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On the growing impossibility of an age of reason

As I write, I am on the West Coast and the political conversation is about Gordon Campbell, the current and retiring premier of British Columbia. Mr.

As I write, I am on the West Coast and the political conversation is about Gordon Campbell, the current and retiring premier of British Columbia. Mr. Campbell has run the province effectively for 10 years with sound economic management, environmentally enlightened policies including a carbon tax, genuine and sincere progress in working constructively with First Nations communities in British Columbia, hosting the difficult but brilliant production of the Winter Olympics which did us all proud, and generally, with the exception of some stinky politics around the sale of BC Rail, he has done an outstanding job.

Mr. Campbell’s popularity was destroyed by the implementation of the HST, a sound and important tax policy. He was run out of town in part by a cartoon character named Bill Vander Zalm, himself a former premier who was forced to resign some years ago over conflict of interest allegations. He is, however, charismatic in his goofy way.

In New Brunswick, a seemingly competent and popular premier, Shawn Graham, was run out of town because he decided the cost of energy in the province was too high to attract new business.

The debt and future expense at the Point Lepreau nuclear plant was too much so he did a deal with Hydro Quebec to take over the debt and guarantee fixed pricing, which in hindsight, we might find to have been a wise choice. It was a matter of pride and the voters threw him out, not really knowing what they were getting in the alternative.

In Toronto, the monosyllabic Rob Ford won an election running against the former mayor David Miller, who actually was not running.

His themes of “stop the gravy train” and “respect for taxpayers” cut into a huge vein of discontent that resonated with parts of the city and not with others. He said almost nothing else.

Downtown Toronto wanted nothing to do with it and the suburbs were gaga over it. The issue at its heart was the sense of entitlement incumbent councillors seemed to take to their expense accounts and the rage about last year’s garbage strike which never went away. Distinctive, however, is the distance between supportersand non-supporters of Rob Ford. They live in different worlds and have different priorities.

In less dramatic fashion the long-time mayors of Thunder Bay and Sudbury were similarly dispatched for reasons less clear but rooted in similar disaffection. In Sudbury, it was the distant strains of Elton John’s Sudbury concert ticket fiasco matched with a very smart and negative campaign from the new challenger.

The Canadian public seems restless and fed up. They are responding not just to enlightened leadership (my bias here) but angry leadership. Juxtaposed against those disappearing premiers from BC and New Brunswick, we find Newfoundland and Saskatchewan premiers who have galvanized their populations to oppose the federal government with startling support.

Have you ever seen a government cut and run faster than the federal Tories in Saskatchewan? Gone were the little sermons on the importance of international capital or the incompetence of local management, replaced by a stoic recognition that no matter how hard they tried, they couldn’t find a net benefit to Canada in selling out Potash Corp.

It is, of course, to laugh but the lesson here is that the electorate is volatile and smart politicians are not about to mess with them.

The province of Ontario is less than a year from a vote and it is broke.

The only issue is who will manage the cutting of expenses and implementation of new taxes which no one will admit to until after the election. It’s going to be vicious and personal.

People are uninterested in debate. The want to teach lessons and are susceptible to demagoguery no matter which side of an issue they may be on.

This is not an age of reason; it is an age of emotion galvanized by virtually anyone who feels your angst and figures out how to put it to work for him. It can be anyone’s tea party.


Michael Atkins

President of Laurentian Media Group