Hugh Segal, Matthews Fellow in Global Public Policy at the Queen’s School of Policy Studies, and senior adviser at Aird and Berlis LLP; is a former chief of staff to prime minister Brian Mulroney and associate cabinet secretary to Ontario premier William Davis
Election campaigns often leave out the "how” of policy choices and promises. Whether this is because of the pace of the campaign, the time constraints on politicians and media, or the absence of discussion on “how” commitments made might be implemented, vital information is ignored that voters have the right to know.
But with with less than two weeks left until voting day, there is ample time to challenge all leaders on how implementation might be addressed.
When leaders promise pharmacare, or free tuition, or seriously increased taxation of natural resources or other big business enterprises, all of which have key aspects under explicit provincial jurisdiction, how do they intend to put these into place?
When the Green Party puts out a detailed costing estimate for some of its program proposals, many of which touch on provincial jurisdiction, but avoid this detail on the Living Wage/Basic Income commitment by hiding behind required federal-provincial negotiations, are Canadians being given clarity on implementation?
When the Conservatives promise mandatory sentencing for certain crimes, when mandatory sentencing was already struck down by the courts after implementation by the previous Conservative government, are they planning to use the “notwithstanding clause” of the constitution just as Quebec has for its discriminatory Bill 21? Surely it is imperative for Canadians to understand the how of this promise.
When Liberals choose to appeal a federal human-rights tribunal decision on compensation for First Nations children who faced unfair resource allocation compared with other children, thereby delaying compensation for months or years, but still commit to reconciliation and inclusion, how do they intend to portray the fairness to which they have committed publicly?
For the most serious challenge of climate change, aside from promises made and costs proposed, how will the parties embrace implementation when provincial and municipal jurisdiction are so intrinsically implicated in almost every aspect of the preventive and adjustment instruments required?
If making war on climate change is required and if political parties, such as the NDP, Liberals and Greens, aspire to that priority, do they plan to do so through existing departments and cabinet committees? In the past, when Canadian governments declared war on inflation or sent Canadian Forces into combat abroad as part of a United Nations or NATO engagement, special cabinet committees or special operating instruments were established, often by order-in-council or by legislation.
Do the political parties making these promises have any of this in mind? Do they have plans for implementation that they choose not to share? Or worse, are they making promises without considering implementation? Either way, that posture is unbecoming in an open and competitive democracy.
Part of the reason that integrated special-purpose implementation instruments may be necessary is the way in which different public policy challenges connect when seen at street level. For example, poverty and its abatement and climate change and the necessity of limiting its impact are connected.
We see around the world and in Canada how floods, forest fires, extreme storm surges, drought and utility interruption affect low-income people first and hardest. Increased food prices and diminished supply affects the food security of lower-income Canadians.
Being specific about investments on climate change and emission control, on the one hand, while leaving details on the needed investment on poverty reduction to some future federal/provincial negotiation on the other, as the Green Party has done, is both unfair and illogical. When political parties evade implementation clarity before an election, despite sweeping promises and brave commitments, they fuel public cynicism and lower voter turnout.
No voter expects every detail regarding the implementation of a new proposal to anticipate every twist and turn of how events might unfold weeks, months or years from now. This is why elections are often as much about whom one trusts to handle the unexpected in an ever more turbulent and unpredictable world.
But the respective windows on the judgment, balance, capacity and relevant experience of those seeking to hold the highest elected office in the country are defogged when there is more robust disclosure on how they intend to put into effect the promises they have been selling.
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