Liberals at the Crossroads

A look back at the various reasons leading up to the crushing defeat of the federal Liberals in this week’s election and an examination of whether the party has a raison d’etre anymore, let alone a long-term future…

It’s hard to get passionate about a moderate, centrist party that espouses strong federalism, fiscal responsibility and social tolerance (amongst other things), but I can’t help but think that our politics would be worse off if our system was to devolve into a two-party see-saw between pretend socialists and fake conservatives.


20 Replies to “Liberals at the Crossroads”

  1. Pretend socialists and fake conservatives indeed. It is a shame that honesty doesn’t get people elected anymore.

  2. It was an interesting discussion, made worse by the presense of the two Liberal MPs, one current and one former. I like Martha Hall Findlay, but the Liberal platform was far from “great”. If I was to grade it I would give it C- or worse.

    By the way the advice Simpson gave the Liberals about Bill 101, I also gave a few days ago. The Liberals “need to vigorously oppose the NDP’s flirtation with extending bill 101 to federal intuitions in Quebec and their suggestion that Quebec’s share of the House of Commons be fixed at 25%.”

  3. I like Martha Hall Findlay.

    She reminds me of that pleasant long-suffering lady down the street that drags you to your mother for punishment after imploring you to PLEASE quit using her crab-apples for crab-apple fights

  4. I thought it was an excellent discussion. All 5 panelists made good points. If they do what was being discussed, that is, take some time, actually listen to those people that happen to wander into their “red” tent, and start building their collective vision of how the country should be led, then perhaps they have a chance of success.

    If they are to be successful, they need to flirt with extinction first. Jeffrey Simpson had the best ideas in that regard.

    Their process right now is to select a leader within 5 months. That would be the easiest thing to do, but also the least helpful direction. It would be equivelent to continuing to dig in the same hole.

    Elect an interim leader like Bob Rae, give him the reins for 2 years and then have a fully open process for leadership (including Bob as an option). Of critical importance is that during the next two years, they need to find their reason to exist.

    If they are successful, there are plenty of new people that they could entice into this political home.

    Ironically, their first problem is that the 5 people in this panel all represent the same failed geographical interests that are the Liberal’s roots.

  5. Why thank you, Dr. Tomm Kevorkian, for that objective opinion on the operability of the Liberal Party’s cancer. And thanks for leaving us that business card with the number for “Tomm’s Funeral Services” on it. We’ll be in touch.

  6. Well since Tomm is offering advice, I’ll add my 2 cents. My advice for the Liberals is they shouldn’t take rebuilding advice from CPC supporters.

  7. tofkw,

    So they should not take advice from other politically active people who have been pointing out the potholes for the last 5 years?

    I suppose…

    …if they wish to continue drinking their own bath water, who am I to object?

  8. Tomm, I don’t think they should take advice from people who’s party is quite literally out to destroy their party. You may mean well, but I am certain that others do not.

  9. koby: Yeah, I too sort of cringed when MHF said the Liberal platform was “great”. Sure, it had some decent ideas, but was mostly a grab bag of somewhat gimmicky things that were pretty small-bore stuff. And Ignatieff couldn’t even stick to that through the course of the campaign and instead veered off into aimless rhetorical flights of fancy, pleading for folks to “Rise up!” for no apparent reason (or at least none that was clearly articulated).

    I found it interesting that Democracy Watch rated all of the parties on the policy platforms relative to their particular interests of transparency, accountability, etc. and guess what… the Liberals scored the absolute worst. Not that the other parties, except for the Greens were all that much better, but across the board the Liberals got a badly flunking grade. And yet, here was a party that triggered the election precisely along the same contours of what Democracy Watch is always yammering on about.

  10. The video actually made me feel sorry for these people. They are committed to public service and political leadership. We need people that are willing to put themselves out like that.

  11. Oh, please.

    Remember the “respect” Liberals had for Stanfield, Drew, and Clark? It’s easy to respect the losers. Had Hall-Findlay been speaking as a newly minted minister in an Ignatieff government, she wouldn’t be “committed to public service and political leadership”; she would be a dangerous Commie eco-terrorist out to destroy everything good about Canada (i.e., Alberta). Let’s not get sentimental here. Let’s not forget the tenor of this blog’s election threads.

    As regards the future of the Liberal Party, I really haven’t a pony in that race. I do hate monopolies, however, especially political monopolies. A narrowing of (federalist) options is never a good thing; it makes it easier for parties to push agendas unconnected to (and contemptuous of) the public will, something already far too easy. On that basis, I do hope the party pulls it together, if only to help provide the kind of electoral threat that a democratic system needs. I wish I could hope that the party will actually manage to espouse some decent policy positions in the process, but our entire political class appears to have developed a collective allergy to those.

  12. SF: Well, I was too young to vote for Stanfield, but I did express my “respect” for Clark by voting for the PCs when he was in charge.

    There is certainly a tendency to demonize political opponents to an extent that’s nothing short of ridiculous. Personally, I really can’t stand that kind of hyperbolic rhetoric regardless of the direction it’s flowing.

    I can’t support the NDP at the federal level because of their party tenets that are in fundamental opposition to the structure of our bicameral parliamentary system. (Something I’m sure that 90% of their “surging” voters are unaware of… kind of like not knowing that some of their candidates don’t speak their language or even live in the riding.) Notwithstanding their overtures to the small business community, their innate hostility to private enterprise is also something of an anathema to me. Their track record of managing the economy when in power at the provincial level hasn’t been all that good… Generally speaking, they seem to do more harm than good.

    As for the Conservatives, well, I guess we’ll see. To be honest, their base scares me. And they’ve made a lot of implicit promises to that constituency over the years that if delivered on would make Canada less tolerant place.

    As a somewhat related aside, I had to chuckle a little at the gist of Jason Kenney’s message to the ethnic communities of the GTA to “vote your values” and how unexamined that proposition was by the media. In many cases, the “values” in question are driven by religious fundamentalism and archaic, questionable moral standards that are quite at odds with mainstream secular Canadian beliefs.

    Well, we’ll have a lot of time to peer into these things over the coming years. Maybe the Liberals still have a chance to “run up the middle” between these two parties. After all, it’s not just the Libs that will be searching for a viable identity that will best reflect the will of the Canadian people, but also the NDP and Conservatives…

  13. I know it sounds patronizing. I do believe it though. If the shoe had been on the other foot; Martha’s contempt for all things outside the triangle and “Body Bags” Bennett would cause me to share some bile.

    For all of Ti-Guy’s faults, she certainly pegged me correctly as passive-aggressive. I guess I see myself as throwing a flower on a casket. Perhaps I should pick up a shovel instead.

  14. Red Tory,

    “There is certainly a tendency to demonize political opponents to an extent that’s nothing short of ridiculous. Personally, I really can’t stand that kind of hyperbolic rhetoric regardless of the direction it’s flowing.”

    Sanity speaks! Shame that there aren’t that many like us these days…

  15. I’m with Sir Francis on this one. Back when it looked like it was going to be a Liberal monopoly I was preparing to take out a membership in the PCPC under their new leader MacKay (as I believe I talked about back in an earlier version of this blog), the no merger candidate and winner of their leadership race. I was doing so despite never having taken out a membership in any political party in my life because I believed in the importance of balance and choice in our system and the CA especially under Harper was not an option for me (too dangerous in some of its views and quite honestly a bit scary in how they viewed all those that did not share their POV) and the NDP for all their good points on social justice issues (and whatever I’ve said about Layton and his party this much is true, they really have a good record on that point generally speaking even if they have been willing to sell it out/subordinate it recently in their quest to destroy the Liberal party first, and when you spend two elections running more against a party out of power but a electoral rival than you do against a sitting government especially when that government is farther away from your core values and principles than any other party than it cannot be called anything else) their economic and institutional understanding aspects like with RT bothered me, especially when I see economic policy with roots in ideology, I distrust ideology and ideological government across the spectrum because of how narrow a perspective it tends to bring out in those that follow/implement such. While on occasion I could vote NDP it was usually because of the strength of the local candidate combined with my issues with the current leadership of the Libs and PCPC and because I knew the party did stick to its principles first approach (which is another reason I might add why I have been so irked at the change in nature Layton brought aside from the strategic, I feel a bit betrayed as someone that had voted NDP in the past because of that record even if I wasn’t a party supporter overall)

    I am not saying I think believing in political principles is a bad thing, I am not, but there is a difference between believing in political principles and theories and in being ideologically rigid/pure, and one of my problems with the NDP for all of my life is that while their hearts tend to be in the right place their minds too often are locked into an ideological framework which prevents them from seeing reality. Most recently the reality that Harper was far worse for their beliefs and agenda than anything the Libs have ever or would ever be being one example, but there have been others in the past as well, but it was why I didn’t go in that direction but instead was going to go PCPC to offset the Lib dominance and still be within my political comfort zone (being that centrist swing voter I have always told people I am despite the many jeers and people that clearly knew my voting record better than I when they claimed otherwise, bitter about that…oh yes, these days I freely admit I am more than a little bitter about a few things politically speaking). I am never going to be comfortable with extremes nor with ideologically based governing, and I suspect that will end up being true of most voters still.

    I look at the election results and I see a result that not calls for more partisanship and narrowing of the spectrum to two polarities, but further proof that there is still a large centrist middle that wants neither extremism or ideology but simply good government and was successfully duped by the ongoing message by the Harper CPC to show how “moderate” and “mainstream” he and his was, who didn’t see a NDP more up in arms about Harper than the Libs confirming that sales job by the CPCP, and a Lib party who had the right target but the wrong leader and lets be honest one of the lousier platforms overall making them particularly weak. This allowed Layton to pander to the nationalists in Quebec to shift from the BQ to him because of all the federalist parties his ideology was closest to theirs on social values (and I wonder whether Layton has replicated a mistake Mulroney made in doing so), but the “Orange wave” in the rest of the country never materialized because most swing voters decided it was better to go with the non-ideological government best positioned to form government to stop the ideological party (CPC versus NDP). Since they now had little reason to believe that Harper was the ideologue he had been through most of his political life for various reason (PR by Harper, media unwilling to show reality, NDP not up in arms, etc) and everyone knows about how ideologically hard core the NDP has always been and continued to sell itself as under Layton and how weak the Libs had been well then what other choice was there for such voters?

    I think if anything these results show that the Libs need to stick around and serve an important voice within the electorate, and that if the Harper majority does end up going as far outside the mainstream’s comfort zone as I fear (or even a third or fifth of my fears for that matter) then the voters most likely next time out will not be interested in exchanging one ideological government for another, making the Libs suddenly go from looking drifting and without direction to comfortable and where most Canadians really prefer to be, that much centrist middle muddle. Especially after Layton and his party have had to try to placate the nationalists within their ranks now while also trying to appear to not be doing so for the rest of the country, not an easy line to walk, and we also need to remember that it was as much Layton’s personality that helped bring the NDP this far even in Quebec as anything else, and given we know he has serious health issues it is entirely possible he won’t be in the position to do so by the next election. I think the Libs are clearly down, but out? Only if they they listen to the voices of defeatism within their spectrum and those eagerly licking their chops foes on both the right and left who have wanted the destruction of the middle to suit their own purposes for so many years now.

    As for your point about demonizing, I have never done so nor have been as one sided in my views with the exception of Harper, and with him I simply have chosen to believe that the man who espoused the same hard core political views for twenty years even when it wasn’t getting his party elected is the real Harper over the sudden unexplained radical shift that took place after 2004 where Harper went from flame breathing hard core ideologue of the far right to this centrist moderate fuzzy sweater version of himself. Can people change? Of course, but there tends to be a road/pattern to that change when it is real/substantial, especially when it is as radical a change as what Harper pulled. That is missing with Harper, and is why I’ve never accepted that he is any different and why therefore I have held to the views I have about him and the dangers he poses to our political health. Now alas we get to see whether I was right (and I genuinely hope and pray I wasn’t, but just because Harper has learned to move in increments instead of large gulps does not make his ultimate destination having changed one whit, and that has always been my concern and why my opposition was so fierce to the point that were many of my critics would call it demonization even though I actually tended to point to his own words and deeds as support for those concerns) or not or whether those that argued Harper has truly changed and become more moderate are correct. If I were to bet money though I know which why I’d bet, the way I have been betting with my reputation and credibility all along.

  16. While I was out canvassing during the election, the two most popular comments were 1) “I don’t really like Ignatieff”, and 2) “I like Harper”. Most people knew very little about platforms or local candidates.

    Most people were surprised by how little candidates mattered in Quebec. It’s questionable how well Quebec voters understood how the NDP platform would apply to Quebec – but they did like Layton.

    IMHO, polls of leadership indexes were better predictors of outcome than “how would you vote” polls.

    I think this is because the undecided voters that swung the election made up their minds at the last minute based solely on their perception of the the leaders.

    If that’s true, then the Liberal party may have to invigorate the grass roots, re-build the party, focus more on policy, etc. But the most important thing is actually picking a leader with charisma that can influence those last minute voters who’re only looking at leader charisma. If Liberals don’t do that, they don’t have a chance. Our last two leaders lacked appeal, and it correlates very well with our performance.

    I think the results are very simple to understand. Some people decided they like Layton [not the NDP] better than Harper [not the CPC]. This frightened other people who voted for Harper [not the CPC] to stop Layton [not the NDP].

    I know that neither Harper nor Layton are on the ballots, and that’s not the way the system works. But too many Canadians think they’re voting for a president of Canada… which they are… indirectly.

    For a while now I’ve said people are motivated more by wants than by needs. I think equally, people pay more attention to what they want to (e.g. entertainment) than to what they need to (their choices for government). If policy were more entertaining, there would be more engagement. Maybe we should “vote people off parliament hill” every week or something.

    Or just play the Beatles on piano. Maybe if Liberals had, say, a guy who could play the saxophone really well.

  17. Brad: Many people don’t want to admit that party leaders are vitally important (much in the same way they feel compelled to denounce negative ads even while falling sway to them), but the fact of the matter is that they are arguably the most essential component of a winning team. Certainly they’re not the be all and end all in terms of being a “messiah” of some sort, but parties are often defined and personified by their leaders, perhaps more so now than ever before.

    The Liberals need someone in the leadership position that they don’t have to strain to warm up to or that requires the performance of strenuous mental gymnastics to justify or defend.

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