In the normal rhythm of election campaigns, coverage includes polls, the horse race and transient controversies of lasting or little significance. They occupy much media and narrative space.
The fact that shorter-term questions dominate the agenda is not a sign of weakness in our politics. It merely reflects the focus on the urgent and timely, rather than the long-term and more complex. But we should not minimize the longer term.
Here are 10 questions we should ask party leaders:
• With a population about the same as California and three per cent of the world’s capital, are you happy with our small population and economic capacity? Our population and modest capital markets do not enhance Canada’s clout in international negotiations with powers like China, the U.S. and the EU. Neither birth rates nor present immigration levels will change our population size or economic heft. Are leaders happy with the status quo? Are they content with our present approach to managing migration?
• Our able and well-trained military is under consistent pressure from international commitments and demands for civil aid at home. Can a country with our geography, neighbours and international commitments manage with a small armed force? Does Canada wish to be a global partner with allies who defend democracy, gender equality, human rights, freedom of the press, open navigation of international waters, diversity and freedom, or would we rather leave that to others? What should the projected strength of our Armed Forces be through the next decade?
With a population about the same as California and three per cent of the world’s capital, are you happy with our small population and economic capacity?
• Under the present and most recent past government, Canada’s development investment to combat global poverty, human rights violations and promote economic opportunity among the least advantaged has been sharply reduced. We minimally assist our Commonwealth Caribbean, African and Central American partners. Yet many migration pressures facing Canada emanate from these regions. Is our continued withdrawal the right long-term course?
• The spectrum of reconciliation and partnership opportunities with First Nations is an amalgam of respect, economic rights recognition and commitment to economic rents and royalties for First Nations whose land is the source of economic profit for others. Are our leaders satisfied with the slow progress on this file, evidenced by the continuation of the Indian Act and other colonizing and public policy practices?
• Setting aside the short-term debate about how best to price carbon, where are our leaders on the massive but economically productive investments necessary for adaptation to rising temperatures? Do leaders have a long-term view on scope and funding and are they prepared to share that with us?
• Gaps between our richest and poorest are increasing. Most provincial welfare plans keep poor Canadians trapped in poverty. Do any of our leaders care? And, if so, what are their long-term plans?
• If over-regulation is a detriment to economic productivity and investment, what about the impacts of under-regulation? From largely unregulated online platforms, to airline passenger rights, to digital privacy protections, to the private use of surveillance for profit-making, are leaders content with the status quo? If not, what is their long-term perspective?
• The Arctic remains an area where successive Canadian governments delivered far less than promised. The Chinese and Russians have made substantive investments in infrastructure, military and national capacity. Do leaders have a long-term strategy for protecting Canadian sovereignty and rights in that region – especially since climate change appears to be taking a toll on ice-field and glacier melting?
• With electoral reform on the sidelines, what do leaders feel are the priorities for strengthening Canadian democracy? Campaign finance, unregulated (allegedly) third-party coalitions with obvious partisan bias, invasive exploitation of social media, foreign intrusion in the voting process itself – all require updating. Do leaders have long-term priorities in this area?
Other valid questions will suggest themselves to many. The short-term is important. But in an election, the long-term should not be ignored.
Hugh Segal is the Donald Matthews Fellow in Global Public Policy at Queen’s University and Senior Adviser at Aird and Berlis, LLP. He is a former chief of staff to prime minister Brian Mulroney and Ontario premier Bill Davis.
Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2019