Sunday, September 4, 2011

"Be bold, or get lost"

This is the apparent message that McGill political scientist Antonia Maioni told the recent Liberal Party summer caucus, a message I wholeheartedly endorse.

You can read the whole thing here, though there are a couple of issues I have, and things I wanted to expand on, among the five points presented.

"Move away from the middle of the road"

Maioni's idea in this point is that the Liberal Party has to move away from considering itself on the usual left-right axis as the "centrist" party, and reimagine political space as more multi-dimensional.

The concept itself I have no issue with, but I do think she undervalues the notion of middle-of-the-road politics as a Canadian sentimentality. Most Canadians define themselves along that standard axis, and the majority of them find themselves in the middle, or at least see the value of the compromises, contradictions, and ideas that make up the "mushy middle." After all, no ideology is a perfect fit, but the generalized nature of centrist ideology makes it the default position for voting populations across the Western world. Only in swing elections, or elections dominated by national and ideological questions, do we see the "default" position move. Why else do all governing parties see the value of moving closer to the centre, especially in a non-polarized country like Canada?

My own spin on her words is that we need to "move away from the middle of the road," and move towards becoming liberals. We in fact need to redefine what liberalism is for voters as an ideology committed to personality liberty within a state structure which creates the opportunities for personal growth and freedom, and defends that to its core. Boil it down to its barest concepts, and we no longer need to be "centrists" - we can be seen as true liberals, not the cheap imitations of our ideology represented by the other parties.

"... bury the old federalist-sovereigntist dichotomy

Maioni's point here is that the current Quebec population is not what it was during the 1970's and 1980's, when the federalist-sovereigntist was pronounced and the various parties could position themselves one way or another, and that would get them quite a few votes.

In this, she is right. Today's and tomorrow's Quebecois are not very concerned about questions over sovereignty, and the fact is that is represented not only in the decline of the BQ and PQ, but also of the Liberals, who remain the party mainly representing anglophone Quebeckers (though maybe not the one they all vote for).

Thus, there is a need for us to move away from using the label as a bludgeon, because the votes that will get us are the ones we currently have most of. The party needs to appeal to francophone voters on the basis of what we can represent to them as a Party committed to liberal ideology. This is the only way forward if we want growth.

But this does not mean we abandon our federalist ideology. The fact is that part of our liberal ideology is the idea that not only is Canada stronger when we're together, but that Quebec is stronger when part of Canada. Thus, we need to fight on the basis that being openly committed to Canada is the right thing to do. There is no excuse to follow the wishy-washy asymmetrical federalism of the New Democrats or the John Turner/Paul Martin Liberals, and no excuse to simply drop the ball and forget about Quebec as the Conservatives have. Liberals are committed to Canada, and thus are committed to a federalist ideology. That's it.

The trick is presenting this as simply a passive, it's-just-how-things-are part of our ideology. Questions over sovereignty are not an active issue, and so neither should we make it. Present to Quebeckers the plans that we present to the rest of Canada, and they'll make their own judgments, the same as the rest of Canada will. But we're still federalists, and we are the party of federalists. That's something we can never, ever deny. And if a voter can't get over that, well, tough nuts to them.

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