Ready to Move on to Other Things
Last weekend I had some fun with some images of Liberal Prime Ministers that listed their impressive accomplishments in office, adding a sarcastic hashtag of ‘#nbd’ or ‘no big deal’ to each of them. The hashtag worked on two levels. The first was the obvious level which was that these accomplishments by these Prime Ministers had in fact been a big deal. But the second level, the level that the following writing is about, was the deeper level that suggested that those accomplishments are in fact ‘no big deal’ if we do not continue the steady progress of creating a continually better Canada. In the words of the West Wing’s President Bartlet, “I’m ready to move on to other things” and so should the Liberal Party of Canada.
There are those that will say that while the accomplishments achieved by past Liberal Prime Ministers are impressive, they also no longer matter and we should put our focus entirely on the future. There are also those that would prefer to forever bask in the ‘glory days’ and hope that one bad step by the opposition will swiftly return the Liberal Party to power on nostalgia for our ‘brand’. I believe in a third option. Rather than reinvent the wheel we should invest in new tires in order to regain traction with Canadians. When the impact of your legacy on everyday Canadians begins to wear out, you have to find new answers that better suit the modern reality of our country.
Worn Treads in Healthcare
On March 25, 1957, Louis St. Laurent’s Health Minister, Paul Martin, introduced the Hospital Insurance and Diagnostic Services Act which required the provinces to “establish a hospitals planning division; . . . license, inspect and supervise hospitals; . . . approve hospital budgets; . . . collect the prescribed statistics and submit the required reports; and . . . make insured services available to all on uniform terms and conditions”. The legislation was the first in Canada acknowledging a federal role in healthcare and created national standards by which specific healthcare costs would be covered through tax-supported insurance plans. This legislation was largely born out of efforts by the St. Laurent government and its counterparts in the Frost administration in Ontario.
Government supported healthcare spread to other provinces until it returned to the federal scene under the Premiership of Lester Pearson. St. Laurent’s government forever changed healthcare funding in Canada but is overshadowed by Pearson’s achievement of universal healthcare as delivered by the Medical Care Act of 1966. Paul Martin Jr., Prime Minister and son of the health minister who ushered in hospital insurance, led the last Liberal government and delivered the most recent piece of the Liberal healthcare record. Under Martin’s leadership, a 10-year, $41 billion healthcare agreement was reached with the provinces to expand and improve healthcare services across the country.
Each of these achievements are impressive and greatly improved the lives of Canadians but Liberals cannot coast on past glories. Hospital insurance, universal healthcare, and a 10-year health accord all have one thing in common: they built off substantial achievements from the past to launch Canada into a better future. The policies of the past can serve two purposes in the present. They can act as a solid foundation on which to build the framework of the next great leap in our nation’s well-being. And they can act as inspiration for the idea behind that leap, reminding us that Canada is a country of bold ideas that shape and improve the lives of Canadians in dramatic and lasting ways.
The Next Big Deal (#NBD) for #MyLPC
Above all else, politics should be about delivering a better society for us all to share in. The Liberal Party of Canada, as a political party, must therefore endeavour to dream of a bright future and use all of the talent of its members to put together a tangible plan for a better Canada than the one we know today. The Party must return to the boldness of its past by putting forward truly transformational ideas for the future to create the next big deal. And it must start today.
As demonstrated above, the Liberal Party clearly has a strong record on healthcare in this country but there is still a great deal more work to be done. One area of service delivery still relatively ignored by government in the healthcare sector is mental health services. The Party that brought in healthcare insurance, universal access to healthcare, and finally a substantial decade-long funding deal should naturally get behind a robust national mental health strategy. Interim leader Bob Rae once gave a powerful interview (below) on his past depression and Liberals have championed the issue in small ways while in opposition. The Party should take a strong position on the issue by creating a much-needed strategy for tackling a serious healthcare problem that arguably impacts every Canadian in some way.
Research and Development
St. Laurent’s government also began the rollout of the Avro Arrow, a move that put Canada at the forefront of aviation innovation. The Arrow was famously scrapped by the Diefenbaker government that had campaigned on reducing ‘wasteful’ Liberal spending. During Trudeau’s administration, Canada found itself punching above its weight through the development of the CanadaArm. In 1999, during the administration of Jean Chretien, the rollout of the Blackberry smartphone occurred which revolutionized communication technology around the world. Canada has a long history of strong technological development, particularly when encouraged strongly by government. The Liberal Party of Canada should develop a comprehensive plan to encourage research and development in Canada, making our country not only home to innovation but also the highly-skilled, high-paying jobs of the future.
Reforming the Tax Code
Over the years Liberals have done a great deal to make our tax system fairer and less of a burden on our finances. Paul Martin’s eight consecutive balanced budgets helped reduce the burden of the national debt by eliminating the deficit and as Prime Minister Jean Chretien reduced taxes by $100 billion over five years. However reducing taxes in general, as has largely been done for the bulk of our history, is very different than reforming the system so that the quickly disappearing middle-income block of Canadians is stabilized and so low-income Canadians get a break. Liberals should champion a taxation plan that serves those worst off and helps to ensure a livable financial reality for all Canadians.
While we currently have ample access to oil within our own borders as a country, two facts still remain. Oil is becoming increasingly more scarce, causing the price of this resource to soar. In a time where individualized travel options are expensive and our growing population is becoming increasingly easier to transport en mass, many are choosing public transportation and our services must expand to meet demand. That’s why I believe the Liberal Party should consult with municipal, regional and provincial leaders to construct a blueprint for a national transportation strategy that recognizes the unique needs of Canada’s diverse communities and commits substantial funding to an infrastructure plan that will move Canadians. This plan must take into account the service needs of not just Canada’s cities but also its smaller communities were transit use might be lighter but still strongly needed. This plan should also look into bringing high-speed rail to Canada, across Canada, and by doing so catch us up to the many nations all over the world who have already taken a step forward on transit with these trains of the future.
During the 2008 election, the item in the Liberal Party platform that was focused on the most was the Green Shift. But one major policy plank that was not only substantial but also desperately needed was the 30-50 plan to reduce poverty in Canada. The plan would have seen programs instituted with the aim of reducing poverty by 30% and child poverty by 50% in Canada over five years. It would have provided greater access to affordable housing and child care amongst other things. The Liberal Party more or less fell silent on the poverty file in the 2011 platform and poverty reduction was not a major focus of the last two Liberal administrations, other than the introduction of the child tax benefit. The party that created pensions and unemployment insurance must have a strategy for reducing poverty in all segments of Canadian society, but especially in children. There has been little improvement in child poverty rates in the last two decades and the Liberal Party should present a substantial plan for giving a hand up to our most vulnerable fellow citizens.
An Undiscovered Country
The Canada of the future is largely unimagined and that is because we currently have a Conservative government with little interest in creating a bolder, brighter Canada. It is time for the Liberal Party to fill this vision void and create the roadmap for an inspiring path forward for our country. It is time we begin focusing on the next big deal, think about what our Liberal Party of the future might propose and in turn what Canada might look like if those proposals were to come to fruition. These are just some of the areas I would like to see the Liberal Party focus on. I think it’s time we begin having a serious discussion about what exactly we want our next big deal to be.