Voters just want what they want - Keith Roulston editorial
Michael Healey, who has graced the Blyth Festival stage in the past as both an actor and the author of plays such as the iconic The Drawer Boy, had a new play open in Toronto last week.
Called 1979, the play is an examination of the last days of Joe Clark’s nine-month term as Prime Minister and Healey makes it plain, both in the play and in an opinion piece he published in The Globe and Mail prior to the play’s opening, that he has a much higher regard for this man, considered a failure at the time, than for many other politicians. The defeat of Clark’s minority government’s budget in December, 1979 led to the end of his government and, in the subsequent election, the return of Pierre Trudeau as Prime Minister. Healey argues that it was it was Clark’s principled decision not to use parliamentary tricks to delay the vote or to compromise on those measures in the budget which he felt were in the best interests of Canadians that makes him special. He notes that when Clark retired from politics in 2004 after serving as a respected foreign minister in the government of Brian Mulroney, a poll showed him to be one of the most respected politicians in the country.
Ask most voters and they’ll tell you they want their leaders to be principled and steadfast in not compromising on important issues, but in real life a large part of the public just wants politicians to give them what they want. “Please,” they say, “don’t try to tell me the issues are complicated. I don’t want to have to think about that. Just make what I want happen.”
I think back to the angry rallies in Alberta before Christmas when both the federal and provincial governments were blamed for not getting pipelines built that would get Alberta oil to ocean terminals from where it could be shipped to more lucrative markets. Many of the signs blamed Prime Minister Justin Trudeau for the problem, even though there wouldn’t have been enough time to get a pipeline built even if construction had begun on his first day in office three years earlier.
Then last week protesters in northern British Columbia were trying to prevent a natural gas pipeline from being built to supply a liquid natural gas plant on the B.C. coast from where it could be shipped around the world. One protester held a sign saying: “Trudeau sucks!”
Now if anyone thinks about it at all, it’s not possible for the Prime Minister to be insufficiently supportive of pipelines and too supportive at the same time. But nobody thinks about it. They just want him to make happen what they want to happen.
Angry Albertans also targeted Alberta’s Premier Rachel Notley for not doing enough to help the oil industry. All she did, of course, was to buy 7,000 rail tanker cars to ship oil to the coasts until the pipelines are eventually built as well as impose a 8.7 per cent reduction in the amount of oil produced so the price would increase.
As for the federal government, apparently the fact that it used our tax dollars to buy the Trans Mountain Pipeline doesn’t demonstrate the government cares about Alberta.
Those not actually in power look good by comparison because they can make promises without having to deal with the complicated realities. So Alberta United Conservative Party leader Jason Kenney simply needs to keep his head down while lobbing the odd criticism at Notley. Likewise, federal Conservative Party leader Andrew Scheer can criticize without having to explain how he’d get around such pipeline-stalling complications as court decisions that require high levels of consultation with First Nations near the proposed pipelines or stricter protection for the environment.
The ultimate example of decision-making divorced from the reality of a complicated world is, of course, south of the border where U.S. President Donald Trump continues to live in a reality-free world. He played up to the fears of a significant proportion of the U.S. public about undocumented migrants entering the U.S. by promising to build a wall along the Mexican border. But people also worry about cost so he claimed Mexico would pay for the wall. Mexico, of course, isn’t paying for the wall, so Trump is demanding taxpayers pick up the tab. Such is his genius at demonizing enemies, however, that the fears that murderers and rapists will invade the country if a wall isn’t built are deep enough that a significant portion of the public blames the Democrats in Congress for not giving him the money he needs.
President Trump is the polar opposite of Joe Clark when to comes to principles and integrity. Still, when it comes to his approval rating he ranks ahead of Justin Trudeau. People may say they want principles and integrity but too many just want what they want.