Opinion: Searching for a new progressive narrative
June 5, 2012
In the last few years, commentators have remarked upon the narrative of Canada developed by the Harper Conservatives, emphasizing patriotism that supports the military, Tim Horton’s and the North. More recently we have heard calls for a new progressive narrative as an alternative to this Harper version.
What could form part of this narrative, and how could it gain a broader appeal with Canadians?
Much of the current conservative narrative concerns “freedom”, especially the freedom of markets that contrasts with the control that progressives supposedly want to exercise on Canadians through taxation and government programs. The truth is, though, that government services have in many instances increased the freedoms enjoyed by Canadians. Unemployment insurance allows them to feed their families when they are out of work, public education enables people fully to exercise their talents, safety regulations mean that people can work longer and be more productive, minimum wage laws have increased the purchasing power of the poor and socialized medicine allows Canadians to spend more of their money on items of their choosing. Canada’s social safety net has freed many Canadians to pursue their goals and exercise their talents.
A new progressive narrative must, though, make it clear that government action is not the only solution. Private action and enterprise are just as worthwhile. Indeed, society functions best through a combination of individual effort and collective action. Private donations and government programmes complement each other in helping the poor, while governments and markets compensate for one another’s weaknesses. The approach should be more nuanced than the “market-first” consensus of the current narrative.
There are real questions about the way in which the Harper Conservatives have managed the economy. A progressive narrative could point to the fact that the government did not foresee the recession in 2008, that the Conservatives have run up large deficits and that it was the Opposition that forced the Government to develop its Economic Action Plan to stimulate the economy. In addition, it is noteworthy that the regulations that prevented Canadian banks from suffering the same fate as their American counterparts were put in place not by Harper, but by previous governments.
A new progressive narrative could, therefore, challenge many of the stereotypes of progressive ideas and the people who advocate them, while also pointing out the weaknesses of many current conservative ideas and policies. In doing so, however, it should avoid blanket condemnations and insults, whether of conservatives, private business or any other group of people.
In the early 1990s, the Reform Party was often ridiculed for its policies, the implication being that its supporters were somehow un-Canadian. Many Western Canadians were offended by this: the attacks reaffirmed their support for the Reform Party as it became the Canadian Alliance and now the modern Conservative Party. At the same time, the stereotype developed that many progressives were hostile and insulting to anyone who disagreed with their agenda.
A new progressive narrative can not only debunk the negative stereotypes about progressives and counter the narrative of the Harper Conservatives, it can also help build a more positive dialogue in our country. Canadians frequently defy political stereotypes: Conservative voters show compassion for the poor and care for the environment, while Liberal, NDP and Green voters put in long hours of hard work and show entrepreneurial spirit. Indeed, many entrepreneurs have run as Liberal or NDP candidates over the years.
A new political narrative that recognizes this and helps to bring us together as a country, rather than worsening the tensions that currently exist, would provide an extremely valuable service to Canada and to all Canadians.
Jared Milne is a policy researcher and analyst from Alberta with a strong interest in Canadian history, Canadian politics and Canadian public policy.
The modern university: relevant? Yes, but is this enough?
On May 9, 2013 Canada 2020 staff attended a speech by University of Ottawa President, Allan Rock on “The Skills Mismatch and the Myth of the Irrelevant University”.
Rock stressed the continued relevance of universities, especially in today’s knowledge economy. This is beyond dispute but, upon further reflection, I wonder if perhaps we should be asking another question: is simply being ‘relevant’ enough?
Blog: So you want to build a progressive movement in Canada…
In Canada think tanks have generally been thin on the ground, and typically associated with specific political parties.
We launched Canada 2020 in 2006 because we wanted a space for progressives of all stripes to meet, discuss, and share ideas in an environment that was free of the partisan mentality of old. We’re proud of the work we have done and the voices and ideas that we have featured.
Opinion: An austerity agenda hidden in an ‘NDP budget’
How does a minority government mired in a big deficit and in the grips of weak economic growth craft a budget that satisfies the NDP opposition and keeps the financial markets content? Canada 2020′s Eugene Lang looks at the balancing act of Premier Wynne’s first budget.
Think Tank Round Up Vol. 6: May 2, 2013
In the past two weeks the world learned that austerity might not be all it’s cracked up to be. The Reinhart-Rogoff ‘affair’ has occupied a lot of airtime (if you haven’t caught up, here’s a good primer from The New Yorker), with good cause. Governments across the developed world must make hard choices as we continue on a shaky road to recovery: it is essential to ensure that these choices are based on the best available information.
Think Tank Round-Up, Volume 5: April 19, 2013
In this round-up: coverage of our carbon event, the EU ETS under fire, biofuel use in the UK, tracking clean energy progress through the IEA, measuring inequality, taking aim at gender wage gaps and inequality, and Canada’s place on the innovation and productivity spectrum around the world.
Opinion: Margaret Thatcher, Kathleen Wynne, Alison Redford and the politics of conviction
The tax-cutting ideology espoused by Thatcher and Ronald Reagan reverberated far and wide, transforming the political right in some countries, but also having an impact on more moderate, centrist governments.