Editorial

Canada’s prime movers: taking us from a state of perplexity to a state of alarm

Peter C. Newman May 14 1979
Editorial

Canada’s prime movers: taking us from a state of perplexity to a state of alarm

Peter C. Newman May 14 1979

Canada’s prime movers: taking us from a state of perplexity to a state of alarm

Editorial

Peter C. Newman

This issue’s cover story deals less with devastation of the Red River on the rampage than with the quiet kindness and generosity of spirit shown by the people involved. On the surface, there would seem to be little, if any, connection between those mysterious chemistries that produce a sense of communion among human beings facing a common threat, and the current federal election campaign.

Yet as the political leaders joylessly plod toward the May 22 polling date, it’s exactly this kind of response that they have failed to elicit from any but the most dedicated of partisans. Despite all the fuss and the fury, instead of a national campaign, this contest is beginning to look more like 282 byelections that happen to fall on the same day.

The basic requirement for any politician seeking to generate mass enthusiasm is that a decisive sector of the voting population becomes willing to accept him at his own valuation. After five weeks of campaigning, neither of the two leaders who will be charged with forming the next government has moved very far in this direction. It’s true that Joe Clark has gained enough stature so that when he gets up to give a speech not everyone in the room expects him to knock over the microphone. It is now at last possible to imagine him becoming a fairly successful dean of men at a small liberal arts college. But he remains a political

leader without what the Americans call “heft.”

It’s equally true that Pierre Trudeau no longer scowls at his audiences, as if he had spent most of the day sitting on a mound of hot snails. But the cosmology of his appeal seldom moves beyond the plea that he should be retained in power because he wants to retain power.

To inspire any kind of mass support, politicians must find more than some safe middle road between militant demands and moderate possibilities. As Boston sage the late Adolph Berle noted some time ago, governing policies must flow from an over-all system of philosophic values. “Only when a political system has decided what is good and what is beautiful,” he noted, “can it set the priorities for reaching its goals.” So far, Canada’s politicians have succeeded only in moving us from a state of perplexity to a state of alarm.

This flight from politics could be dangerous. If enough people stop believing that most national problems can be resolved by political action, the democratic process itself becomes threatened. What this election is really about is not who will get free use of the pool at 24 Sussex Drive, but whether or not the relatively gentle society which still exists on this side of the 49th parallel can continue to prosper as a more or less united nation. This campaign will catch fire only if our politicians make us realize how far there is to go, and how much there is to lose.