The shifting public winds

Welcome back!

I've been fairly busy since my last post. A drive through the bucolic countryside south of London sticks in my mind as an oasis of calm. [Ontario, that is. No volcanic ash near that London......]

The world fell into a recession 18 months ago and while there have been strong signs of recovery in the markets and in many sectors of the economy, employment has lagged the recovery. But something more profound has changed, and that is the public attitude to 'business as usual'. The question is, have the politicians fully understood the implications of this huge shift in attitude? It seems as if the public are ahead of the politicians and even the media when it comes to what they will find acceptable and unacceptable.

Let's take a look at recent events north and south of the 49th parallel as well as across the pond in Europe.

The Winds of Change Sweep Britain
The winds of change (laced with the aforementioned volcanic ash no doubt) were blowing strong against the Brown Government, and though he fought back valiantly - if at time ineptly - clearly the jig was up. For about five days, however, the Prime Minister was like Wylie Coyote...hanging over the edge with his legs churning, not quite believing that the ground had moved out from under him. Fortunately Lib-Dem Leader Nick Clegg came to his senses and ceased his flirtation with Brown, and went where common sense and the seismic shift of the public compelled him to go...to David Cameron's Tories.

Yes Cameron's and Clegg's first joint news conference got uncomfortable momentarily, but that's the nature of all coalitions, right?

They handled it well didn't they? Here's hoping their coalition works out. Canada knows all about minority governments. Coalitions? A more exquisite form of torture would be hard to contemplate.

The Winds of Change Sweep America
The Gulf oil spill provides an insightful look into the soul of America in a time of collapsing public trust in corporations and institutions. The sight of the CEOs' finger-pointing testimony was an embarrassment to the art of finger-pointing [which, of course, is the natural domain of politicians.]

What a lost opportunity to show the public that they get it. That they take responsibility. That their values are in synch with the American public. Instead they sank to the schoolyard where it's always 'the other guy's fault'! Who trained these execs anyway? Of course it gave President Obama a golden opportunity to regain lost ground on the offshore drilling file:

Republicans and Democrats each think they have the direction of the shifting winds figured out. Are they blowing left or right? North or south? The answer? Neither. They are blowing away from politics as usual, scoring cheap points, and the usual 'bread and circuses' thrown their way.

Looking at last night's primary results indicate that the 'outsiders' are pushing aside the traditional 'establishment' figures. The Tea Party-backed Rand Paul won the Republican Senate primary against the Dick Cheney & Mitch McConnell - backed Trey Greyson in Kentucky, while 80 year old ex-Republican Sen. Arlen Specter lost to two-term Rep. Joe Sestak in the Pennsylvania Democrat primary. How much of that was due to the 'turncoat' issue and how much was due to the tidal wave against 'politics as usual' might be argued in that case. However, 'change' is the powerful political brand at this time.

Last week in the West Virginia primary, 14 term Democratic Rep. Allan  Mollahan was the first incumbent Democrat to lose his re-election bid, with many observers saying that his support for the Health Care Reform package was the primary culprit. Perhaps, but with the anti-incumbent mood of the electorate, there may not be too many 'safe' seats out there. However, what is clear is that the Tea Partiers are riding high right now, but they better be prepared to have some solutions to the issues they are championing. That's the thing about the theme of 'change'. Since the global meltdown, the public is holding off on trusting anyone.

The Winds of Change Sweep Canada.
The Harper government has gone through what might otherwise have been an 'annus horribilus'...the Afghan detainee file...the Helena Guergis-Rahim Jaffer soap opera.....issues which don't quite meet the test of 'major issues that I care about deeply'. Regarding that by-now-tired story, the ideal situation to wrap that up is for the RCMP to announce that they are not proceeding with a criminal investigation of Ms. Guergis as there appears to be no basis for it. End of the drama.

The latest issue which has the potential to de-rail Parliament itself is the fight over allowing the Auditor General to audit their books. After seeing what those disasters did to Nova Scotia, as well as the U.K. politicians, it's perhaps understandable that the MPs and Senators don't want to go there. Although, unlike in the U.K. there are probably no taxpayer-subsidized moats to worry about, no doubt there are a few awkward things like flat-panel TVs and portable generators that they may have to worry about.

Beyond Parliament Hill, the public has become engaged on this issue and it makes the politicians look like they have something to hide. So they better jump before they're pushed!

There is hope, however....
For the best example of  how to address big issues in a win-win way, look no further than the deal that was just struck between Greenpeace and the forestry industry. They have agreed on an alliance to protect the boreal forests of Northern Canada (comprising 35% of Canada's land mass), while enabling the industry to continue logging in clearly designated areas. [This felt particularly good as we have worked with the Forestry industry on these and other sustainable forestry issues.] Now why can't other issues be resolved like this?

By turning the attention to strengthening the Canadian and Global economies (the Harper Government's attack on the  Global Bank Tax idea in the G20 is an excellent example) Prime Minister Harper is gradually strengthening his 'strong leader' image in the 'leadership' polls- in spite of all the negativity. By the way, if it's reflected in higher numbers in the polls, after the G8 and G20 meetings in Canada in June, look to an early election.

To quote Jack Nicholson's Harry Sanford character in 'Something's Gotta Give',  "I have never lied to you. I have always told you some version of the truth." To which Diane Keaton's Erica Barry replies, "the truth doesn't have versions, okay?"

Somebody better tell that to politicians and institutions everywhere....before the winds of change blow them permanently off course from the public!

Until next time........

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