Painful Truth: Politicians follow where public opinion leads

Changing people’s minds is necessary to change policy.

This October, we’re going to the polls here to elect our federal government.

So the question we have to consider over the next nine months is, do we push for a particular party to win, or do we push all the parties to move towards our views?

This is a significant question, because there are a number of issues I believe should be beyond politics.

One of the key one everyone understands is public health care – there is no major Canadian political party that officially supports two-tiered or privatized health care.

Such an overwhelming majority of Canadians supports public health care that we don’t even debate it. We demand that our politicians do a better job managing the system, sure. But the idea of scrapping it is a fringe idea, with roughly the same amount of support as public puppy executions.

This is the power of public opinion. Throughout Canada’s recent political history, you can see that public views changed first, and then party platforms changed as first one, then another, then all the parties rushed to try to catch up with the voters.

I have a number of positions I’d love to see become universal in Canada. Not even policies, mind you. A policy is a concrete way of doing something. Parties can still differ on those, but back the same position.

Here’s my short list of positions I’d like to see become widely shared by Canadians:

• No one should be homeless

• We should be rapidly working to cut greenhouse gas emissions

• Higher education should be affordable

You can see how different parties could divide on how to achieve those goals. Is the best way to cut greenhouse gases to mandate lower emission cars, offering tax rebates on EVs and increasing taxes on gas guzzlers? How about cap and trade, or carbon taxes? Market-based or regulatory based, with heavy public involvement?

Same on homelessness. Should we be building lots of public housing, or providing incentives for developers to build more low-income rental homes?

Should we simply make post-secondary education free? Is that affordable? Or should the government back cheap student loans and work to keep the cost of attending universities low enough for middle and working class kids?

The method may vary – and not all methods will work equally well.

But if Canadians come to feel strongly enough about ideas like this – as strongly as we feel about universal public health care – then we’ll be on the way to achieving them.

The politicians? They’ll have to figure something out, or risk being crushed at the polls.

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