As mentioned, here is more of last Saturday’s conversation at Stornoway.
On that trip to the Shepherds of Good Hope. What was shocking was to see people who’d obviously never had to go to a line-up for food in their lives. I think what was a bit painful was the cameras were there and some of them were very, very unhappy about that. And so what was registering on my face was discomfort partly for them … What’s so puzzling about this recession, it’s the worst recession in 20 years, it’s that it’s largely invisible. But you go to a line like that and you suddenly see that it’s not just the usual street people, it’s a lot of other people, who don’t know how they got there, that are shocked that they’re there and I was shocked for them, I guess that that was my reaction.
One of the challenges politically is to make some of this visible to Canadians. I want recovery. Everybody thinks if you’re in opposition what you want is for everything to get worse, I actually want everything to get better. I don’t want … I want all the green shoots we can get.. but, you know, one of the things about the recession is the invisibilty of those who are paying the price. And so, you go there and you see it. I guess I was shocked. That’s, shocked is not quite the word, but just, it really hits you. In the same way that, in Thunder Bay it hits you. On Thursday morning we were in a lumber mill that’s been closed for two years and the superintendent comes down everyday just to make sure it hasn’t been broken in. You know, brand new machinery standing idle. And you see something on the guy’s face that really hits you. Poliitcs is just about people. And you see that and it kind of stays in your mind afterwards.
The great thing about politics is you get to see the country raw and unplugged. You get to see things that most other Canadians don’t see. You get to live your country’s life … and so, you know, I haven’t had the greatest autumn, but it’s an unforgettable experience and a positive one, in the sense that it deepens your sense of what your country is and what it’s going through. Because you’re in opposition, you actually get out and see it much more than the prime minister does.
On whether he’s enjoying himself. I’d be lying to you if I said I enjoyed it every day of the week. But it’s been, I think what I said before is true, the most challenging thing I’ve ever tried to do. When it’s going well, the most fun … It’s a team, you feel you’re part of a team and people believe in you and we’re pushing towards the same goal which is a good, you know compassionate, you know creative, you know centre of the road of the government that really does good things for Canada. When it doesn’t go well, you have to take responsibility. It’s about being responsible for it and keep on going.
On whether he feels like he’s being himself. Yes. But I think that I’m happiest when I’m more unplugged. That makes my guy’s a little anxious, but I’m happier when I’m unplugged … I think that you’ve got to learn the country. You’ve got to take it into your veins again … You’ve got know it in your heart. You’ve got to know, you’ve got to register what that supervisor of that saw mill is saying to you in his eyes as opposed to his words. You’ve got to take it into your heart what that very well dressed black man in the soup kitchen … he’s not even talking to you, but what he’s saying to you is help … In terms of going from 05 to 09, I think there’s a perception that I’ve got overly cautious. I hope what I’m doing is getting more precise. There’s quite a lot out there that, in a weird way, I’ve had to fight for the right to be heard … ‘He’s just visiting. He’s only it for himself.’ So I’ve had to fight to kind of say, ‘Wait a minute, I’m a Canadian, I’m here to stay and he’s what I’ve got to say.’
On vision and policy and ideas. In terms of policies and ideas, the vision at Vancouver of a learning society in which we get early learning and child care for every single Canadian family that wants it, we get every Aboriginal Canadian believing that an education is for them, we get every Canadian to understand that investing in universities and science and technology is not something for someone else, it’s the key to our whole future economy. There was real content there. I’ve said some important things about India and China, which are not just about promoting market share, they’re about changing the whole orientation of our society from north-south to out over the Pacific … it’s one of the biggest things that’s happening to our country that we’re not seeing. Suddenly, for the first time in a generation, the U.S. consumer’s not going to pull us out. We have to change the whole orientation of not just our trade performance, but our cultural, intellectual, we’ve just got to turn around. And I’ve said, and I said it before the Pittsburgh summit, I said we’ve got to stop clinging to the G8 and embrace the G20 and lead in the G20 with a secretariat. Say, ok, we’re a smaller player in a bigger club, but let’s use that as an opportunity. That’s an idea.
On the economic front, just last week I was saying, listen… and you learn this in your own riding, I’ve seen the manufacturing sector in my own riding clobbered since 06, but when you talk to guys who cast aluminum for Chrysler and you talk to them about how they can keep their jobs, they know one thing, we’re shooting too much heat up the stack. We’ve got to get our energy costs down, number one. And we’ve got to decrease our dependence on fossil fuels, number two. Because fossil fuels are going straight up. So that’s what I said in Vancouver. We’ve got to bet the competitive store on energy efficiency and renewables. And we’ve got to understand that the paradox of Canadian strength is that our energy resources are simulatenously a vulnerablility. They make us lazy… energy efficiency is just going to be key to, it’s a little technical, but unit cost productivity. This government has spent four years doing nothing about Canadian productivity and nothing about this issue. And I’ve also said quite a lot about increasing interprovincial energy sharing, smart grids and interprovincial power grids. We’ve got north-south intergration of our energy supplies in ways that are weakening the east-west. Now, nobody thinks you can make water run uphill. Government can’t, you know, the north-south axis of our energy markets make sense, but we may be fragmenting the country as a result. It’s great news when Quebec starts to wield power into Ontario and Ontario starts to wield nuclear back into… if you want to get big coal fired plants offline in Ontario, you’ve got to increase interprovincial energy sharing. I’m the first person… people say, I’ve taken 10 minutes to say this, but I’ve taken 10 minutes because there’s actually quite a lot out there and there’ll be more. And one of the other things I would say is, the question Canadians will ask in ten years about this government is, what did we get for $56-billion? What did we get that made us more productive, more competitive and guaranteed the jobs of the future? And there isn’t a Canadian, I think, that actually believes that this deficit bought us our future. Canadians are prepared to say it got us through until tomorrow morning, but there isn’t a Canadian with any confidence, because it goes deeper than this issue of this ridiculous, hyper-partisan allocation of money, it’s what are we getting that’s going to make this country stronger.
On communicating all that. Well, I think it’s a matter of, I’ve had quite a few ideas out already, there’ll be more, I’ve got to get to a moment where they’re being heard. That’s a personal challenge which I accept. I’ve spent a lot of time being framed up in a certain way, which means that people aren’t listening. And that’s my challenge as a communicator. I’m not, don’t mishear that, I’m not blaming anybody, I take the responsibility. There’s stuff out there. I’m the same guy I was in 2005. I’ve got to get myself heard. And I think, in fact, Canadians are ready to listen, because they’re troubled, precisely by the question I raised, what are we getting for this? Where are we going? And the person who can say, we’ve got to have a plan that grows the economy, makes us more energy efficienct, bets the store on education, makes sure we’ve got a health care system in fifteen years that can take care of us and makes sure that people can retire in decency, is going to be the guy people follow. And the thing about Mr. Harper is that he can’t, he’s spent the money and he can’t guarantee that there’ll be pensions there, he can’t guarantee there’ll be health care there, he has nothing to tell you about producitivty and he has nothing to tell you about where the jobs of tomorrow are going to come from. And I have to fill that space.
… But I think I’ve said already what I really believe, which is that what I’ve got to offer is what comes next, what’s the future here. Look, Mr. Harper, after nearly destroying his government in December 2008, basically moved into the Liberal house. But there’s no vision, absolutely no vision of where we’re going to be in five, 10 years. I’ve talked a lot about 2017 because it’s a way of focusing the mind on the question that actually bothers Canadians. The thing I pick up is relief that civilization as we know it didn’t end, right? And I think Harper gets a bounce from that. Everybody was told civilization as you know it is going to end by the spring of 2009. And then June came along and there was actually a little, tiny millimetre of green shoot. Now Canadians are thinking, ok, more shoots, pretty good… but the anxiety that remains for Canadians, what did we get for $56-billion, how are we going to dig ourselves out of it, and if the American market is going to be flat for three, four, five years, they’ve got a trillion dollar deficit, how do we make our living in this world? And I just think there’s no plan there whatever. And I’ve at least said, India and China, education and research, energy efficiency. I don’t pretend to have all the answers, I’m still learning. And there are three or four other pieces that have to be there before Canadians start to think, yeah, well he’s at least thinking about our future. He’s not up there at 50,000 feet, he’s trying to address the anxieties and anguish that I saw in that food line, that I see in he supervisor’s face in Thunder Bay. And you have to make that connection. And it’s also not enough to just have lots of ideas, lots of policies. People have got to feel, the guy, he’s in my corner. He’s a little funny, he’s got a funny name, he’s been outside the country, but he’s in my corner. I mean, that’s the connection you have to make. It’s very visceral. And I feel I make the connection constantly with people. I don’t think I’m dreaming.
Looking for more?
Get the best of Maclean's sent straight to your inbox. Sign up for news, commentary and analysis.