It's Time for A Different Kind of Summit

  • National Newswatch

It's a narrative stuck on replay even as we are told things are getting economically better, inflation will decline, and we can get back to the business of stabilizing our standard of living.  As the months go on, Canadians are feeling increasingly skeptical regardless of who presents the rosy picture.We all know this story, not merely because we hear it repeatedly but because it's not working for the majority of Canadians. Both Joe Biden and Justin Trudeau came to power with serious plans for improving the lots of the middle class in both nations and achieved moderate levels of success, but we are witnessing the decline of both leaders in the polls.   The post-COVID era has witnessed similar developments in all advanced economies.  People are restless and the political order is running the risk of losing the middle-class script and, therefore its loyalty.All this has opened the door to the call for change, but even then, polls reveal that Canadians don't have the confidence that opposition parties will be more economically successful.  Nevertheless, the lack of results has opened the door to the NDP's Jasmeet Singh to gain more of a spotlight on his promises. NDP policies on healthcare, post-secondary education, certification for professionals, stubbornly high grocery prices, and better employment are gaining traction.  If COVID changed everything, this past year has done little to enhance that change for average Canadians.We don't hear enough of how this lack of economic progress has fuelled the rise of authoritarianism elsewhere.  Columbia University professor and Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz has finally been getting attention on the subject.  “Economic equality inevitably leads to political inequality … A negative cycle is at work, as political inequality is self-reinforcing, leading to policies that further economic inequality,” Stiglitz notes.Political and economic leaders frequently turned a deaf ear to this message prior to COVID-19, but the longer economic malaise endures, the more the logic makes sense.  What results from it all is polarization and a loss of hope.  All parties talk a good line but have yet to cooperate sufficiently to shape effective change.  Partisanship is essential to politics, but not when it results in degrading prosperity through overly ambitious and angry politics.  Federalism – the sharing of powers – is proving insufficient for our current challenges.  As one veteran politician put it: “The feds have the money.  The provinces have the power.  And the cities have all the problems.”It's time for all levels of politics to take a serious look at how federalism can be modified to meet the pressures of the age.  The feds want their sovereignty, and the provinces desire their independence, but for the 80% of Canadians living in cities, such realities mean little if they can't generate wealth that touches the middle class.It's true that cities increasingly deal with the problems of ineffective federalism, but they are also infused with the creative talent and reach that can touch Canadians where they live.  Everyone thinks of Toronto, Montreal or Vancouver when considering cities, but the nation contains over 8,000 cities and towns of all sizes.  They form the front lines for the majority of our challenges and contain the most talent to overcome those hurdles.  In a Canada that has completely reversed the ratio between rural and urban populations in the modern era, it's time that our communities got their fairer share of the wealth and power historically seconded to the provinces and federal government.The time has come for a political summit, a different kind of gathering that includes those elected representatives who most effectively touch the electorate and comprehend their problems and opportunities better than anyone else.  Only the federal government of the day can call for such an inclusive gathering, which means the Trudeau government.The federal Liberal caucus meets in my hometown of London, Ontario this week, fully aware of their slippage in the polls and keenly in search of a narrative that can restore their political fortunes.  Their best chance is to recapture the public imagination with a new deal of investments and a new arrangement of powers.  Community leaders should be just as welcome in the PMO as premiers.The neo-liberalism of the pre-COVID era is no longer sufficient for our impending future.  A new and bold vision is required, one that can transcend our crippling partisan world with the potential to return to a more inclusive track of prosperity for all.   Somehow, the Liberals aren't effectively messaging that vision if they possess it, leaving the door open to the opposition parties.  Any future progress will require both federal and provincial governments to expand the summit table to where over three-quarters of Canadians live … and vote.  London, Ontario, is where the present government can correct its course, not back to Ottawa for a hopeful extension of power,  but into the streets and neighbourhoods of our communities.Glen Pearson was a career professional firefighter and is a former Member of Parliament from southwestern Ontario. He and his wife adopted three children from South Sudan and reside in London, Ontario. He has been the co-director of the London Food Bank for 35 years. He writes regularly for the London Free Press and also shares his views on a blog entitled “The Parallel Parliament“. Follow him on twitter @GlenPearson.