You might be tempted to think of it as a great gift — but in fact, when it comes to governing, it should be a given.
Thursday, as he was asked about what he needed to do to make the governing Progressive Conservatives more popular, newly minted Premier Tom Marshall said the party needed to “Govern well.”
Pushed on the point by reporters, he added,
“Listen to the people.”
Marshall may well have identified one of the prime issues with the government he has been part of for the last 10 years or so, but the question remains whether he and his party should be rewarded in any way for such late recognition of the obvious.
If you really want to govern, you can’t live by the mantra that the only time you actually have to (shudder) actually communicate with the electorate is during the three or four weeks it takes you to land the vote of something like 30 per cent of the total population of your nation or province.
Now, the provincial Tories can be forgiven in some ways for believing that winning a majority is like being handed a get-out-of-earshot-free card in the giant political Monopoly game.
After all, far bigger governments than theirs have been taking that route for years. More and more, the federal election process seems to take the position that “if we get through this election thing, we can pretty much do what we want.”
Voting Conservative in the last election probably didn’t mean that you believed in gagging scientists, cancelling important baseline research projects that have run for decades, cutting international aid funding for church groups, closing science libraries and destroying books, focusing aid and international development primarily on countries that could “buy Canadian” instead of those that clearly needed Canadian help, choosing warfare over peacekeeping while making it harder for veterans to get benefits, and any number of other things that have happened during the federal Conservative mandate.
Likewise, those who elected Kathy Dunderdale probably didn’t expect that anyone who raised a concern about the direction the provincial government was taking would simply be dismissed as a crank.
All of us who vote probably believed that we were doing the same thing: making the best choice possible out of a group of politicians to ensure that we were not only listened to, but actually heard. We thought we had picked the government that would best represent our interests, and one that listened well enough to ensure it knew the difference between our interests and its own.
Truth be told, Tom Marshall is only promising us what we should have had anyway — and the new promise is in real danger of being too little, too late. And while he may be promising us better, that promise is still surrounded by a provincial government narrative that says “you just aren’t seeing all the good things we’re doing.”
One thing is certain about listening: you can’t do it while you’re busy talking.
Many politicians seemed to have learned that the electorate has a short collective memory.
Let’s hope Tom Marshall and his party are not expecting the same thing now.