Yesterday here at this blog I wrote a piece about how certain political figures have shown an inability to look past their partisan stereotypes in order to rise to the moment. The example yesterday came from Conservative leader & his cold comments about cutting back emergency benefits to “incent” people to go back to work in a global pandemic. The comment showed just how the views of that party haven’t caught up with the reality of the current situation, and just how out of step that can make them sound.
But Mr. Scheer and the current Conservative party aren’t alone in suffering from this condition. Amazingly it took only twenty-four hours for another example to come out of the woodwork, with a bigger political name from the past. Yesterday it was the turn of a big name in the conservative movement to show how out of touch he was, and it was something to behold:
Okay folks, this is Preston Manning we’re talking about and given his political track record maybe I shouldn’t have been expecting so much from him. But at the same time, he’s been one of the few names in the conservative movement calling for a real plan from his party for carbon pricing, which is not just out of step for most in his movement but a recognition that times have changed & conservatives might need to change with it. So it’s not like he’s been a total lost cause in this way.
So it was quite striking to see that interview with CBC Power & Politics Vassy Kapelos where Manning was so completely out to lunch & off base, to the point of seeming disconnected from the reality we’re all living. In suggesting that many people might end up thinking that Canadian governments have “overreacted” in the response to Covid-19, Manning sounded like some of the folks on the far, far right in the United States who are suggesting that it’s okay if more seniors and meat plant workers die if it means the economy will be alright. It’s a cold opinion to put out there, one that most Canadians would think would be beneath someone like Mr. Manning.
But Preston didn’t stop there, as he went into a line of commentary about the current federal government that seems to have become a feature of conservative criticism of the Trudeau government in this crisis, one that I frankly think is unfair and fanciful. Manning suggests that this government doesn’t do analysis of the economic impacts of various decisions they have taken in the past, which is just not true on it’s face. There are people in many government departments who do exactly that all day, giving their best educated guess on what those decisions might mean economically.
He pointed specifically to the Paris Accord and the Liberals carbon pricing plan, somehow suggesting that “if an analysis had been done” that it would show that they shouldn’t do those things. And then he extended that line of thought to the current global pandemic and extrapolated that point into the response to it. Basically in Manning’s view, if that analysis came back as negative there is no way it should be done, which doesn’t balance with the reality of dealing with crisis like global warming or a global pandemic. Sometimes governments need to make the best choices available in hard situations, meaning that the ideal choices aren’t always available or an option. But in doing so, they recognize that doing nothing will be that much worse for the lives of people and the economy. Either Manning doesn’t get that, or he does, and he’d rather leave people to suffer with no action with government sitting on the sidelines with its arms crossed.
Also, I must admit that I continue to be bemused with attacks like these against a carbon tax, acting as if there is no proof out there of it’s value, no study has been done of it or that doing so is some big leap into the unknown. It bemuses me because we have been witnessing a case study of a carbon tax for over a decade now, a policy brought in by the conservative British Columbia Liberal party no less. We’ve seen the policy in action in BC now for over 10 years, we’ve seen that the sky hasn’t fallen, the economy hasn’t shriveled up and died and the province hasn’t been unduly burdened. I know those facts are inconvenient for conservatives when talking about this policy, but acting as if that doesn’t exist and trying to present your own alternate reality doesn’t help your cause at all. In fact, it’s a sign of someone who isn’t serious about making serious policy decisions based on facts.
But when we come back to the main thrust of Manning’s interview yesterday, he appears to suffer from the same problem that Andrew Scheer showed us the day before. He appeared to be unable to match his ideological leanings and views with the moment we are in and the needs that come from that. Just like when fighting a war, yes we know there will be a big bill to play after it’s all done. But if you lose the war because you decided to wait for economic analysis before taking necessary immediate action, will the consequences of that lose be worth that time? Absolutely not, but that’s what Manning is essentially suggesting here.
Finally, as we get further into this pandemic you can start to see a pattern develop in the language and criticisms from parties. From conservatives writ large, that pattern has fallen into a demand for something I call “Fast Perfection”; the complaint that government hasn’t moved fast enough on some fronts, while they didn’t have everything perfect the first time on others. It’s an unrealistic complaint from this group, as governments all over the World realized that they could either move fast and need to make adjustments as they get more details, or wait to develop perfect responses and leave people to suffer through major lose in the interim.
What’s become clear through all of this is that the best designed program in the World is useless if those who could use them don’t make it long enough to apply for them. The best business support program out there is worthless if those businesses die in the time it takes to get it right. That means that you need to move fast, meaning that getting money in the hands of as many people as possible is what will help most, even if it doesn’t get everyone perfectly right away. The important thing is continuing to work at getting it right, with governments at all levels have been doing to varying degrees.
But in refusing to face the reality that governments are facing, federal Conservatives are struggling to come across as constructive. We saw that with Mr. Scheer a couple of days ago, and we saw it again yesterday with Mr. Manning. They both sounded disconnected from the reality that everyone is facing, but also cold & indifferent to the pain that their suggestions would create. They’ve shown that in this moment an inability to change to current realities. They need to fix that in a hurry because if they don’t, we will see more examples of comments like these that will leave many Canadians with the impression that Conservatives truly don’t care about their survival and well-being. That’s something that’s already starting to happen and if they don’t snap out of this ideological trap they’ve kept themselves in, that impression will just grow. And they’ll have no one to blame but themselves, not that they won’t try to find someone else to blame instead.