Sunday, May 27, 2007

The End Of "Vision"?

One of the first questions you ask of any politician- what is his/her vision? In the age of retail politics, wherein political expediency demands a short-term reward, the notion of a consistent philosophical direction is largely irrelevant. Reading this column by Senator Kenny, he makes the following argument:
The problem with vision is that it's so darned long-term - no quick payoff. Governments have become like many large companies that have quit investing in their future because the CEO's survival depends on keeping the stock price rising. Today's investors are looking for quick rewards.

So, of course, are most politicians. Their rewards are called votes. The politicians know they're unlikely to be around a decade or two down the road, so they put the public's money into programs and projects that will please voters at the next election. Let the future be damned - lay on the bread and circuses.

Using the analogy, the voter is the "investor" and they demand immediate dividends. The implication, people don't have the foresight to support an agenda which takes a generational view. Are the voters to blame for the age of retail politics, do we lack the sophistication and patience to allow a government to act responsibly?

There is no question that the Harper government operates like a corporation, selling a brand. Having said that, degree aside, there is no denying that the former Martin government was also guilty of looking for quick "returns" on policy. There are exceptions, but most initiatives are designed to appeal to voters in the now, rather than ideas that require time to fully flower. Governments are more apt to throw money at a problem, even if there are other remedies available, that speak to long-term solutions. If government does acknowledge a cost, many times it is deferred, so the immediate prospects of the government aren't harmed.

The rise of retail politics have also brought about a rise in voter cynicism. People see the attempt at "sale", a sense that politicians are more interested in telling them what they want to hear, than presenting honest assessments. If politicians are merely reacting to the environment that demands immediate returns, then it seems odd that people would admonish what they themselves request, articulated through their fickleness. We buy it, government is merely reactionary, they give us what we want. Our cynicism is mostly self-inflicted, since we respond to transparent vote buys and shun any bold initiative, that might attach cost.

The question moving forward, is the age of retail politics the end game, or just a phase. Is there any room left for a coherent vision, that factors in long-term consequence, or is our current government the new norm?


Woman at Mile 0 said...

It is my dearest hope that this will stop being this "route" my governments always take. I think Canadians are smart enough to understand long term planning and foresight if they are kept well informed. We also need to know when needs/things change. Often we build things in such a way that when the need begins to change the structure won't change with it.

knb said...

I actually think that we are at a point where we crave some long term vision. It may not be something we can articulate yet, indeed, perhaps not even think about, but I believe if presented, it would be welcome.

I say this because I think every aspect of our lives is rushed. We live on this frenetic energy that requires quick answers and no thought. That lack of thought moves us from action to action, without investment or a realisation of what that snap decision will lead to. That's stressful, whether we acknowledge it or not, because we've given up great deal of control.

Now, all of that said, it could lead you to think that this whole minute by minute, government feeding you just enough until your next fix, is what we are stuck with, or indeed what we want.

I don't think so. I think a leader, with a clearly articulated vision, one that requires our investment (emotional, political and monetary), while demonstrating in tangible terms what the outcome would be, would be a relief.

The trouble comes I suppose in believing a politician who pronounces such a plan. Measurable results with timelines would have to be part of the mix; "I believe we must do this, this is why, this is what it means to you/us, here's how we do it and here is how you can measure the success".

Perhaps the biggest problem is finding a space in all the noise, to allow such a vision to be articulated.

sassy said...

Steve – “The question moving forward, is the age of retail politics the end game, or just a phase. Is there any room left for a coherent vision, that factors in long-term consequence, or is our current government the new norm? - great question

Quality (coherent vision, that factors in long-term consequence) versus quantity (bread and circuses), and whether it is “current” or the “new norm” depends somewhat which of these the “retail team” (gov.) chooses to emphasis (spin?) and why (for votes or for Canada)

Long-term political vision takes discipline and a certain amount of altruism.

Question: Are these values (long term vision, giving up small short-term gains for larger long-term gains) which constituents recognize and value when they go to the polls? Answer: (Woman at mile 0 makes the very good point) .. if they are kept well informed

knb - I just read your comment - think you are onto something here.

Steve V said...

"I actually think that we are at a point where we crave some long term vision.'

That's what I'm hoping, and I think the new Liberal platform should attempt to contrast immediate returns vs long term advantage. The only way to do that effectively is to engage the electorate in a substantative way, beyond sound bites. That strategy would almost be revolutionary now, within the nano second, no attention span mentality that exists.

knb said...

I do think that the Liberal Party is building such a platform Steve, so I'm going to do more than hope, I'm going to believe that it is so.

That said, the presentation of it is key and that I think is where we need strong conviction to stay with that strategy, which in turn means, finding the right vehicle in which to promote it.

Is conventional media that vehicle? I say no, unless, they too have a vested interest. What that would look like right now, I'm not sure, but I'm sure it's possible.

Sound bites, or "bumper sticker" politics, has to come to an end. We're being assisted by the States at the moment as they have obviously grown weary of it. The more the government and it's followers insist on echoing vacuous statements that are initiated in the States, the more weary we grow of them and see them for what they are.

As it stands now, we're being fed often, but if what you are eating has no substance, you move on to what will fulfill you, even if it takes a bit longer to digest. Hmmm, must be my lunch time, lol, but I'm sure you get my drift.

Anonymous said...

All we have to do is watch what retail politics has done to the U.S. - disaster.

We need a vision - I think the Liberals are keeping things under wraps because you know darn well Harper would steal ideas, rename them and try to take credit. He's been doing it all along.

Harper has NO vision. Just for the moment, for votes.