Opinion-Policy Nexus

Bianca Andreescu is the real deal. Not only is she a great tennis player – perhaps the greatest this country has produced – she possesses qualities of poise and empathy rarely found in one so young.

Bianca is just 19 years old. Yet there she was on Sunday afternoon, on her knees, consoling her weeping idol, 37-year-old Serena Williams, who had just been forced by recurring upper back spasms to withdraw from the Rogers Cup final.

A smile and laugh replaced Serena’s tears as the teenager from Thornhill, Ontario, gave Williams. arguably the finest woman tennis player of all time, a pep talk – “Dude, I’ve watched you your whole career. You’re a (deleted) beast. But injuries? I’ve been through so many. This sucks.” They hugged.

It was a splendid moment and it made me wonder why that other “game,” politics, does not attract more young people like Bianca Andreescu. In my years teaching university political science, I have encountered 19- and 20-year-olds with qualities similar to Bianca’s. But I don’t recall any of them expressing much interest in a career in politics.

Some of the bright ones do throw themselves into political causes – climate change being the fashionable one at the moment – and they volunteer in political campaigns, but to run for office themselves? That does not appeal.

It‘s partly because political parties are hierarchical. With some notable exceptions, they have not been welcoming homes for students and graduates with career aspirations. They are delighted to have young people to do scut work. Sharing managerial responsibility and power is another matter.

It is also partly because empathy and good sportsmanship are not highly valued in politics. Although members of opposing parties may be friends in private, in public opponents are enemies to be diminished rather than competitors to be respected, as in the tennis world of Williams and Andreescu.

From to time, voters see a glimpse of what politics might be if the game were not so mired in cynicism and hypocrisy. They had one of those glimpses in 2011 when Jack Layton reached out to the young and the idealistic and led the New Democrats to their breakthrough in Quebec and to official opposition status in Parliament.

There was another glimpse in 2015 when the unconventional Justin Trudeau – so different from the humourless, controlling Stephen Harper – attracted tens of thousands of young Canadians to the polls for the first time.

Layton is dead and Trudeau and his government have been mired in the Ottawa swamp of cynicism and hypocrisy for much of their four years in office.

To my mind, the SNC-Lavalin affair stands as a monument to these two ugly characteristics. Everyone who pays attention to these things, knows that the Conservatives, had they been in power, would not have handled SNC-Lavalin any differently from the Liberals. They, too, would have twisted themselves out of shape to try to avoid criminal prosecution of the company. They would have been as anxious as the Liberals – most of them anyway – to negotiate an out-of-court settlement.

Ethics was not the issue, however loudly Conservative leader Andrew Scheer may beat that drum. Political expediency was the issue. Neither the Liberals nor the Conservatives have ever had a desire to tangle with big business – especially not in Quebec, when investment, jobs and votes are at stake.

We will find out on Oct. 21 how much of Trudeau’s 2015 lustre remains.

We will also learn whether Elizabeth May’s Green Party is the real deal. The Greens have had some success at the provincial level. They are showing surprising growth in the national polls.

Of all the federal parties, only the Greens seem to have the sort of appeal that could energize the cohort of idealistic young voters. It is within possibility that the Green Party could supplant the NDP as Ottawa’s third party – and hold the balance of power in a minority Parliament.

That would change everything – for the better, I submit.


Tuesday, August 13, 2019 - 09:59