Political pandering is everywhere. Even beyond the usual suspects.

In recent weeks, we’ve seen grandstanding and misdirection. But it’s coming from provincial and municipal leaders, not just federal ones.
Women in Politics panel at the University of Ottawa in Ottawa March 5, 2015. Photo by Blair Gable for Maclean’s Magazine
Adrian Wyld/CP
Adrian Wyld/CP

The federal election campaign is just a few weeks old and already, Canadian voters have suffered through a surfeit of political pandering, grandstanding, misdirection and outright fabrication. We’re not talking about federal politicians. It’s provincial and municipal leaders who are behaving badly.

Last week, Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre took a jackhammer to a concrete pad intended for a community mailbox in order to drive home the fact he opposes Canada Post’s plan to end door-to-door delivery. It’s a pointless crusade. While many folks have a low opinion of Canada Post, home delivery has become an uneconomic anachronism. Plus, the vast majority of Canadians already get their mail from community mailboxes. Coderre’s hysterics were quite likely illegal—the Crown corporation has a clear right to install mailboxes in public places—and undermine other, more sober stands he’s taken in the past. A year ago, for example, Coderre was properly condemning local unions for trashing Montreal City Hall to make a political point. Now he’s the one doing the vandalizing.

Similarly, Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne seems determined to insert herself into the federal election, campaigning for Liberal candidates and attacking Prime Minister Stephen Harper. That’s fair game, of course. But she ought to get her facts straight. Referring to the lack of support the Conservative government has shown for her proposed Ontario public pension plan, Wynne snapped that “if Stephen Harper had been the prime minister instead of Sir John A. Macdonald,” the Canadian Pacific Railway never would have been built. Wynne’s claim that Harper is a barrier to national progress while she’s its guiding light is pure hypocrisy. And her history is off, as well.

It’s the provinces that generally stand in the way of greater national efficiency and progress, on everything from agricultural marketing boards to cross-border wine sales to labour mobility. Consider, for example, the proposed Energy East pipeline that would see an existing but underused natural gas pipeline converted to carry oil from Western Canada to a refinery and marine terminal in New Brunswick, relieving a crippling oil bottleneck. From a national perspective, the plan promises substantial economic benefits. Yet, on orders from the Wynne government, the Ontario Energy Board (OEB) recently produced a report claiming the proposal is marked by an “imbalance” of risks and rewards for Ontario. As the pipeline merely crosses the province, direct benefits are indeed scarce; and the OEB frets that the project might boost Canadian oil exports and raise the value of the loonie, thereby damaging the province’s manufacturing sector and/or reduce its take from federal equalization. Such a narrow-minded perspective sets an impossible standard for any large national infrastructure project with unevenly distributed advantages. If Wynne truly styles herself a nation-builder, she would drop the parochial attitude and get behind the Canadian imperative to move our oil to market.

As for the example from Canadian history, Wynne is again off base. Sir John A. Macdonald’s championing of the CPR quite often put him in direct conflict with the provinces. His favoured solution to these problems was simply to overrule opposing premiers by use of the controversial power of “disallowance,” which permits Ottawa to strike down provincial laws at will. (This ability is still in Canada’s Constitution, although it hasn’t been used since the 1940s.) If Harper today acted as Macdonald did in the 1880s, Wynne’s provincial pension plan would already be dead in the water.

Voters expect shameless posturing and self-promotion from federal politicians during a federal election. To have to put up with the same thing from provincial and municipal politicians seems entirely too much.

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