02.03.2014 10:04 PM

In Tuesday’s Sun: small is big

What’s better, politically? Small or big?

Well, a few years back, Conservative MP Peter Van Loan called Ontario Liberal Premier Dalton McGuinty “the small man of Confederation.”

Van Loan shouldn’t have made remarks about a political rival’s size, of course.  At the time, Van Loan was big enough that he could have applied for his own time zone.  But the then-Conservative House leader was upset that McGuinty had demanded Ontario get more House of Commons seats – along with B.C. and Alberta – due to population growth.

Van Loan was against that notion, then.  (Now that pollsters are saying that the Conservatives may win another majority thanks to those new seats, he isn’t nearly as opposed to representative democracy.)

What rankled many Liberals, at the time, was Van Loan’s characterization of McGuinty as a “small man.”  Calling a political opponent “small” suggests that they lack vision and courage.  It’s kind of mean.  (Although, when compared to the Rubenesque Van Loan, everyone looks small.)

But what if we live in an era wherein “small politics” is the order of the day? If you survey the political landscape, that certainly seems to be the case.

There was the President of the United States, for example, last week delivering his State of the Union speech, and it was all about small.  The New York Times characterized it as “the diminished State of the Union,” and they were right.  For 6,786 words, Barack Obama went to great lengths to remind everyone that he now lacks the ability to do big things.

So, he said, he would go around a gridlocked Congress, and think small.  He plans to “take steps without legislation,” he said, to do fewer things.  What they are, we know not.  The Keystone pipeline, which is of critical importance to the Harper government (and which they have critically mishandled) was not mentioned once.  Gun control (a year after the slaughter of 20 children at Sandy Hook Elementary School) received two paltry sentences.

The reaction of the media? The Times approvingly decreed that “big, muscular” government was “a dead end.”  The Washington Examiner and Post, respectively, called it “small bore” and “modest.” Neither seemed upset about that.

Up here, politicians have taken note.  Tom Mulcair’s New Democrats have discarded Venti-sized policies, and are now purveyors of the picayune.  Their latest preoccupation isn’t the Constitution or free trade: it’s ATM fees.  The Conservatives, similarly, aren’t busying themselves with nation-building so much these days. Lately, they’ve seemed most energetic about the duration of cell phone contracts.  The Liberals? They spent a Summer talking about cannabis, but not Syrian genocide or Quebec’s racist secular charter.

Small is big.  The Globe’s Jeff Simpson pithily derides it as “small ball politics,” and he’s right.  But it’s a strategy that has worked for Harper’s Conservatives for years, Simpson says, and he’s right about that, too.

Visionaries, I once remarked to no less than Dalton McGuinty – who, full disclosure, I proudly helped out – “start religions and wars”.  They can often be the most dangerous people in a democracy.

But, as we look around our Lilliputian politics these days, where only political pygmies like Peter Van Loan now wield power, yearning for a bit of the vision thing is understandable.

Wouldn’t it be nice to have a leader who thinks big, and does big things, once again?



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    Sean says:

    I don’t think its about small being big. Its about the media telling voters every day that every big idea is fraught with terrors. This has left the electorate paralyzed. Voters love little ideas these days because everything else scares them.

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      Kelly says:

      No. As the article suggests, indirectly, the problem is our phony electoral system that cannot accommodate democratic choice, leading to vote splitting and fake majorities. A large majority has never supported Harper’s policies but that will isn’t expressed due to first past the post and the media reports on the seat counts as if the conservatives have massive support. They simply do not. Period. If you don’t like picayune and phony government and the resulting inequality, lack of investment and guaranteed future poverty, everyone get off you butt and vote for the most likely non conservative candidate. And whatever you do don’t vote Green. If the greens wouldn’t have run a candidate in Brandon Souris we almost certainly would have elected a Liberal there and caused total chaos in the PMO. Instead we got a phony result again.

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        Sean says:

        Its not about the electoral system at all. With this allegedly terrible electoral system: Canada built a railway from one ocean to another, went to war, established free trade and enshrined the Charter. Big things have been accomplished in the past. But now, our political culture is in ruins. Elections easily go to the party who represent least possible risk.

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    Matt says:

    Well, Ignatieff had some big ideas. Didn’t work out to well for him.

    And what pollsters are saying the CPC may win another majority?

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    debs says:

    grandiose plans scare me, they remind me of Harper. I would be happy with modest worthwhile plans.

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    Sean says:

    Better is better and women will tell us this straight to our face. Is big better? McGuinty went big with wind turbines and has destroyed liberal fortunes in rural Ontario. How so? A liberal campaign sign may well give wings to a brick. Is small better? Justin Trudeau has a small attendance record in the House, and more and more people are angered by his lack of accountability as he displays a false macho sense of bravado. If he can’t take the heat after screwing his own senators , then he better do Ladies Night in the shade or bend over and let Paul Wells kiss it some more.

    Ford is big, gigantic, and outrages. He’s a big fat joke who wouldn’t recognize the word shame if it was tattooed to his “dick” Harper is small. He can’t take a small letdown by anyone on his team-he crucifies them instantly.

    So in concluson I’d argue that better is better.

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      Sean says:

      It’s a hard one to figure out, but stay with it.

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        Kaspar Juul says:


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    Chris says:

    Dalton McGuinty left a hole in Ontario, bitterly divided rural and urban Toronto and is the father of numerous failed public private beasts of patronage. We will never recover from his legacy.

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    dave says:

    “The Fair Elections Act?” Why not an “Elections Act?” Admission that past elections were unfair?

    Here’s my balloon, what do you think?

    We had a programme wherein our federal coffers donated to each political party according to the number of votes that party had received in the recent federal election. The present government got rid of that programme of federal funding to parties.

    Suppose we ban any private funding of political parties, and allow only donations (with the tax breaks and such) to a Canada Democracy Fund. Then the CDF funds political parties according to the votes that party received in a recent federal election.

    Small idea? Big idea? Medium small idea?

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    ottlib says:

    Let’s give credit to the political right and their backers in the media, on this continent, who for over 30 years, have been relentlessly pounding us with the idea that government is not good at solving small problems let alone the over-arching problems being faced by society.

    Their message has more than made it through to the consciousness of ordinary citizens.

    Progressives on this continent were too stupid to effectively challenge this notion when it was first being made and they are too frightened to challenge it now. In fact, they have embraced it for crass political reasons.

    The irony, most ordinary citizens now feel that something is just not quite right with society at the moment. They see the growing inequality and they know that they are slowly but steadily falling behind but they do not know how to reverse that trend.

    The recipe put forward by the right has failed in helping ordinary people, that fact is beginning to dawn on those ordinary people and if progressives were smart they would begin a concerted and coordinated effort to push back against the current orthodoxy. They might be surprised at the reception they get.

    But I would not hold my breath on that score. They are still too frightened so all we can hope for are progressive politicians who will pursue policies that will retard the deterioration of the middle-class not reverse it.

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    Ronald O'Dowd says:


    If you need a good laugh, check out the stats on who actually considers themself middle class, especially in the good ole US of A. The mind boggles.

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