If we don't give a little, nothing changes: a wake-up call for rural Canada

Jubilant wouldn’t be the word I’d use the describe the majority of Canadians on this post-election day. That’s even truer in rural Canada.

Although Prime Minister Justin Trudeau claimed a clear mandate in his victory speech, the strength of his government looks like one with its knees cut out from under it. Of course, it doesn’t mean they won’t be able to find a way to govern. A weakened NDP, combined with a Liberal party that’s already leaning well into New Democrats’ territory, means the two parties are likely going to get along just fine for the next 24 months or so.

The story from rural Canada, though, is definitely one of frustration. Conservatives didn’t just win in the Prairies and rural Ontario, they commanded them. They trounced the Liberals; it wasn’t even close. As you can expect, Albertans are pondering separation, while rural Ontarians wouldn’t say no to the idea of kicking Toronto into a province all to themselves (just as Toronto ponders the same when they don’t get their way).

But in all the social media hysteria and coffee shop debating, I was left wondering which of two stories should be written. One in which I ask the Liberals how they can make rural Canada happy, or the one in which Conservative voters look in the mirror and change tack. At some point, rural Canadians likely need to recognize that standing firm and threatening the other side ‘they’d better come over or else’ isn’t going to get a result that’s any different the next time we head to the polls.

The column continues below

If we’re going to change direction, what then?

I think we need to learn three lessons before we start throwing stones. They are:

1. Climate policy or bust

Canadians are concerned about climate change. Period. If you want to post on Twitter about how everyone is an idiot for believing it, then get comfortable losing elections. That doesn’t mean we need a carbon tax either. Several provincial governments are in power today because they are fighting this very issue. But don’t mistake carbon tax as a sole ballot box issue. Recognizing that Canadians don’t want to pay much, or change their behaviour much, but want someone else to fix the problem for them leads down a narrow path where hearts and minds can be won over.

Just look at the policy in which Conservatives said they would invest in green technology for other countries. It’s a good policy, but it’s also as vague as a new seed dealer telling you you’ll be more profitable if you grow their grain, while not providing you any information to back it up. You expect details to help you make decisions. Other Canadians expect the same, especially for younger Canadians (the future electorate that will vote in majorities).

Conservatives need to move further into this space to carve out more suburban votes.

2. Bribing doesn’t work

Giving away the store doesn’t work with Canadians. Otherwise Kathleen Wynne would still be Premier of Ontario. That government was decimated in the last provincial election. The federal New Democrats weren’t far off in this election, and fell closer to oblivion than they’ve been for almost two decades.

Canadians are pretty good at realizing when they are being bribed with their own money and don’t like it. But they also don’t like cuts. I truly believe someone that comes forward without promising a lot of new things and just promises to steady the ship as the economy and tax revenues grow can pull in the sensible Canadian vote, which — believe it or not — is in the majority.

3. Just stop making stuff up

By all accounts heading into last weekend, Conservatives were pretty confident with their chances. A few close races swinging the right way, and they’d be hanging on to the most seats, even if it was with just a minority. But then the warning of a GST hike came up. Even I wondered who’s bright idea it was to veer off message like a goblin popping up off a doorstep that everyone eventually just had a good laugh over. Three days before an election they pulled this stunt and voters who were still hovering ended up shaking their head in how trivial this entire election ended up. And while every party was good at making up a tall tale or two, a few days before the election was just bad timing for the Conservatives. While scare tactics might work, tall tales don’t. Stick to the facts.

Don’t get me wrong, there is plenty I could lay blame on the left side of the political spectrum as well. But that isn’t going to move a single one of them closer to voting alongside rural Canadians. At the end of the day, this country was built on finding compromise. We have to be just as willing to move a little closer to centre, if we ever intend on having our voice around the cabinet table again.

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