Jam Tomorrow, Jam Yesterday

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“I don’t think the intention is to get down in the weeds of policy discussions right now.”

Andrew Leslie looked a bit dazed as he stood steadfast against a barrage of barbed reporter questions about his $72,000 government-paid moving expenses, and the revelations that he was courted by “several” political parties — that he refused to name.

So when I asked him what policy matters that the party would be discussing, especially in his wheelhouse of foreign affairs and national defence, I figured he’d breath a sigh of relief and filibuster the awaiting onslaught of chaos that the Tories so carefully plotted.

Instead, Leslie sidestepped.

“We are having discussions,” he said.

“But it’s a policy convention,” I said.

“Absolutely,” he said.  After some verbal fumbling, he turned and welcomed the abrasive questioning of a legion of journalists who had yet to get a straight answer on, well, anything.

And that’s the absurd contradiction of modern political policy conventions.

Whether you are a Grit, a Dipper or a Tory, policy conventions have tended towards dog and pony shows, where the dogs have had their scripts vetted and the ponies are instructed to speak in platitudes.

Any optimism that had been tucked away in my overnight bag upon arriving in Montreal dissipated into the cavernous Montreal Palais de Congrès as Chrystia Freeland took the stage with American Democratic economic czar Larry Summers.  Together, they stirred a pot of meaningless liberal propaganda and spoon-fed it to a room of half-interested partisans.

We must innovate to energize the middle class incomes that made this country great.

To curb household debt, we must not just have growth, but growth that benefits everyone.

Canada used to be great, but to be great again, we must consult with Canadians.

Meaningless drivel like that.  When the first hour melted away into mind-numbing fog, all the buzzwords melted together to make each phrase less coherent than the last.

It’s to be expected from a leader, and even from the top party brass.  But every aspect of the policy convention, aimed at giving the party a leg to stand on when it comes to criticizing the current regime, feels stripped to a bare-bone caricature of what the Liberal Party is supposed to be on paper.

Policy discussions took place, but positions adopted were shell casings inside which real policies were supposed to go.  Royal commissions on innovation.  National strategies on job creation.  Federal directors for science.

It’s like organizing a big dance and forgetting to arrange any music.

It’s not extraordinary to request that a party promising to run and manage our economy, and do it better than the other guys, to provide some details.

Leslie became emblematic of that.

The former army brass refused to say which parties approach him to run, which parties he approach to run, which riding he would run in, whether that riding is Ottawa–Orleans, why his $72,000 move cost so much, whether he knew of the price tag, whether he supposed the policy, whether he supported any policy, whether he’d pay back the money, and, well, just about every question he was asked.

Last week, any Liberal worth their salt would rabidly reject any insinuation that their leader was light on policy.

Wait for the policy convention, they’d growl.

So we waited.

And here we are, and we’re no closer to a plan than we were last week.

They are, however, more than happy to lean on the accomplishments of the previous Liberal governments — it’s impossible to make it through any discussion with a Liberal, political or otherwise, without them inserting the Kelowna Accord into it — but ask them to re-commit to those ideas now, and that’s just not something that they can commit to right now.

Leslie may say we’re in the weeds, but I figure we’re through the looking glass.

To cite Lewis Carroll, as is usually a good idea:

“It’s very good jam,” said the Queen.
“Well, I don’t want any to-day, at any rate.”
“You couldn’t have it if you did want it,” the Queen said.  “The rule is, jam to-morrow and jam yesterday – but never jam to-day.”
“It must come sometimes to ‘jam to-day’,” Alice objected.
“No, it can’t,” said the Queen.  “It’s jam every other day: to-day isn’t any other day, you know.”
“I don’t understand you,” said Alice.  “It’s dreadfully confusing!”

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Other Columns By Justin Ling

The Fair Elections Act Goes to Committee

Democratic Reform Take Two

Building Poilievre’s Electoral Fraud in the Sky

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Follow Justin Ling on twitter: @Justin_Ling

 

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