his Listen Up! guest post is by Sally Barnes. Hugh Mackenzie will return to Listen Up! in April.
For most of my life I have been addicted to politics and at various times I have either cursed or given thanks for this affliction. Right now, I’m in a happy place with two elections only months away and a national leadership race off and running.
There’s nothing like the voting booth to remind us of our freedom and our responsibilities.
I can’t do anything about the pandemic except to continue following public health guidelines. My ability to influence the wicked situation in Ukraine is pretty well limited to prayers and support for charitable and refugee measures.
But in domestic politics I have the power of my vote to support good people who will work to make things better and defeat those who are divisive and more interested in their own agenda than that of the wellbeing of our communities and our country.
Politics is not for the faint-hearted—as observers and certainly not for practitioners. These past two years have taken a heavy toll on everyone and especially those charged with the responsibility of public office at all levels of government. Their decisions have meant the difference between life and death, provided financial supports, challenged respect for our democratic institutions, and sent public debt into orbit.
Here in Ontario, a provincial election will be held June 2. Several Queen’s Park veterans have announced they will not seek re-election and this opens doors for political newcomers and others.
This is not one of Ontario’s finest hours. There is a shortage of inspiring leaders at Queen’s Park. The public deserves better from all parties and especially the government, which seems more attracted to doing what is popular than to the more difficult path of doing what is right.
Municipal and school board elections will be on Oct. 24 and will hopefully attract a healthy mix of experience and newcomers. This is the level of government closest to the people and where politicians daily witness the outcomes of their decisions—school programs, planning and development, property taxes—and also where constituents have the best means to express their demands and complaints.
It will be an exciting year at the federal level with a Conservative Party leadership race already underway and a minority Liberal government whose leader is looking shopworn after nine years as head of his party and seven years as prime minister—the last two especially tough with a pandemic, suffocating debt, and now the biggest international disaster since the Second World War.
I don’t pretend to be without partisan bias—I was raised in a Liberal family, had a youthful flirtation with the NDP, and made my confirmation as a Conservative when I had the privilege of working with Premier Bill Davis for seven years.
My instincts remain fairly objective and I believe Justin Trudeau will see the writing on the wall and step down before the next federal election. He should. The adoring crowds of yesteryear are gone, replaced by party stalwarts fidgeting with their watches.
To his credit, Trudeau has paved the way for the Liberals to choose their first female leader and possibly our second female PM.
Deputy PM Chrystia Freeland and Minister of National Defence Anita Anand are powerhouses in his gender-parity cabinet and both have outstanding qualifications, experience, and leadership skills. In recent weeks they have often outshone their boss.
As finance minister, Freeland will have to defend our public debt but she deserves credit for her stellar performance on the world stage as Canada takes a tough stand against the evil Putin and his heinous war.
As minister of defence, Anand knows her stuff and puts a brave face on Canada’s contribution to the Ukraine war effort in full knowledge that a succession of governments has financially starved and demoralized our armed forces.
And then there are the Tories, who change their federal leaders like they’re yesterday’s underwear.
The last two leaders were begotten by the right-wing fringe in the Conservative Party of Canada (CPC) and then brought down prematurely and without mercy. God forbid the pattern is about to repeat.
In my view, of the candidates officially announced so far, former federal Conservative cabinet minister and Quebec Premier Jean Charest is the Tories’ best hope of winning the next election—if he can marshal forces of moderation in and out of the party and fend off the social conservatives who will try to elect the strident and combative Pierre Poilievre as the next CPC leader.
Poilievre is shrewd and a gifted orator and has that mean and hungry look that appeals to angry factions whose key issues are more important to them than building unity and broadening a moderate base needed to win elections. He will stoke divisions.
Their formula is simple: field and finance candidates supportive of their causes knowing that, once defeated in a preferential voting process, their votes will transfer as a block to the most right-wing candidate still in the race. That most probably would be Poilievre.
The answer is to beat them at their own game.
Reports of a possible agreement between Charest and Brampton Mayor Patrick Brown to foster an alliance of moderate candidates provides hope. Brown is respected for his organizational skills and will be a serious challenger and could be a kingmaker if he doesn’t become king.
I sense some real public excitement about Charest, whom many remember as the man who slayed the separatist dragon at a time when the unity of Canada was seriously threatened.
Poilievre supporters accuse Charest of being too Liberal but I’m not sure voters will consider it was wrong for him to leave federal politics in 1998 to become the Liberal leader in Quebec to oppose separatist leader Lucien Bouchard. It’s worth noting that there was no Conservative Party in Quebec at the time and the Liberal Party was quite conservative and independent of its federal namesake.
Greater baggage will be Charest’s courage to oppose Bill 21, Quebec’s law that prohibits certain public sector workers from wearing religious symbols on the job. This position could win him support in the rest of Canada but the current Conservative caucus position is to stay out of the issue for fear of losing seats in Quebec.
Sadly, this could be a nasty CPC leadership campaign at a time when the public is longing for politicians to stop fighting and campaigning and start governing.
Conservative leadership candidates have until June 3 to sign up supporters and results of the voting in each of the federal ridings will be announced September 10.
Since I came of voting age many, many years ago, I have never missed an opportunity to exercise my precious right and responsibility to vote.
Here I go again.
Sally Barnes has enjoyed a distinguished career as a writer, journalist and author. Her work has been recognized in a number of ways, including receiving a Southam Fellowship in Journalism at Massey College at the University of Toronto. A self-confessed political junkie, she has worked in the back-rooms for several Ontario premiers. In addition to a number of other community contributions, Sally Barnes served a term as president of the Ontario Council on the Status of Women. She is a former business colleague of Doppler’s publisher, Hugh Mackenzie, and lives in Kingston, Ontario. You can find her online at sallybarnesauthor.com.
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