The events from last night were sure to set off aftershocks of important events that would go a long way to determine what our politics look like. Aside from having to choose a new Finance Minister, there was likely to be more to it than just a simple replacing of a cabinet minister. And today that happened, with the naming Bill Morneau’s replacement, followed by another move that has gotten some deserved attention:
As I said last night in the aftermath of Morneau’s resignation, the Prime Minister choice of his next Finance Minister “will be the most important decision this Prime Minister in his political life and given current the stakes, his political future, short and long term, depends on getting it right”. It’s not a decision he was going to get a mulligan on, and he had to get it right, not only because of the precariousness of the current situation but also because of the scale of the task ahead of whoever came after Morneau. The person chosen was going to have to lead the government’s economic response to COVID-19 and the future of the Liberals in government rests heavily on that task.
So it seems very fitting that Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland would get tapped to take this job on. It’s been her job in this government to take on the hardest files at the hardest times, getting reasonable results while building good relationships with politicians who are ideologically opposed to her. It’s notable that her appointment brought serious congratulations from none other than Ontario Conservative Premier Doug Ford and if you had laid any money on “Doug Ford congratulating Justin Trudeau’s new Finance Minister” back in December, you made some great money on the long odds that would have been placed on that. Some will point to that as a negative, but I will come back to that in a moment.
If her track record on other important files tells us anything, this appointment will say a lot about what this government intends to do going forward. Every portfolio she has taken on she has moved the ball down the field, or as Conservative commentator Melissa Lantsman correctly put it today “If you want something said, give it to a man in this govt. If you want something done, give it to Chrystia Freeland.” The question that remains is what is the “it” that she will get done. While it’s generally expected that we’ll see a more ambitious recovery towards a new economy, we will see what comes.
To be fair to everyone in the Liberal cabinet, if Mark Carney wasn’t going to be the pick Freeland was really the only person who could take this on and bring the credibility required to replace Morneau. That’s not a slap at the others in the cabinet, but more of a comment on the stakes in this moment and the way the bar was raised by the whisper campaign that pushed Morneau out. That episode made it impossible to bring in someone from a lesser portfolio without it looking like a letdown. Appointing Freeland meets those expectations, even if they weren’t what everyone expected.
Now regarding that potential negative I mentioned above, it’s not actually a negative and the opposition parties need to cool it on that front. I’ve noted a lot of really overheated rhetoric in the past 48 hours coming from all sides, including from some people I respect, that have not only missed the mark but are undercutting their own credibility. We’re in a global pandemic and the worst economic crisis in generations and the last thing we need to see is our politicians fighting with each other like petulant children. Just because Doug Ford and Chrystia Freeland have found a way to get along is no reason to be suspicious of Freeland. Frankly, I’m far more suspicious of those who can’t find a way past their own blind partisanship to find a way to work with people they disagree with in a moment of national crisis. Seriously, if you can’t put that aside in a time like this, then what bloody help are you?
It also bothers me that after we’ve seen days of comments condemning violent and over the top language directed at elected people that somehow in this moment we’re seeing some of those same voices partaking in the same over the top, dehumanizing crap that has generally been condemned, only to be cheered on and shared by some of those who were doing the condemning. Here are just a couple examples that jumped out at me from elected folks:
Okay folks, I know that is partisan red meat that gives folks the jollies and make them feel really good about themselves in that moment. I know it well because even I have done similar things in the past in weaker moments. But seriously, I don’t know if it’s the stresses of the pandemic, or the scandals we’ve been seeing or whatever, but this just feels all kinds of wrong. At a time when we see cabinet ministers and MPs/MPPs/MLAs at all levels are increasingly getting death threats and credible threats of violence that’s just not alright. We know that language calling ones opponents inflammatory things like “self-serving snobs” and accused other parties of “taking advantage” of a riding or treating it like “a dumping ground for the Libs to parachute in their mega rich friends as cabinet ministers” has consequences and feeds into the threats that get lobbed at those same politicians. That last quote really irked me because I used to live in the riding in question, Toronto Centre. I helped to run two NDP campaigns in that riding and worked hard to elect New Democrats there, including against Bob Rae in his eventual by-election win. But never, ever, EVER did I think to throw such invectives against my opponents. That kind of crap sullies the hard work of volunteers and donors who helped to elect that MPP, just as the inflammatory words of Pierre Poilievre sullies the hard work of Conservative volunteers and donors in Carleton.
That kind of crap may feel great to say in the moment, but it does nothing to advance your political causes or goals. I wish that in this serious moment we could get some serious thought about the consequences of such words. But hey, here we are. I know that I’m going to get some folks mad at me for pointing that out but if my pointing out the need for maybe a bit more respectful dialogue with those who we disagree with somehow makes me less of a New Democrat or a “true progressive” in your eyes, well I can’t help you then.
I learned my politics from New Democrats who worked across the aisle, did their work with respect and collaboration and did their best to actually get results. It’s easy to be a flame thrower in politics, it’s hard to actually make things happen. I believe the best way to advance my ideals is to actually get them implemented, not just make feel-good statements that achieve nothing. I bring that up in this context because right now the NDP has leverage in this minority Parliament, leverage that just grew exponentially thanks to the turmoil of this week in the Liberal ranks. The fact is that the NDP caucus has a golden opportunity to get more concrete results for Canadians and real progress on the issues and people that the NDP represents. That can’t happen if those same people act in such dismissive ways towards this new Finance Minister just because of who she gets along with or because of blind partisan views.
This is a moment where the NDP can do what Jack Layton did in the past with the Martin minority government and remind the public that a vote for the NDP can bring results. That requires pumping the breaks a bit on the partisanship. It’s clear that this government is looking for a partner to work with and this new Finance Minister, who has a track record of reaching across the aisle, will be looking the NDP’s way. The question is does the NDP want to grab this chance with both hands to get results, or do they want to be known as the only group of people who oppose her who couldn’t find a way to work with her.