentator and broadcaster. He can be reached at: email@example.com