I remarked last week on Twitter about how NDP leader Tom Mulcair has been dominating my daily news clip package lately, as his comments about an alleged Canadian case of “Dutch Disease” and subsequent trip to the Alberta oil sands spark a heated debate about the Canadian resource sector and its impact on the manufacturing sector and the wider economy.
A piece in Macleans recently helped put into context how this debate is an example of a rare issue where it’s advantageous to both sides to stoke the fire, something the NDP and the Conservatives have wasted no time doing.
It was a rare case of both sides seizing on the same acrimonious argument as a potential political winner. If they continue to see it that way, this regionally sensitive clash over economic and environmental policies could be a defining factor in framing the choice between continued Conservative rule and the NDP alternative. So get ready for “Dutch disease” to claim a key place in the vernacular of federal politics.
The article doesn’t mention the Liberals at all, save a throw-away line about Mulcair not wanting to be defined by the Conservatives as were Michael Ignatieff and Stephane Dion. And that omission is telling, for this whole Dutch Disease/resource sector debate raises (for Liberals, if no one else) an important question: in a Canada where the political debate is increasingly polarized between left and right, NDP and Conservatives, are the Liberals being squeezed out?
Polarizations of the sort we’re seeing around this issue tend to lead to a simplification of the issues: make dirty polluters pay, support a valuable strategic industry that provides billions in tax revenue. And that’s what we’re seeing here: black and white lines being drawn.
Of course, in modern governance few, if any issues are black and white, and neither are the actual positions of the respective antagonists in this debate, even if they underplay that. There are many reasons for the decline of
Ontario’s manufacturing sector. Few suggest
shutting down the oil sands tomorrow. And credible plans to price carbon have
been rejected by both sides. Still, it serves both sides to oversimplify the
debate into good vs. evil, which side is which depending on your perspective.
While the NDP and Conservatives may be well-served by oversimplifying complex topics, the question is, are Canadians? I think most Canadians wouldn’t fit neatly into either camp on this issue. I think most would say we need to develop the oil sands in as green and sustainable a way as possible, as we do need those jobs and tax dollars and while, yes, we must develop alternative fuel sources, in the interim the world does still run on oil. And we must do what we can to ensure a vibrant economy in all regions of the country.
That’s not a position we’re hearing from either the NDP or the Conservatives in this debate, although many on either side would probably agree with it. We’ve heard little to nothing from the Liberals through this debate, thepoints they’ve had being drowned-out by the polarized din from either side.
Is there room for the Liberals to take a middle-ground position in this debate? And, even though it may be shared by many Canadians, would it even be heard above the noise of the left vs. right battle?
I don’t know. But the Liberals are going to have to find a way to make themselves heard on this and other issues, because this polarization isn’t going to be going away. This phenomenon is going to become more and more common and the Liberals risk being rendered irrelevant in the national debate. This issue is emblematic of the challenge facing our party.
And whether or not it’s from the Liberals, Canadians do deserve another option besides an oversimplified left and an oversimplified right.Recommend this Post on Progressive Bloggers