Sunday, March 10, 2013

The Policy Delusion

A lot of ink has been spilled recently about Justin Trudeau's lack of concrete policy positions.  The complaint, mostly from Conservatives and his leadership opponents, would appear to be an honest concern about not knowing enough about Mr. Trudeau before we entrust him with the leadership of the Liberal Party of Canada.  The not so subtle inference is that Mr. Trudeau is all sizzle and no steak.  If we only knew, the critics seem to say, exactly what his spending projections are for Ministry of Agriculture in fiscal 2016-2017, then we could reasonably evaluate his ability to be Prime Minister.  My example is perhaps absurd but asking a leadership candidate what his precise policy would be more than two years before he could even theoretically be in position to make any such decisions is equally absurd.  I would hope that any leadership candidate's position's would evolve in the light of changing circumstances.  History is littered with the wreckage of politicians who have over-promised early in their political careers.

You would think the Liberal Party would be particularly sensitive to bringing out policy too quickly.  Stephane Dion used the warm weather of December 2006 to ride a green wave into the OLO, when the number on the thermometer became less important than the losses in the TSX, Dion's green initiative looked like a job-killing monstrosity, deaf to the concerns of average Canadians (Note: I said looked like, green folks; I'm not writing about the validity of his plan, only the politics).  Jean Chretien nearly lost the 1997 election after his early promise to eliminate the GST became impossible in light of the huge deficit facing the country.  In Ontario, Dalton McGuinty lost almost all of his initial honeymoon to the health tax.  Saying I will do X no matter what is bad politics and frankly, poor leadership.  It's easy for pundits to disparage Mr. Trudeau for a lack of specifics but at the end of the day, his values, all that soft mushy stuff will tell us more about what he would actually do if elected two years from now than any concrete policy positions dreamed up in the midst of a leadership race. If it seems like a front runner being risk averse, it is but it also makes a lot more sense than people seem to credit.

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