A Possible Future for the Liberal Party: The British Example

 

“We are approaching the first anniversary of the election that nearly destroyed the party, and there is still no indication the party really understands the dimensions of the task in front of it. It knows, I think, what has happened to it — the worst defeat in its history, a near total organizational collapse over large parts of the country, anemic fundraising, the works — but it seems only dimly aware of how much worse things can get. It shows no sign of grasping how radically it must reinvent itself if it is to escape from its current fix, or of being prepared to act on such a plan if it exists.” 

  • Coyne: Carney fantasy underscores extent of Liberal shambles, By Andrew Coyne, Postmedia News April 18, 2012 8:02 PM

 

My greatest fear is simple: the Liberal Party of Canada will not change. My greatest fear is that the Liberal Party of Canada will simply wither away; for, it has happened before. As someone who studied political science in school, I know that the United Kingdom had two major parties in the early part of the 20th century: the Liberal Party and the Conservative Party. So, one should not be surprised that when Churchill was not a Conservative (1900-1904 and 1922-1965), Churchill was a Liberal (1904 -1922).  

In the United Kingdom, the Labour Party was a third party up until it formed a minority government in the 1920’s. From the moment the Labour Party formed its first government, the Liberal Party became more and more irrelevant in English Politics. This happened for just one reason: the English Liberal Party did not change. If we were to learn from this example, we should find a new way forward for our party. For, if a Centrist’ party in English Politics was made irrelevant by the evolution of a Social Democratic Party, the NDP could do the same thing here.

In England, the Liberal Party was so irrelevant by the 1980s that they merged with the Social Democratic Party to form the the Liberal Democrats. This is my great fear and it seems I am not the only one who sees this problem. Andrew Coyne is not a Liberal but his piece makes one thing clear: if the Liberal Party does not evolve, it will die. The question is how do we evolve? Mr. Coyne gives us a compass:

“Does Canada need a third party? What does, or can, it offer that the other parties don’t? If it can’t answer these, none of the rest matters: organization, money, not even the choice of leader. Without a clear and cogent raison d’etre, it will have a hard time persuading voters to give it a look — and an even harder time mobilizing its own troops.”

In my mind, Canada needs at least three parties. While, I have made the argument in previous blogs’, let me make it again. Most democracies in the world have a three-plus party system. India, Israel and Europe provide ample evidence of this fact. For, in a multiparty system, discussions happen. The Kadima Party was formed in Israel by Prime Minister Sharon because the existing parties – Labour and Likud – would not give the Prime Minister the room to pursue contentious political positions. Mr. Sharon needed a third way, so he created one. In a multiparty system, ideological Parties – like the NDP and Conservatives – are forced to be more pragmatic. If you do not believe me look at the American two party system. It is a system that kicks every problem down the road because neither side wants to compromise.

The problem for pragmatic parties, like the Liberal Party of Canada, is retaining its core principles. Which leads us to our second dilemma: what should our party believe in? What should our party stand for? Very few people are going to get excited about Kant, Hobbes, Locke and John Stuart Mill. However, in the works of those great authors lies our Party’s salvation. For their combined knowledge talked about the need for government to “respect others”; while providing “the greatest good to the greatest number”. This has been our history and this needs to be our future.

To remind Liberals, in following the principles of Respect and the Greater Good, our Party under Louis St. Laurent created the Trans-Canada Highway, the St. Lawrence Seaway and the Trans-Canada Pipeline.  Pearson even before he became Prime Minister worked with others to start a great Canadian Tradition: Peace Keeping. He won a Nobel Prize for that work.

As Prime Minister, Pearson furthered his legend. He introduced federal dollars into the Canadian Health Care. He also created the Canada Pension Plan and Canada Student Loans. But this is not the end. For Pearson also negotiated the Auto Pact and started our policy of Bilingualism and Biculturalism. We can also thank Mr. Pearson for not sending our troops to Vietnam and for creating our Tripartite Flag: A flag that we still salute today. Trudeau brought home the Constitution and gave us a Charter of Rights and Freedoms, while Chretien was the first Prime Minister in a long time to have multiple successive balanced budgets. This is what we have done. The question is: “where do we go now?”.

I have argued already that we need to take a lesson from our forefathers. Like George Brown, Alexander Mackenzie or Laurier, our place is to reform the current system. The Tories and the NDP will undoubtedly argue about the place of government in reference to present programme. They will argue about whether the Canada Social Transfer Grant should be $5 Billion, $10 Billion, $15 Billion or some other number. But let us not forget that the CST Block Grant Programme was created by a Liberal Government to provide provinces with more flexibility in a situation of reduced resources by the federal government. Liberal Governments have been imaginative to build the infrastructure of this country, so let us continue in that same vein.

We can start with one perspective: “Protection of the Other”. As I have noted time and time again, “the Other” does not apply to some stakeholders, it applies to all of them. So if we are regulating the financial industry, our Policy should not just disadvantage or advantage one group. We should have a goal and sit around a table. Bankers, Financial Planners, Regulators and Consumer Advocates are just a few of the people that need to be consulted when financial regulation is considered. It should be a system that is open and inclusive.

We need to take the “Other” lens and apply it to Future Issues like Digital Rights, Privacy and Copyrights. We can use the “Other” lens when discussing pragmatic policy creation and creating some openness in government. This could mean giving Statistics Canada the same type of independence that we give the Bank of Canada.

As I have noted previously, our telecommunications infrastructure has fallen behind most of the world. Our wire-line and wireless infrastructure is now one of the most expensive and slowest in the world. This infrastructure makes us uncompetitive on the world stage. According to PBS, countries have moved to the Netherlands and the UK because of their world class telecommunications infrastructure. These companies use “tele-presence” technology instead of airplanes to do business. American and Canadian companies cannot a present compete with such innovation. For due to our private market structure, Canadians depend on private companies to make the move. But those companies are not willing to take the risk. Unlike the Dutch, our telecommunication companies are not willing to work together to give our country the best infrastructure possible.

Our party needs to look at the policies which are not being discussed. Our Party has always believed in the best of humanity. That Openness and Logic are all that is required improve our situation. For, once the light of Openness and Logic are shone on a situation, Our Party has always believed that our citizens will rise up and join us in alleviating the problem. Unlike the Social Democrats, we believe in free choice and limited Government. Unlike the Conservatives, we believe that Government can act to change the world around us.

Therefore, our Party should fight for Open Courts which are strong and vital. Our Party needs to talk about the use of our Military and the way we can support it. The Liberal Party needs to talk about the modernization of our language policy in reference to Officers of Parliament, Parliament, the Courts System and maybe in our Society.

Members of the Liberal Party need to be brave enough to start and participate in this conversation. The Party needs to talk about policy and be brave enough to have a point of view. Or else we will become like the Liberal Party of the UK: irrelevant.

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Here are my 52 Ideas. What are yours?