Over the last 83 million years, the Earth’s magnetic poles have reversed 183 different times. Political history is measured in much shorter time frames, but it too has seen its share of these sorts of dramatic inversions. Take the U.S. Democratic Party’s evolution in the wake of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which turned its long-standing political strongholds in the South into red states, or the more recent flip-flop within the Republican Party on Russia, which went from mortal enemy to potential ally after Donald Trump became its presidential nominee in 2016.
It’s hard to see right now, but there’s a similar (and suitably Canadian) shift underway in our political universe. For the first time in a long time, progressives want to build.
This shift is already underway in the United States, where the Biden administration and its allies are pushing what they’re calling “supply-side progressivism.” This is a major break from decades of progressive political orthodoxy, which held that the right’s obsession with so-called “supply-side economics” was really just about cutting taxes for rich people and that the real solutions lay on the demand side of the economic ledger. Now, in the wake of COVID-19 and yet another financial crisis, progressive thought leaders like Ezra Klein, Derek Thompson and Matt Yglesias are pushing for a different approach.
“The basic idea is that progressives will only achieve their social and economic goals in a world of abundance,” the Cato Institute’s Ryan Bourne writes. “To the extent that the government can remove barriers to abundance or actively enhance its prospects, progressives should favour policies that grow the supply side of the economy.”
That was part of the pitch that former Bank of Canada and Bank of England governor Mark Carney gave to the Liberal insiders and other progressive elites at the recent Global Progress Action Summit. “That’s our calling: to build. Progressives build things that last — health care, infrastructure, schools, opportunity, sustainability and prosperity.” Conservatives, he said, are far more interested in destroying than building. “When politicians proclaim that our great democracies are broken, it’s not because they want to fix them. It’s because they want a licence to demolish.”
He didn’t mince words when it came to Pierre Poilievre, either. “Starving the beast was the reflexive response of Pierre Poilievre to COVID. He saw a humanitarian catastrophe as another chance to cut taxes and spending.” But, Carney warned, there’s a method to Poilievre’s political madness. “The bad news is that while these tactics never work economically, they can work politically,” he said. “Brexit happened. Donald Trump was elected. So we can’t dismiss the impact of anger. But we must resist its power. Doing that starts with progressives taking control of the economic agenda and making it everyone’s.”
For Liberals desperate to hear some sort of coherent theory of governing from the Trudeau Liberals, this speech must have seemed like an oasis in an otherwise parched desert. The federal government seems to list from one crisis to another, unable to present anything to voters other than a list of accomplishments and complaints that they just aren’t communicating them effectively enough. Right now, their only saving grace is time — and even that’s starting to run short.
It’s hard to imagine Carney running for this version of the Liberal Party right now, given both its increasingly dire prospects and Justin Trudeau’s obvious determination to captain the ship into the next election — and go down with it, if necessary. But his speech, and his vision, offer them the closest thing they’ve seen to dry political land in months. Yes, it would help neutralize their underwhelming track record on housing, especially among younger people. But it could also shift the conversation on climate and energy, away from things like carbon taxes and rising costs and towards the creation of jobs, opportunity and a new way of living that many Canadians want to support.
They need something to vote for, in other words, rather than just something — or someone — to vote against. They want a future they can get excited about, one that expands and enhances their own sense of economic and social opportunity. This was the lesson the Alberta NDP failed to learn in the most recent provincial election here, and it cost them the best opportunity to form a government they might get for a long time.
Mark Carney's economic fix is the right one. Build things that last. #HealthCare, #infrastructure, #schools, opportunity, #sustainability and prosperity. @maxfawcett writes for @NatObserver #cdnpoli
If the Trudeau Liberals want even a puncher’s chance of staying in power past 2025, they’ll need to do more than just point out Poilievre’s negatives. They also need to offer up their own economic story, one that taps into their core values and manages to create some genuine excitement about the lower-carbon future that’s coming our way.
If they can find a way to get Carney to tell it for them, all the better.