Opinion Column

Issues at home deserve Canadians' attention

Daphne Bramham, Postmedia Network

Premier Christy Clark (QMI Agency photo)

Premier Christy Clark (QMI Agency photo)

As mesmerizing as it is to follow U.S. President Donald Trump's antics, Canadians need to focus on what's happening here.

In May, voters will choose a new B.C. government and members of the federal Conservative party will choose a new leader to challenge Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

And while it may be comforting that the Economist and others believe Canada is a shining beacon of light and hope, the truth is that everything is not OK. And voters know it.

In B.C., population growth and highly visible wealth in Vancouver have masked some stark and troubling issues. Economic growth is stagnant. The B.C. Liberals promised jobs and revenue from liquefied natural gas development that never materialized and may never.

There are festering social problems, not least of which is a housing crisis. Illicit drugs are killing users at an unprecedented rate. Ninety-one per cent of seniors' residential homes fail to meet the ministry guidelines for care. Privatization of foster care is one among many reasons some children have suffered excruciating maltreatment. Public schools have suffered from 14 years of underfunding that is only now being corrected after the Supreme Court of Canada has ordered it.

The B.C. Liberals may be unpopular, but it doesn't mean they aren't in a position to win or even increase their majority.

Why? One only needs to look south. Premier Christy Clark is a populist in a party unbound by any firm ideology beyond supporting capitalism. Her campaign will fuel fears of free-spending socialists. Her appeal -- like Trump's -- will be to disaffected suburban and rural voters who distrust urban elites and are frightened about what the future holds for them and their children.

New Democrat John Horgan lacks Clark's sparkle. Worse, his party is untethered from its historical roots. Its political calculus has been to secure votes in urban areas among intellectuals, professionals and environmentalists, Trump's "elites".

Similar tensions between urban elites and rural or suburban working-class people are exposed in the federal Conservative leadership race.

The field of 14 contenders includes a reality TV celebrity, several anti-abortionists, a couple of nativists opposed to immigration, an opponent of same-sex marriage, an environmentalist, an international financier, a venture capitalist and a libertarian.

Given the wide range of views and values, the race could potentially destroy the uneasy alliance Stephen Harper maintained between alt-right Reform Party stalwarts and former Progressive Conservatives.

And, depending on the choice, it could cause a fissure between West and East or even Quebec and the rest of Canada, if the leader isn't bilingual.

But what is most stunning and consistent with the Republican race is the vitriol within the Conservatives' political family. While it hasn't shown up in debates yet, it's easily found in the comments on the Facebook page of Kellie Leitch, who has promised to use a values test to screen refugees and immigrants.

Who the Conservatives choose matters because its leader will be the leader of the official Opposition and a potential prime minister.

Unlike Americans, our differences are less obvious because we tend to value consensus so much it stifles debate, at times.

But this is not a time for keeping quiet or being distracted by another country's politics. We have challenges enough here.

Finding solutions requires engaged citizens unwilling to leave it to demagogues to determine what our country becomes.

Daphne Bramham writes for the Vancouver Sun. ­

dbramham@postmedia.com

 



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