The Hill Times
As our politicians polish their shoes and get ready to kiss babies out on the hustings, let me make a plea for real campaign honesty. Real, not just in the sense of having a less playful relationship to facts than one sometimes hears in the House, but real in the sense of truly leveling with Canadians about new realities, new threats, and new opportunities. This year, I’d like to see a political leader have the courage to give a campaign speech something like this:
“Fellow Canadians: We stand not on the cusp of a revolution, but in the midst of it, and to some embarrassment, we barely noticed it. Our mistake, perhaps, has been to wait for someone to announce the revolution and then also to wait for an invite, as we polite Canadians are hardwired to do.
“This revolution is as real as the ones unfolding in places like Tahrir Square in Egypt and is brought to us by the unstoppable twin forces of an atmosphere under stress and a global economy that will remake itself almost entirely within a lifetime, at a pace we had not imagined possible.
“How Canada positions itself within this revolution will determine whether we prosper or decline as a nation. How Canada reacts will also define us as a people. Since our coming of age on the fields of Vimy Ridge, we have drawn pride and meaning from being actively engaged internationally, a force for positive change in the world, and on the right side of history.
“Will we as Canadians rise to the challenge that scientists say we must, to retool our economy so that the Earth’s life support systems that our Creator gave us responsibility for will continue to function for our children? One thing is for sure: our global competitors, home to hundreds of millions of brand new workers, must find a place for those people in their economies, and are innovating against these new realities as the key to their success.
“So, while Canada can rightly say we responded reasonably well to the recent wave that had to do with cellphones, hand-held devices, and associated software—think RIM, for example—the odds are today that if a company is buying a new solar panel, a new wind turbine, or a new electric car, it was not made by Canadian workers.
“In fact, these days, if there is a more polluting energy product being sold internationally, or a diplomat seeking to undermine restrictions on those dirty energy products, there are good odds that those are, to our much greater embarrassment, Canadian. At this point in time, we are in fact on the wrong side of history, contrary the values that have made us who we are as a people in the world.
“The bitumen-coloured elephant in our living room is the tar sands, at once a source of great profit and a driver of our inflated petro-currency that as a result is killing manufacturing jobs in other sectors. We are allowing the tar sands to define our industrial policy and our foreign policy. More alarmingly, we are allowing the tar sands to define our relationship to our children who will one day look back and wonder to what degree we were conscious of passing along our burdens to them, and whether or not we really cared.
“So, what do we do? How do we wake up to the revolution and reclaim our positive place in history so that we can continue to prosper? The good news is that we have incredible resources at our disposal. Canada’s clean energy opportunities are almost unparalleled by any country in the world. Our workforce is educated, hard-working, and hungry for new opportunities. Our finances are, relatively speaking, in good shape to make new investments.
“The missing ingredient in the equation has so far been leadership. We need elected officials who are clear-eyed about new realities and unafraid to communicate them to Canadians. We need policy solutions that embrace the change that is happening in the world and that establish Canada at the forefront of new industries and technologies that create jobs across the country. We need to break out of our oil-soaked stupor and make conscious choices about our future.
“I pledge to voters everywhere that we will keep telling these truths to Canadians and to set forth proposed solutions that are as big as the challenges and as big as Canada itself. It is time to move past the attack ads that undermine people’s engagement with democracy and instead to have a conversation that inspires Canadians and excites them to go to the polls. It is time to show who we really are as a people.”
That’s the speech I’d like to hear. Who’ll give me odds?