Mintzberg on the Globe's Pick

I came across this piece on the Catch 22 Harper Conservatives site by Henry Mintzberg commenting on the Globe & Mail's endorsement of the Harper Reformer Conservatives. I thought I should share it.

Voting for the Canada that Can Be

by Henry Mintzberg

Photo credit Owen Egan
That the Globe and Mail came out endorsing the Conservatives is hardly a surprise. Conventionally speaking, what else could its editors do? Endorsing the Liberals at this juncture would have seemed silly, and endorsing the NDP would hardly have endeared them to their owners, advertisers, and associates on Bay Street and in the corporations.

But beyond the conventional, the Globe did have options, just as do we, as voters on Monday―beyond what we might think. Let me get back to these in conclusion.

Stepping back and looking at the Harper Conservatives, as does the editorial in places, it is difficult to justify this endorsement—hardly a call to decency and in some sense even democracy. As I wrote in a commentary at the start of the campaign on the Globe website, a move to the extreme right, as in Thatcher’s Britain and Bush’s America, could very well happen here under a Conservative majority, and the Globe had no business ignoring that.

National? To me, the most striking point in the editorial is the reference to the Conservatives as “arguably the only truly national party.” Have the Globe editors been reading the Globe? By this point in the campaign, the NDP was clearly showing itself as the only party with significant support across the country. Look at the polls and you have to ask if the Globe editors think that Quebec has already left the country.

With Harper’s grip on the party, this is not even a Conservative Party. It is the Reform Party in all its dogmatic colors. What Canada needs desperately is a truly national, and decent, Conservative Party. Maybe, from Tuesday, we will get one.

Leadership? Why the surge―this sudden popularity of the NDP? That’s easy. Many Canadians have been concerned about country and integrity, and Jack Layton is the one leader who has come through as a trustable and regular sort of guy. Once the NDP gained some legitimacy―ironically, starting in Quebec, actually with an earlier election win in Outremont, the seat of the Francophone establishment―many people recognized it as an acceptable option, and moved to it. In football terms, you might say that Harper took out Ignatieff and Layton came up the middle (even if he was playing for another team!).

The Economic? The Social? That’s about leadership. Is there more to the election? I hope so. If I listen to Stephen Harper now, it’s all about issues, all of which happen to be economic. Do we Canadians live by economics alone? Reading the Globe editorial, you might think so. I don’t. Do you?

I agree with one point that Harper is making of late, that we are offered a clear choice. But not as he depicts it.

The finale of this election looks like a pitting of the economic against the social. That’s how campaigns sound, but they are a far cry from governing, where reality has to be faced. I can’t imagine anyone who doesn’t want some sort of balance in his or her life between the economic and the social.

So who can give us that balance in government? Jack Layton is an unknown quantity; Stephen Harper is not. He tilts excessively to the economic, and especially to the large corporations that his dogma tells him drive the economy. Layton is obviously sensitive to the social. The question is: will he undermine the economic, as Harper undermines the social?

I think not, for two reasons. First he is promoting small businesses, which evidence has shown can be more important to economic growth than the large ones. And second, Layton would hardly be able to govern alone. He would have the good old Liberals (the Martin-like ones) to keep him straight.

Options So what are the options, for the Globe last Thursday and for us on Monday? The Globe had all kinds of unconventional choices, suitable for this unconventional election. It could have endorsed no-one. It could have endorsed a coalition. It could have endorsed strategic voting (described below).

And what are the options for the rest of us? On Monday, you can vote leader, party, candidate, issues, or country.

Leadership, as I mentioned, is an unknown quantity, or in the case of Harper’s autocratic nature, known too well. So ignore leadership.

Parties are supposed to be about ideas, but especially during election campaigns, we get this dumbing down from all of them, with discussion of serious issues reduced to trivia, name-calling, ads that insult us as voters, promises in the form of bribes with our own money, and so on. Moreover, alongside their many decent candidates, some of whom have had no choice but to affiliate with one party or another to get elected, the sad fact is that each party also runs its share of political hacks, who cheapen and sometimes corrupt politics. So let’s leave party aside too and take a better look at candidates.

Find the candidate in your riding with the greatest integrity and strike a blow for greater decency in politics. Or else do that by voting strategically, for the candidate most likely to knock off the one from the party you feel has been most indecent, and would be most dangerous in power.

Issues certainly matter, not just single issues, but the whole mix of them. The Conservatives offer us a tough country that stands its ground on tough issues (guns, jets, lower taxes, less crime, etc.), while the NDP offers us a tolerant country that expresses itself in more socially progressive ways (public health care and broadcasting, climate and personal protections, etc.). That’s a choice.

On Monday, I personally will vote for country: for the Canada that can be. I will vote for a return to tolerance and decency, balancing the social with the economic. Canada can once again be a beacon to a world going rapidly out of balance on the side of privilege and greed. Henry Mintzberg (www.mintzberg.org), O.C., ONQ, is co-editing a collection of essays entitled “Canadians on Balance”.

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