The call caught me somewhat by surprise. From a West coast publishing firm: “Would I be willing to write a book on my years in Parliament?” I thought about it for a minute and then asked, “Why?” “Because you knew a lot of the players,” the publisher said, “and you have a transparent style of writing – might be some juicy tidbits there.” I listened politely, but declined.
What’s the point of penning a book that only confirms what people think about politics already? Some wonderful things happened to me while I was in Ottawa and I met some terrific MPs and civil servants. But such things were easily outnumbered by the numbing sense of negativity and sheer disrespect. There were enough mistakes to go around for all parties, but the tone, the sheer feeling of powerlessness, came from a government in a love affair with its own base, not its country’s future.
And now Nanos Research has just come out with a poll showing that Canadians are growing increasingly pessimistic. You can read about it here. A decade now of negative campaign ads, partisan bashing, has sapped the optimism of citizens from their feelings concerning the future.
Some were surprised to discover that older Canadians are actually more pessimistic than their younger counterparts. Nic Nanos said that an increasing number of Baby Boomers are missing the “good old days.” Actually, I believe that. Speaking to so many in this cohort in the past year has convinced me that they are aware that some bad policy decisions have ruined many of the chances for their children that they had enjoyed in earlier decades.
We are learning that more and more Gen X’ers are moving back home because of a lack of financial opportunity – minimum wage work, unemployment, no benefits, unwillingness to start a family. And there are those that never left – growing numbers of them who are staying on with their parents despite being in their thirties.
Increasingly these Baby Boomer parents and grandparents are understanding that the world they handed their kids is not the one delivered to them following World War Two and they are going to seek policy solutions that can reverse the decline – something the present government is reticent to provide. Stephen Harper’s legacy will inevitably be one of improving the lot of the wealthy while marginalizing the previous gains of the middle-class. It will not go well. He’s banking on the Boomers wanting to keep their money when in reality many of them will be bemoaning the lack of proper policy infrastructure that permitted their kids to slide back a generation or two. The PM is placing his bets on their self-absorption just at the time when they are having to come to terms with the sad realization that their kids will be the first generation in living memory to fail to accelerate past their parents in economic opportunity. The PM sees them as the promised land of Canadian voters. It’s time some party turned that on its head.
This chasing after the undecided voters is much like wringing out a towel that only has a little moisture left in it. The very exertion of the effort is making politics look like … well, a wrung-out towel. The imagination appears gone, and all that is left is bickering and fighting over the scraps from off the table. This is the present government’s legacy to our children – steep debt, unemployment, underemployment, financial decline, a disillusioned age, and the belief that the Boomers have grown to accept it. There is no vision in this, merely the desire for power and pessimistic endurance. In furthering the efforts of voter suppression, the Conservative government believes it can leave the majority of Canadian Boomers dormant in their desolation.
Perhaps not. Chasing the “sweet spot” is a lot like watching toddlers play soccer, where they all follow the ball across the field, leaving their positions unheld. All parties spend so much time chasing the declining pool of voters that significant challenges like climate change, deficits, unemployment, and future security remain untended.
We require a party to come out fully on the side of the next generation, plain and simple. Banking on decline is not a vision. Neither is it sustainable. Of course we’re getting grumpy as a nation, just as Nanos suggests. But much of that is due to the reality that parents miss their kids who have moved away in search of declining opportunities. They pine for their grandkids, whose future looks even bleaker.
The Liberal Party, now in search of policies that can assist it and the country in renewing a sense of optimism, can step into these times of disillusionment and reverse the tide for the Gen X’ers and Y’ers.. We require a party that doesn’t pretend to be young again but actually makes it so by siding outright with those young generations whose positive future is in jeopardy. We just need a party that will make that it’s policy and not just use it as a sentiment.