Robert Asselin writes that we have been cursed by what he calls "short term politics:"
It’s my belief that the professionalization of partisan politics — by which I refer to the increasingly sophisticated means used by political parties and apparatchiks to gain or keep power in the modern era — has led to an erosion of substantive debate about policy choices. Even more damaging, it’s exacerbated a tendency towards short-termism in our politics.
In an era of permanent campaigns, it’s increasingly difficult to distinguish election campaigns from governing mandates. We used to have election campaigns to guide governing mandates. Too often, we now witness a large share of governing mandates only serving as a set-up for the next election campaign. We used to campaign to govern and now we govern to campaign.
According to this worldview, going bold on a set of long-term policy prescriptions is seen as too risky and unnecessary. Instead, the preference is for smaller, micro-policies that are lower risk, easily communicated on social media, and designed to reach key subgroups within the population.
The danger of course is that these “policy” platforms just become collections of focus group-driven policies rather than actual blueprints for governing.
This is happening at precisely the time when the challenges we face require long term thinking:
It doesn’t have to be that way. At their best, election platforms are well-developed yet competing visions for the future. We’ve witnessed it, for example, in 1988 when the Conservatives made the federal election about continental free trade, or in 1993 when the Liberals proposed a clear and well-designed plan for economic growth and deficit reduction.
More recently, President Joe Biden ran on a modern version of Roosevelt-inspired ideals — namely a renewed commitment to a more activist industrial policy to address rising inequality and reinvigorate American science and industry to compete against China.
In each of these cases, economic policy was central as a ballot box issue and the party with the biggest and boldest ideas won.
What's the difference between short-term and long-term politics? Leadership:
Leadership also matters. There must be a role for politicians to help citizens understand the nature of the opportunities and challenges facing us and to put forward concrete plans for the future.
One can certainly argue that we need such leadership now more than ever. We’re coming out of a once in a lifetime economic crisis and there are two immediate traps that we could fall in. The first is to think the sugar-high, consumption-led recovery of 6 percent growth for this year will somehow last.
This upcoming election campaign is a crucial opportunity for such leadership. It should be a chance to discuss and debate competing economic plans and for Canadians to decide which one is best for them and their kids.
We'll soon see what kind of leadership is on offer.
Image: Avail Leadership