With the Conservative Party of Canada’s leadership debates complete, it’s time to talk about one of the major challenges the party faces.
A student of public policy will probably tell you that one of the foundations of good policy is defining a problem that ought to be fixed. There are lots of policy wonks out there that actually miss this step. What happens when said people miss this step is that you tend to spew ideas about changes that should be made without telling people why the change is needed in the first place.
Have you ever been in a meeting where your boss or coach or parent decrees a new rule or procedure upon you? In many cases, you can see that the rule or procedure or protocol fixes a defined problem and you can accept it (sometimes begrudgingly). In other circumstances, you may be thinking ‘what problem is this supposed to solve?’ Maybe its a new expense policy or attendance policy or dress code. Often you can connect A to B, and life carries on. But, when you can’t connect A to B, you’re left asking yourself more questions than you have answers for and it leaves you puzzled. Think about a time that this has actually happened to you. I’m sure it has… it happens more than we think!
So, Rob, what does this have to do with policy? Well, the same principle applies. The next time you hear a politician say something like ‘let’s pull out of the Paris Accord,’ your response might be bewildered as to why. What problem is it trying to solve? See how this works?
The second part of defining a problem is that in order for there to be wide acceptance of the policy solution, a lot of people need to define the problem in the same way. If I were the boss of my neighborhood, and I wanted to propose that every lawn needs to be cut on Friday, the average homeowner might ask me why. I would answer by saying that having uneven grass across the neighborhood over the weekend depresses property values. I may have a why answer by identifying a problem, but if nobody else defines the problem like that, there would be no support for the policy to advance.
This is relevant when we talk about policy debates and ideas of yesteryear and revive them. So, if somebody comes in and proposes to defund the CBC, for example, how many among us really think that’s the problem we need to fix right now? (N.B., I am not saying we should keep it – I’m just saying not enough people think its a problem to talk about it).
The last thing to watch out for are instances where policy problem is defined but the proposed solution doesn’t fix the problem. As a parent, I might complain that the kids don’t pick their clothes off the floor. I might surmise that it must mean that the hamper in their room must be too small to fit all of their clothes, so I buy a bigger hamper and put it in their room. Bewildered, a week later, I walk into their room and the problem just hasn’t gone away. This is an example of the solution not fixing the problem.
Think about tax cuts. As a conservative, I’m prone to believe that tax cuts create jobs, and over the long run, this means that we’ll collect more in tax revenue. However, if people define the problem of budgetary balance, cutting revenue won’t get you there unless you slash spending even more. In other words, deficit financing tax cuts does not fix your balance budget problem.
To sum up the Conservatives’ problem: They’ve got solutions without problems to fix and/or solutions to things people don’t see as problems and/or solutions that don’t fix the defined problem.
Conservatives won’t get anywhere unless we fix this, and the person best able to match problems with solutions gets my vote.