From a progressive point of view, the last days of the year were…less than ideal. Between Conservative re-election and Brexit in the UK, climate change-linked fires in Australia and a failure of global leadership at the Madrid climate change conference, Jason Kenney and his minions on a rampage and Trump and more Trump, I’m not sorry to see the back of 2019.
But as the New Year (and the new decade) begins, it’s worth taking a moment to reflect on how much more positive the world may look by the end of 2020 compared to what we’ve got at the moment. Am I “counting my chickens”? Nope. All these things will require insane amounts of work. But all are eminently achievable.
Let’s start with the under-reported story of December, 2019, and that is the introduction of the European Union’s Green Deal. Yes, many details remain to be worked out, but the package of ambitious climate change measures initiated by the new President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen (a conservative politician, it should be noted) aims to turn Europe into the first carbon-neutral continent. Critically, von der Leyen is positioning the Green Deal as an economic growth strategy, as much as an environmental one, promising a robustly funded “just transition” plan to ensure no workers are left behind. Von der Leyen calls the Green Deal “Europe’s Man on the Moon moment”, and it promises to be a powerful catalyst and template for climate change action the world over.
The first country that should look to it for inspiration is our own. October’s federal election returned a strong majority of MPs committed to more ambitious climate action. Minority governments have typically been hotbeds of progress in Canadian history and there’s no reason that this one shouldn’t deliver. Above and beyond climate change, impressive new social programmes such as universal, national, Pharmacare are also within reach. There is similar broad consensus that the tax system should be made fairer such that wealthier Canadians pay their fair share. By the end of this year, we could well have some important new policies to point to.
One reason that progressives have no excuse not to make gains this year is that the forces of Canadian conservatism are in disarray. Jason Kenney and Doug Ford’s extremism and bad behaviour is being rewarded by voters with plunging approval ratings. In the wake of Andrew Scheer’s ill-fated leadership Canadian conservatives are having some overdue introspection regarding their outdated attitudes towards LGBTQ Canadians, abortion rights and climate change. Could this be the year that Canadian conservatism finally starts to swing back towards the mainstream? Who knows. But while they’re wallowing in their own incoherence, progressives need to strike. Hard.
The climax of the year will, of course, be the November 3rd US election. If Trump is defeated, not only will much of the grey cloud circling the heads of progressives the world over be dispelled, but it will unleash a powerful wave of progressive action. Regardless the Democratic nominee, the terrible Trump changes to the US tax system dramatically benefitting the wealthiest and corporate America will be reversed. The millstone around the neck of global climate action will be lifted (making the 2020 United Nations climate change conference in Glasgow hugely effective.) And the pandering to Putin-friendly authoritarians and undermining of democracy finally ended.
None of this progress is inevitable and all will require progressives to work this year like never before. But if we seize this moment, there’s a good chance that we’ll be in a much better mood at the end of the first year of the new decade than we are at its beginning.
Rick Smith is the Executive Director of the Broadbent Institute.