When Tommy Douglas was premier of Saskatchewan, he told people who came to lobby him that he’d like to do what they wanted. But if they wanted the change to last, they needed to make the people want it, too.
There are two critical lessons to take away from Tommy’s wisdom.
First: political power truly comes from the people. Anything one government does could be undone if people vote for a new government with a different plan.
Second: just because you are part of electing a government that is ‘like-minded’ doesn’t mean they can do everything you think they should.
Put another way, progressive governments can’t do good things without help from allies in progressive movements rallying effective public support.
That’s why it’s important, on the eve of a federal election, that social democrats working in both civil movement and political parties give thought to Ed Broadbent’s Principles of Social Democracy, particularly the third principle about “the transformative potential of electing social democratic governments responsive to robust social movements.”
Lasting societal change can only come about through harnessing the creativity and power of social movements and ensuring progressives are elected so that they can govern for the common good. Social democrats, therefore, work tirelessly for change in and outside of election periods.
To make changes that are good for people, you have to win.
But on the flip side of the coin — when you win, you can’t make changes that voters don’t want or you won’t stay elected.
And people don’t always agree on the common good, especially after decades of being told by conservative forces that “small government and lower taxes are the answer to all your problems.”
As social democrats, we have to fight those assumptions every day to bring people’s attention to what the real problem is, who has really been benefiting from the governments we’ve had, and how we can do it differently.
Political parties can’t tell the whole story alone.
So if you’re a person who believes we can do better things for more people when we work together, you also need to help build social movements that spark the public’s imagination and inspire them to believe the solutions you are championing are necessary, possible and better than the alternatives.
The right way to start is to ask questions before giving answers.
What isn’t working for people? Who is hurt? Who benefits? How do we connect people who are hurt or angry with each other so they know they aren’t alone? What happens when we work together to make it better? How do we bring many more people along to see the difference those changes will make in their lives and in our communities? How do we get our cause to a tipping point?
These are the questions any good organizer asks and knows to keep asking as they build a movement around a cause. But these are also questions campaigners need to ask to ensure their message is reaching voters.
It all starts with people’s very personal experience of the problem.
- Losing out on bid after bid for your first condo? That’s because you’re competing with big-money buyers scooping up real estate to make more money.
- Haven’t had a raise in years? That’s because decades of wage suppression by right-wing governments and corporate giants have been keeping you back.
- Feeling the burden of higher and more health care costs? That’s because government budgets get squeezed and less and less is covered while prescription drug costs rise.
- Find yourself sitting in a heatwave with fire smoke polluting the air you breathe? That’s because Canada’s government isn’t doing enough to fight climate change and is letting emissions rise when they said they’d get them down.
- Appalled and ashamed at how little of the Truth and Reconciliation Calls to Action have been acted on and how many Indigenous communities are still being harmed? You’re not alone and it has to change.
- Wonder why the richest got $78 billion richer in a pandemic? Look no further than successive Liberal and Conservative governments that keep giving billionaires a free ride.
Most people will be much more interested in our solutions if we define the problems in a way that puts them at the centre of it.
As social democrats, we need to work tirelessly for that partnership Ed Broadbent laid out — and Tommy Douglas demanded — between campaigning to win and campaigning for change.
That’s how we build support for our causes over time. That’s how we get it done. And that’s how we make it stick.
It’s about winning governments and making more things better for more people by making a difference that lasts.
Because as social democrats we know: there’s nothing we can’t fix if we do it together.
Though it’s true that political and policy debates can get wild and woolly, here at the Broadbent Institute we believe that always grounding arguments in the best available facts is of paramount importance.
So it’s with considerable pride that today the Institute unveils the Broadbent Fellows — a diverse, multidisciplinary group of distinguished scholars, policy experts, and leaders from Canadian civil society who will inform the Institute’s research and policy agenda. Fellows will contribute their expertise to further our efforts to impact public debate in support of progressive change and create innovative approaches to making our country a better, more prosperous, place for all Canadians.Read more
Susan Delacourt, Toronto Star
Parliament Hill, May 24 2013
There are two ways to become a former Conservative in Canada these days.
You can get tossed out, like senators Mike Duffy, Pamela Wallin and Patrick Brazeau.
Or you can leave the party of your own volition, as voters in Labrador did earlier this month when they elected Liberal MP Yvonne Jones, handing Conservative Peter Penashue a resounding defeat in the federal byelection.
So is it time to revisit this idea — put forward not so long ago — that Conservatives stand to be the natural governing party of the 21st century?
Earlier this year, journalist John Ibbitson and pollster Darrell Bricker released a book called the Big Shift, in which they argued that Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Conservative party was best positioned to reap the gains of Canada’s changing demographics.
Conservatives, they said, had done a better job of shaping their party’s platform to meet the demands of new Canadians and all those people living in the rapidly expanding West.
This week, amid all kinds of other bad news for Conservatives, the Broadbent Institute released a reply to that Big Shift assertion.
“We decided that notion deserved some testing,” Rick Smith, director of the institute, said at a Wednesday lunch gathering at the Chateau Laurier.
Smith released the results of a comprehensive Environics poll showing that Canadians were actually more “progressive” than conservative and, more significantly, that newcomers to Canada were no more conservative than people who had lived in this country longer than 10 years.
On an array of large questions, such as whether people trusted government more than corporations and their willingness to pay more for social programs and government-run health care, Environics found no significant differences in opinion between new Canadians and “old” Canadians.
About 72 per cent of people born outside Canada believe their taxes should support a strong pension system, compared to 76 per cent of people born here, the poll found. About 69 per cent of new Canadians believe the best way to fight crime is by treating its “root causes” of poverty, racism and addiction, compared to 63 per cent of Canadian-born people.
“On issues ranging from taxation and trust in public institutions, to social values and views regarding Canada’s role on the world stage, progressive ideals are supported by strong majorities in the largest urban/suburban areas across the country, which are increasingly the hardest fought battlegrounds for federal elections,” the institute declared in the summary of the Environics results.
Smith was speaking to a room filled with New Democrats and a smattering of Liberals. NDP Leader Tom Mulcair was at the head table, sitting with Neera Tanden, head of the U.S. Center for American Progress.
Tanden had just finished a speech that was also intended to buoy the spirits of non-Conservatives in Canada, explaining how progressives had captured American hearts and minds from the clutches of Republicans over the past decade.
Thanks to President Barack Obama and a determined, sustained outreach to minority communities in the U.S., she said, Democrats had built an enduring, progressive coalition.
“We’ve come a long way... the country’s come a long way,” she said.
Barely a week since the election in British Columbia, however, it may not be the right time to talk to New Democrats about polls. Many of them believed the polls predicting that B.C. would be swearing in a New Democrat premier, Adrian Dix, around about now.
Smith acknowledged that progressives in Canada face “challenges,” alluding to the B.C. election surprise. But he said the Environics poll still showed that Canadians were more open to progressive ideas than they were to conservative ones.
If nothing else, the Broadbent Institute poll and the Big Shift are evidence of where political minds are focused these days.
When the next election rolls around in 2015, Canada will have 30 new ridings, half of them in Ontario, filled with suburbanites and new Canadians. Every political party is scrambling, even now, to secure a foothold in those places.
This is why new Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau keeps talking about the middle class — 24 mentions of that phrase this year alone in the House of Commons.
It’s why Immigration Minister Jason Kenney keeps logging all those miles on the road and is not seen as likely to be among those who will change jobs in Harper’s big cabinet shuffle this summer.
Though it may be getting more dangerous to make predictions in Canadian politics these days, one forecast is safe: in the next two years, everyone will be vying for the votes of the newcomers — the new Canadians, young, first-time voters and the people in those 30 new ridings.
So while our attention is focused on who’s leaving various political parties, voluntarily or not-so-voluntarily, future fates will be shaped by the newcomers on the Canadian political landscape.
This article originally appeared in the Toronto Star.
A luncheon speech by Center for American Progress (CAP) President Neera Tanden underscored that success for progressives depends on a strong, sustainable progressive movement, driven by idea generation and solid policy. Tanden was director of domestic policy for the Obama-Biden presidential campaign and served as Hilary Clinton’s policy director on her presidential campaign.
“Our experience since creating CAP in 2003 has reinforced the lesson that gearing up for highly expensive elections every four years is wholly insufficient for achieving real progressive change,” said Tanden. “In the end, the money and energy spent winning elections will be for naught if it is not followed by the organizing, policy, and communications work necessary to keep the Obama coalition in permanent motion between elections.”
“The Center for American Progress has built an engine of progressive change in the United States and provided policy and communications support for an effective progressive movement,” said Broadbent Institute Executive Director Rick Smith. “I am delighted that today we were able to learn some lessons about how we can build the progressive movement in Canada.”
Following Tanden’s speech, Smith expanded on her conclusions with the release of exclusive new polling data. The Broadbent Institute-commissioned Environics Research Group poll reveals important trends in support for progressive values in eight of Canada’s largest urban and suburban areas – the battlegrounds where federal elections are won and lost. The national poll reveals that Canadians, both new immigrants and Canadian-born, overwhelmingly support progressive values such as reducing income inequality, better pensions, and stronger environmental regulations.
“These results provide an important contribution to our understanding of what socio-economic attitudes and values prevail in urban Canadian society, as well as the impact of the influx of new Canadians on our political climate,” explained Derek Leebosh, Vice-President, Public Affairs at Environics Research Group.
“When it comes to a number of important issues, we have found that there is no significant statistical difference between the attitudes of Canadian-born and non-Canadian-born Canadians,” said Smith. “This is contrary to recent reports that have portrayed the political trend lines of the country as moving in a small “c” conservative direction. If anything, the opposite would seem to be the case.”