Recent polls confirm that no Party is close to winning majority support. Canadians, it seems, are not much impressed by what is on offer.
Perhaps in some ways we are getting the politics we deserve. We do not seem to care about government the way we once did. We do not seem to be as moved by poverty. Our focus seems, in these uncertain times, to be close to home and short term.
None of us wants to pay more taxes and our political leaders oblige. And we pretend together that we can balance the books and invest in the future without more taxes or dramatic cuts to valued services.
As we grow older and more fearful and intolerant of crime, our leaders promise us a degree of safety impossible in a free and democratic society. We are willing to pretend that the prisons we will have to build won’t cost us. We ignore the evidence that punitive policies may reduce our safety.
We want to believe that our healthcare system can continue to provide all essential services without sacrifice, so our politicians pretend that there’s no need for reform or even discussion, ignoring the erosion of the system and the challenges of an aging population.
We seem relieved that climate change is losing political steam, that the tough choices can be put off to another day and perhaps another generation, even as the consequences are visible and profound.
Perhaps, however, the polls are telling us about the limits of pandering. Of course we want our concerns recognized but we want more than that. Just maybe we want our political leaders to tell us the truth and to lead not just listen, to come up with new ways to deal with new challenges.
Perhaps this is the moment for a politician to talk about the things we do not want to hear, to remind us that persistent poverty diminishes us all, that those who benefit most from the opportunities Canada affords have greatest responsibility to share those opportunities, that with Canada’s natural bounty comes responsibility for its conservation.
Of course it is not enough to set out the problems nor will we readily accept old solutions. But we may just be ready to hear a leader explain how we might harness local ingenuity, use new technologies more effectively, find market solutions that change the incentives for carbon production, make sure that our universities and colleges continue to provide access to excellence, change the incentives in and expectations of our public health system to ensure universal access to quality care, develop crime policies that are fair and effective, understand that the world matters to Canada and find ways for Canada to matter to the world.
Sometimes good medicine tastes bad. Perhaps this is the moment for a narrative that we may not like but that we can believe and a plan that we can believe in.