An historic opportunity to put Canada ahead of partisanship – Opinion – An historic opportunity to put Canada ahead of partisanship: In nation’s moment of need, Harper displays combination of blind ambition, incompetence
December 01, 2008. Gregory Sorbara

At a time of great national economic challenge, Stephen Harper has chosen an ideologically driven high-wire act of political vengeance over non-partisan, thoughtful national progress. His latest attempts at retreat reveal a devastating combination of blind ambition and incompetence at a time when our nation needs the opposite.

Times of crisis can too often generate chaos, a siege mentality and narrow ambition rather than the much rarer requisite calmness, focus and collective purpose. Indeed, when times are toughest, moments of revelation arise when the truest measure of leadership qualities and real aims and objectives are laid bare for all to witness; a time when the hiding places of peek-a-boo agendas collapse.

It has been quite a while since we looked below the southern side of the 49th for promising ideas let along political inspiration. In the midst of a global economic downturn, the U.S., with its notoriety as the lead jurisdictional domino, gave itself, and perhaps the world, that uncommon and critically necessary expression of leadership. Seems like real deal crises occasion this larger-than-life skill set.

The Americans choosing New Deal Roosevelt, Cold-War warrior Reagan and the nation-healing Lincoln, reaching deep for something special, something very rare at those remarkable and dangerous forks in the road. Enter Barack Obama.

Perhaps too much has been made of Canada’s need for the character and depth of an Obama. Not even yet tested, not yet in the role, he has pointed the way for us regarding the what, how and who that are necessary for our Canadian moment of need. Barack Obamas do not grow on any nation’s political tree. Still he has provided lessons we need now, and we have the people and wisdom to learn and act accordingly.

What are those generic lessons worthy of pursuit? How should they be applied to our own context?

First and foremost, we need transparency. We need to have the truest diagnosis of our fiscal and economic circumstances. Evidence needs to trump gamesmanship. I know too well the tool kit of political possibilities, the temptation to think and do in too narrow a manner. This is a time for an open book exam. No time to fudge. Not a time to cheat our jittery citizenry.

It is also critical that calmness and confidence be the companions of numbers, now and projected.

And it is essential that ego-grown pride and ambition be supplanted by the kind of rise-above-it statesmanship and longer term view that cries out for critical attention.

It is clearly a time for the kind of non-partisan behaviour usually reserved for those few wars worth fighting.

What does this all mean for the here and now?

It means that the opportunity Mr. Harper has provided Canada be seized. He has already united the right for ideological purposes, trying everything and anything to gain majority favour with voters. Unlike his counterparts in opposition – except for Mr. Duceppe – he has perfect clarity regarding what he would do with unfettered power … and it isn’t pretty. It isn’t our Canada, what Roy Romanow calls our “shared destiny of opportunity”.

But for those who think Mr. Harper is about to also unite the “the left,” well let’s leave that for another day. We do know he seems to have united “the rest” and the rest must seize this moment to ensure national progress is at the centre of all decisions.

For the federal Liberal caucus members, they must come together and create something larger than each, something larger than three very talented colleagues among them – Michael Ignatieff, Dominic LeBlanc, and Bob Rae – who must set aside personal goals in the short run and assume a shared responsibility at this critical moment in concert with Mr. Dion. These four are thoughtful Canadians very capable of a sense of doing the right thing that we need so desperately at this moment.

The Liberal caucus must choose both a process and outcome worthy of the short term moment at hand, with concurrent concern for its future, and the nation’s, in mind. They must opt for stability, integrity, humility and respected and respectful collective leadership.

Regarding a more permanent expression of leadership, my Federal cousins need to construct a process and plan, along with a historically composed Cabinet that must serve our nervous nation with calm and strategic intellect. Over the next number of months, their work must be free of distractions of a personal and political nature if a promising accord of fiscally prudent and progressive decisions are to be made and set in motion.

As for the behaviour and choices of the two other leaders of Harper’s catalyzed cohort of “the rest,” it is also time to reach for something appropriate to the moment.

This will be an easy, even graceful, moment for Gilles Duceppe, the most experienced leader on the Bloc. He will await the accord of the coalition and expect some respect. He will very likely get the respect he requires … no more, no less.

As for Jack Layton, the other leader of “the rest,” he must favour the critical importance of his progressive views in the accord of ideas and the future of a country for which he obviously cares, rather than expend an ounce of energy on title and limousine under the guise of mistrust of other leaders of “the rest” to do the right things.

For all players united in the company of the rest, enlightened national interest must prevail over the narrower kind if we are to overcome the challenges we face, and move forward and thrive as a nation.

Gregory S. Sorbara is a Liberal MPP and former provincial finance minister.

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