Tone down the rhetoric, please

I couldn’t believe it when I heard in on the radio this morning. Upon reflection, however; it seems inevitable. Politics in 21st Canada has become about marketing. About rhetoric. It’s not about getting things done, it’s about looking like you are getting things done. It’s not about moving ahead. It’s about being perceived to be moving ahead. We have entered an age where marketers have taken over politics.

Consider Paul Martin. He came into power promising to change the face of Canada. He was going to eliminate the ‘democratic deficit’. He was going to repair our relationship with the U.S. Eliminate western alienation. Make Quebeckers feel part of Canada. Reform the senate. Rebuild the relationship with the provinces. Fix the military. Fix health care ‘for a generation’. Fix Canada’s reputation abroad. National childcare. New deals for the cities. We were going to enter into a golden age in Canadian politics – one never seen before – all lead by our leader, Paul Martin. I am out of breath just thinking about it.

Well, a year or so out and we all have seen the results. Quebec wants out. The provinces are more cynical than ever. The U.S./Canada relationship is arguably worse. The military ‘fix’ won’t come until 2008. Western alienation is building. Senate reform? Canada’s reputation abroad?

Now, after last night’s vote, instead of adopting an attitude of humility. Admitting to Canadians that governing is a little harder than he originally thought, here’s what Paul Martin said last night:

“We didn’t just vote for a budget. What we voted for was a vision of a Canada dynamic and leading the world. We will set the standard by which other nations judge themselves.”

Incredibly, Paul Martin turned up the rhetoric even one more notch (I didn’t think there was one available). Now all other nations will ‘judge themselves’ by looking at the standards set by Canada.

Now, put aside for a minute, the unbelievable haughtiness of this statement. That only a person with a maniacal view of themself would actually set the bar that high on their leadership. The bizzaro thing about this statement is that no one in Canada is actually sure this government can govern at all – let alone set the standards by which all other nations will judge themselves.

As I have pointed out elsewhere, in the past few years Canada has dropped on just about every international ranking that matters including the U.N’s Human Development Index, GDP per capita, personal income per capita, the effective use of the Internet, regional development, education, R&D, and on and on.

Instead of setting the standard by which all other nations will judge themselves, how about reversing the negative trend on just about every metric that matters?

There is, I think, an unbelievably important lesson from this. In my opinion, here is the ideal model for the 21st Century politician in Canada. The model that will restore trust. The model that will restore credibility. The model that will re-engage people in the political process.

I think that given the out of control nature of the spin and rhetoric, I think the model for success in 21st Century politics will be to disavow the spin and marketing completely (remember Premier Lord’s “we are going to replace the spin doctors with real doctors” – chuckle).

A Prime Minister/Premier should have this as their platform. We make no promises save this:

We will charish every hour of every day that you give us the privilege of serving this country/province. We will work as hard as we can to move this country/province forward. We will expect and welcome to be judged on the results and not on the hype. We will be honest with you about the problems and challenges. We will engage you in the process of politics. We will seek your guidance and input. There will be no lofty rhetoric as we know you don’t believe it anyway. Let us be judged soley on our ability to provide good government and move our country/province ahead, step-by-step, day by day, to improve the quality of life for citizens today and set a solid foundation for the future.

I don’t know about you but for me that would be the most refreshing thing I could ever hear from a politician. In the words of Bruce Cockburn:

Took a walk past Parliament – smells like something died. They ask for trust but somehow I’ve got serious doubts. Open up the window let the bad air out.

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