Sunday, May 29, 2011

The Death of Liberal Canada

At least, according to respected author Peter C. Newman, is just about what we saw happening over the last few years, and Michael Ignatieff was simply the unlucky soul to prove it's catalyst.

Now, I have great admiration for Newman, but I suspect I'll have more than a bone or two to pick whenever he releases this book of his, called When the Gods Changed; the Death of Liberal Canada. I think he stole the idea from me and a friend of mine, to be honest - at least the subtitle. Safe to say, the idea has been around for awhile.

Newman says pretty clearly that he thinks this is the utter end for the Liberal Party of Canada. He didn't say whether he thought it was the end for the organization, or whether it was the end of the party's designs on power; either way, I believe he's utterly wrong, though maybe not too far off the mark.

The fact is, Canada's Liberals are still a relatively dominate party. It's true, they're not so much at the federal level after May 2nd, but provincially they are in control of the three largest provinces, and have a recent history of control in seven of the ten, and if things go according to plan, they could even be competitive in Alberta. There are still oodles of provincial and municipal politicians and organizations that still back their old red horse, and even though there are organizations that clash and just outright disagree - the BC Liberals and Quebec Liberals come heavily to mind - they do share certain levels of friendliness and organization, depending upon the area (Vancouver and Montreal). We can use these resources if we're smart, and we can appeal to these people that they're not just propping up a dying horse anymore.

Canadians overall aren't any more or less "liberal" than they were before, but party preferences to tend to change. Part of the Liberal's problem was that they didn't do a hilarious amount of changing at the same time. But even so, one can say that our fall from grace in Canada was nothing compared to the destruction of the Progressive Conservatives; even at only 19% of the vote, we retain more seats and more pick-up opportunities than the PCs did all throughout the 1990's and early 2000's, with our bare-bones base coming out in Atlantic Canada, and keeping us afloat in the three major cities and Ontario's other urban centres, even giving us a moral victory in the fact that we won Toronto proper in terms of raw votes. These are things to be relatively cheerful about, and use to our advantage over the Cons and Dips in 2015.

And if 2011 was our 1993, then one does well to remember that the PCs were well on their way to a slow rebuilding before Charest jumped ship. In 1997 they won nearly as many votes as Reform and had ample opportunities for the next election, but failed to capitalize on them by putting up the affable Joe Clark as leader for 2000. Had Charest stayed on or had the PCs chosen someone else to lead them, how different do you think the situation would have been in 2000, when the idiots over in the Canadian Alliance couldn't tie their shoelaces together without a gaffe or two, but the PCs had a useful leader at the helm?

The PCs were doomed after 2000, but not 1993. It was the decisions they made after that disastrous showing that put the nails in their coffin. The Liberals have ample opportunity to avoid the same mistakes, granted we get our act together. And with those opportunities comes the possibility that we can avoid the bullet that will kill us off entirely; eventually, the Conservatives and the New Democrats will make mistakes, and Canadians are going to look for another party to lead. The Liberals can be that party if we give Canadians a reason to believe it. But we have to work for it, and we have to make the smart decisions. We have to modernize the Party, we have to get new blood in, we have to have the old blood help as well. It takes work, and it will take a hell of a long time, I'm betting - but it's possible.

The death of Liberal Canada? Hardly, I say - maybe this is the new beginning. But it's up to us to make sure we choose the ending, and not let Peter C. Newman's come true.


  1. "It's true, they're not so much at the federal level after May 2nd, but provincially they are in control of the three largest provinces", like BC which just finished their weekend convention.

    So tell us all again how progressive the Liberal Party is?

    Lol - "Former federal Conservative cabinet ministers Jay Hill and Stockwell Day were treated like rock stars at the B.C. Liberal Party convention last weekend. The pair were staging an intervention – seeking to guide conservatives in B.C. onto the right path – and the B.C. Liberals in the room were most grateful."

    No wonder nobody is fooled by the faux progressive crap of the Liberal Party!

  2. Jan - I've read your blog, don't get me started on faux crap.

    If you knew anything about BC politics, you'd know that the BC Liberals are an amalgam of Liberal and Conservative voters who are pro-business, as opposed to the pro-labour NDP. They are, however, relatively centrist despite having a heavy right-wing base out in the BC Interior.

    But, then, so does the NDP, with folks like Harry Lali ballying about. That's the nature of BC's politics, however. There's your, apparent, first lesson.

    And, note, I don't think I ever said something about "how progressive" the Liberals are, which kind of makes your question just a little redundant. To answer your question - the Liberals are Liberals, we try not to paint ourselves into ideological corners like the NDP, who's majority caucus right now literally is a collection of socialists and separatists. Have fun with that.

  3. Under Campbell they were not centrist at all. They were as far right as Harper. Christy Clark, on the other hand, is centrist.

    Charest liberal bona fides not to be called into question as well.

  4. Koby,

    I've heard some hearty disagreement's on Campbell's positions throughout the years. Consider he brought in a carbon tax. What far right group does that?

    Charest is Charest and there's been no entirely liberal PLQ leader since... well, a long time. But Charest is a centrist, there's no doubt about that.

  5. The PCs were doomed after 2000, but not 1993.

    Apparently, they polled well in 2003. Possibly if Peter MacKay worked hard in the next few election cycles, he could have turned their futures around. Well, we'll never know now.

    We have to modernize the Party, we have to get new blood in, we have to have the old blood help as well. It takes work, and it will take a hell of a long time, I'm betting - but it's possible.

    Going to toss this out there -- Going to Extremes by Cass Sunstein. Some interesting arguments on the importance of not having like-minded people in a group.

    I've heard some hearty disagreement's on Campbell's positions throughout the years. Consider he brought in a carbon tax. What far right group does that?

    The B.C. climate change plan is ambitious. The B.C. Liberals go left on this issue, right on others. Anyway, there is a provincial Conservative Party in B.C. so even if the Liberals were the center party, they pretty much are now. ;P

  6. All good points Sharon, thanks! I'll read up on all of that.

  7. One of Campbell first acts as premier was to cut the minimum wage for Christ sakes. Passing a regressive carbon tax hardly a liberal makes.

  8. Campbell is a Liberal - but maybe not a liberal. But I wouldn't call him a conservative, either. He's a pro-business centrist, more or less. But he's not some rabid anti-liberal.

  9. Calling Gordon Campbell a centrist is absurd. He no more centrist than Grover Norquist.

    Campbell rolled back workers rights, brought in temporary workers by the plane load. Shifted the tax burden by cutting taxes and replacing them with fees on everything you could think of, and privatized public assets to the detriment of the province. His point man on the CN Rail deal worked for the other side! Pro business is a understatement. Try rabidly pro business.

  10. Such is the nature of BC politics - but his electoral coalition is centrist, insofar that it supports pro-business policies but generally socially liberal social policies. I'm not saying the BC Liberals are darlings of the left or even of the centre, but they're not as far as right they could be...

  11. Way too much has been made of this pro business and socially liberal outlook. Liberals of all strips like to pretend they are socially liberal, but really they are any thing but. Ignatieff was prime example.

    The main fault lines between social conservatives and social liberals have been for years euthanasia, abortion, SSM, prostitution and the war on drugs particulary with regard to marijuana. Other than Insite the provincial Liberals could hardly be said to be especially socially liberal.

    Now as for liberals being a coalition of federal Conservatives and Federal Liberals, sure. Everyone knows here knows that, but that does not mean that policies the provincial Liberals trout out reflect the concerns of both.

    Usually, one faction is dominant. Under Campbell that meant the Conservative wing ruled the roost. Under Clark it looks like the Liberals will.

  12. The problem with the BC Liberal comparison is that no matter how you slice it... they WILL NOT assist the federal liberals whatsoever. Any future cooperation with them is nearly impossible, making the comparison irrelevant: The party strictly prohibits among its MLA's federal partisan political wrangling. Even worse, at their recent party convention they even spoke of seriously changing their name away from "Liberal" completely--that's how disconnected they are.

    It's safe to say that the party is comprised of about 1/3rds Federal Liberals and at least 2/3rds Federal Conservatives.

    While Clark will govern with more federal Liberal tendencies... for example her recent populist move to increase corporate taxes while giving the right wingers what they wanted by decreasing sales taxes. Overall though, I expect her to be quite similar to Dalton McGuinty on social issues with a sharper fiscal side (playing on family issues... I wouldn't be surprised if she starts regulating a lot of personal behaviour to 'protect' families like McGuinty did). Also keep in mind that no leader of the BC Liberal party actually has that much power as the party is completely dependent on its free enterprise coalition to win. Seriously. And they don't even bother to hide it anymore as it's not uncommon for many of their political decisions to be made only after consulting business groups first.

    As any serious politico in BC knows, the NDP wins when the free enterprise coalition splits. This is pretty much accepted party othordoxy for the BC Liberals... meaning that even if they wanted to, they know it's simply not a political reality to establish any formal ties with the Federal Liberal party.

  13. So what about Joyce Murray's support during her various candidacies, eh, Spudsters? I know plenty of BC volunteers as well that cross over between the two parties. I get what you're saying that the official organization isn't about to set itself up as LPC cheerleaders, but there's something to be said about local support.

  14. Koby,

    My entire point has been that Campbell has not been exceptionally right-wing, and this is a fact despite some of his policies; he has run a government that almost seems centrist, at least one that can claim they haven't trended to making hilariously right-wing decisions. They've made pro-business decisions, sure, but nothing relating to social issues that someone like, say, John Cummins will expound on.

    We can debate the finer points of Campbell policy - however, the fact remains that he could be a lot worse, and overall, the factions of the federal Liberals that form part of his coalition haven't been scared away yet, and exist in some form as an organization that can, and does, help the LPC - maybe not officially, but certainly locally.

  15. My entire point was that Campbell was exceptionally right wing and I believe this was the point of Spudster as well. He was not populist the in way Klein, and Harris were, but he was so absurdly pro business he even garnered a black lash from within his own party.

    That is why one of the first things Clark did was to rise the minimum wage.

    Kevin Falcon is of the same ilk as Campbell.

    As for Cummings, the man is a fossil. He was one of the Reform weirdos from 1993. It is absurd to use him as point of comparison.

  16. To point out, not only was Cummins a Reform weirdo of 1993, he was one of 1988 as well - that takes some dedication.

    Anyways, I disagree with you both but there's no further point of argument. Whether or not Campbell ends up being centre-right or extremist right, the fact is that a certain segment of the BC Liberals has its attachment to the federal Liberals, and this segment has lent its support in the past, and seems willing to do so in the future.

  17. Volkov I happen to be closely involved with many of these types of people in Vancouver where this exists. Yes, there is definitely a group that support us who are Federal Liberals... but these are people who are also relatively active in both political organizations already. The BC Liberal party internally has a very open and accepted rule that it stays out of Federal politicking: The Federal Libs and Cons will work with eachother for the BC Libs and then will go off and fight their own Federal battles respectively.

    Given this dynamic, I fail to see how this provincial wing of so-called "Liberals" could help out the Federal organization. Local campaign machines are only helpful if you can share parts of the machine to mutually benefit. That will not happen with the BC Liberals... as if they started doing it, either the Cons or Liberals would shit a brick.

    The number one governing principle of the BC Liberals is this: DO NOT SPLIT THE FREE ENTERPRISE COALITION. That's not me trying to attribute something to them either, their MLA's and leaders openly refer to this principle all the time in public statements.

  18. Well, Spudster, I'm not an expert on the BC situation, I only know what I've been told and my assumptions off of people I've talked to about it; maybe they're saying the same thing, but not as clear and concise as you have. I dunno.

    But I'll bow to your wisdom on this; thanks for saying it!