Why We Need a Great (conservative) Reset

The Fundamentals of the Construction Industry Are Strong, but Lingering  Workforce Concerns Need Industry-Wide Action

When your phone freezes, you press and hold a couple of buttons to reset it; you do not undertake to replace its chipset or rewrite its operating system. Similarly, when you overload an electrical circuit in your home and a breaker trips, you correct the source of the fault and then reset the breaker to restore power. You do not typically start tearing the walls apart to rewire the entire house.

These are suitable analogues for the politics of our day. Many world leaders, but particularly those of a ‘progressive’ bent, are lately arguing that the COVID-19 pandemic is an opportunity for a “Great Reset.” What they are pitching, however, is not a reset as the term is normally understood but a major rebuild.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told a recent United Nations meeting on sustainable development that, “This pandemic has provided an opportunity for a reset. “This is our chance to accelerate our pre-pandemic efforts to reimagine economic systems that actually address global challenges like extreme poverty, inequality and climate change.” The UN, in its 2020 Emissions Gap report claims that lifestyle changes are required to meet emissions reduction targets. This will require changing “broader systemic conditions.” The report highlights that COVID lockdowns and other policy responses have demonstrated how rapidly lifestyle changes can be made by governments and that governments have an opportunity to catalyse low-carbon lifestyle changes by disrupting entrenched practices.

This is not the language of a reset; it is the language of demolition and replacement. They want to rewrite the code or rip the walls apart and never mind the cost or need. Embracing the idea that demolition followed by ground-up replacement is synonymous with resetting requires advocates to believe the present system was already in disarray, failing, and teetering on the brink of catastrophe.

Conservatives are alarmed that progressives see the pandemic as an opportunity to start swinging the wrecking ball they have wanted to deploy for some time but could not because the climate ‘crisis’ alone provided insufficient cover for their broader aims. The conservative ideal is to preserve that which works well and to fix those things that popping circuit breakers indicate need attention. When the breaker keeps tripping the conservative approach is to add a dedicated circuit, not rewire the entire house or, worse, tear the whole thing apart. It is fundamentally untrue that conservatives do not care about the fixations of the outraged left including climate change, gender, and race. They care but believe that society and its existing institutions can adapt and change in an orderly and non-destructive manner. History supports them in this belief.

While the left has been pushing its position that climate change and the pandemic have revealed how badly flawed our way of life is, conservatives have been struggling to be heard. Any pushback against the obsessions of the left is countered with accusations of climate denialism, racism, privilege, or some other label that is intended to silence opposing voices and shutter any further discussion.

Multiple popping breakers indicated that, from a conservative perspective, we needed a reset on several fronts well before the pandemic broke. Conservatives should offer a post-pandemic plan that focuses on restoring system functionality as a counter to the left’s radical, worrisome, and misnamed ‘Great Reset.’

Things to reset before we consider building something new:

  1. Re-establish and reaffirm the rule of law in Canada. From rail blockaders to the highest levels of government, proper respect for the law has gone missing. The rule of law applies to all strata of society, and law enforcement agencies and the judiciary have no greater duty than upholding it equitably.
  2. Reduce the size and role of government. Between March 15 and May 31 of 2020, 76,804 federal public service employees took paid leave at a cost of $439 million. Did anyone miss them while they were at home watching Netflix? 27% of all employees in Canada work for some level of government. Not all are essential and most generate no wealth. We need fewer, not more, government programs. You cannot spend your way to prosperity.
  3. Restore fiscal responsibility. ‘Fiscal updates’ couched in incomprehensible ‘wokespeak’ are an inadequate substitute for proper budgets and comprehensive financial reporting. No one in their right mind believes that using borrowed money to fund operations is a sustainable practice.
  4. Encourage growth by restoring sanity to regulatory processes. We used to build things in this country and safely develop our abundant natural resources to generate wealth for all. Now resource projects must include consideration of extraneous factors like how different genders may be impacted, rather than if a proposal is technically sound and in the public interest.
  5. Get the media off welfare. A $600 million government bailout program designed to keep legacy media companies afloat is not the pathway to a robust, independent, media that presents a full range and diversity of viewpoints. The government not only decides the funding formula but also decides which media outlets are eligible for support. This program, as well as the CBC’s mandate and $1.2 billion stipend, needs to be rethought. As an important pillar of our democracy, we need a fourth estate that is willing and able to hold the government of the day to account. A way must be found to create the conditions necessary for that to happen.
  6. Assert our sovereignty. A sovereign country does not allow people to enter its territory by just sauntering across its borders, suitcase in hand. Allowing this makes a mockery of our formal immigration process and is also grossly unfair to those aspirants seeking a life here who engage with the country in good faith. On another front, we need to increase our presence along our northern boundaries. China, Russia, and others are keenly interested in exploiting the north while we rely on Arctic Rangers equipped with rifles, snowmobiles, and twelve days of training to keep tabs on things. This is perhaps the most ludicrous example of the shambolic state and level of preparedness of our military and of our overall cavalier approach to national sovereignty.
  7. Get back to building the special project that is Canada. The vision expressed in grand projects like the Canadian Pacific Railroad and the St. Lawrence Seaway, or in policies like Macdonald’s National Policy were instrumental in forging this nation. In the most recent decades, we have squandered countless opportunities and become increasingly focused on petty grievances. Ambition is all but completely absent from the ways in which we define ourselves. We crow, for example, about our health care system, not because of its performance which is middling at best, but because it is universal and excludes privately-owned service providers from the delivery model. That perspective limits our ability to craft a new future that more fully realizes the extraordinary potential afforded us by our bountiful resources, our tried and tested institutions, and the common sense that lately we have set aside in favour of pursuing social abstractions.

Stretching the analogy a bit further, if someone started pitching that your house needed comprehensive renovation, would you hire the same contractor who shingled your still-leaky roof? The same one who built the shaky stairs to your off-kilter deck, and who employed one person on the job site who stood around while the other three toiled all day? The contractor who, while boasting of the great job they have done, tried to bill you for the labour of six workers? No, you would not. It is time to engage a new contractor, patch the roof, secure the stairs, straighten the deck, and sort out the billing. Once things are running smoothly again and financial accounts are in order, it may then be time to draw up new plans, decide what tools and materials to use, and build the house of the future.

The SNC-Lavalin affair suggests it’s time for the Liberals to stop all the virtue-signalling

A few random thoughts following our Prime Minister’s content-free press conference this morning on the SNC-Lavalin affair.

We have the minority Conservative government led by Stephen Harper in 2006 to thank for the establishment of:

  • the Public Prosecution Service of Canada (PPSC) which gave greater independence to, and provided further separation of, the prosecution service from the Minister of Justice;
  • the office of the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner;
  • the Commissioner of Lobbying;
  • the Public Sector Integrity Commissioner to protect whistleblowers;
  • the Parliamentary Budget Officer.

These offices and services, some of which were driven, in part, by the findings of the Gomery Commission that investigated the Liberal sponsorship scandal, were implemented as part of the Conservatives’ Federal Accountability Act in 2006.

So, Conservative efforts at making government more accountable are core to the mess the current government finds itself in. As a result of the Federal Accountability Act there is greater transparency with respect to who is lobbying the government, who they are meeting with and the purpose of their lobbying efforts. There is a very clear process that the Attorney General of Canada must follow if they wish to intervene in a public prosecution. There is also a clear process for investigation and resolution of (narrowly defined) breaches of ethics or conflicts of interest by parliamentarians – not without merit but clearly insufficient for addressing the current SNC-Lavalin issue.

The Liberals have made and continue to make changes, too. They introduced, in an omnibus budget bill, legislation that enables deferred prosecution agreements, a tool that can be used as an alternative to criminal prosecution by the PPSC at its discretion. This legislation does appear to have been brought in in response to SNC-Lavalin’s transparently reported lobbying efforts, albeit somewhat covertly in a budget bill. The Liberals are also contemplating changing the rules of the integrity regime by altering the debarment penalties companies convicted of serious crimes face. The current 10-year prohibition on bidding for federal contracts put in place by the Conservatives may be reduced or even eliminated in some cases by legislation being promoted by Carla Qualtrough the minister in charge of procurement. Such a change could potentially work in SNC-Lavalin’s favour if it is convicted of wrongdoing in the case currently being prosecuted against it by the PPSC.

That’s quite a contrast, both philosophically and in terms of potential effect. Which kind of begs the question when it comes to serving the public interest, should pragmatic concerns expressed by the current government as a focus on “jobs, jobs, jobs” (even if they really mean “votes, votes, votes”), override upholding the longstanding principles embodied by the rule of law and the prohibition against parliamentarians to interfere in the administration of justice, or vice versa? It’s worth noting that the Federal Accountability Act has been shown by this affair to have some real utility and effectiveness, although it possibly doesn’t go far enough. Recent events and the legislative track record of the former and current governments should, one would hope, put an end to the endlessly propagated absurdity that the latter is markedly more virtuous than its predecessor. Anyone who is still holding onto that notion hasn’t been paying attention.