Please don’t forget Trudeaumania: An Argument for a Vision for a Passionate, Pragmatic Centrist Party

“The crux of my issue in my previous post is that being at the center does harm the party organization for elections. While being where most voters are is a great thing an issue comes up when you’re trying to get this center-vote to turn into volunteers, donors, campaign managers, or candidates. It’s the basics of party organization here is at issue. Seeing that by definition center voters are moderate and, well, non-radicalized you can’t find people that will sit at the phones for four hours a day for 365 days of the year. That type and that level of enthusiasm doesn’t exist for a majority moderate voters. As a ‘radical’ centrist I have a similar level of dedication but I know there aren’t that many of us, although I do know a few exist in Calgary.”

  • Why “Centrism” doesn’t quite work for us and needs to be adjusted for, Vincent St. Pierre, CalgaryLiberal.com,  May 10th, 2011

Anyone who knows me, knows that I am a history buff. This is a wonderful thing in the world of Politics because one can always go back to a successful solution of a previous time. Therefore, when I read, Mr. St. Pierre’s words; I was taken aback. For history does not agree with this argument.

Pierre Trudeau was a politician and statesman. I would argue that he was a moderate and a successful one at that. While in a minority situations, he implemented some of his own ideas. However, he also implemented ideas held by both the Progressive Conservatives and the NDP. Trudeau’s ‘6 and 5’ programme looked a lot like the “price and wage” controls that Stanford had suggested; while one can look to the federal government’s expansion of Medicare and other social programmes to see the NDP’s touch.

Yet, Mr. Trudeau was able to galvanize a generation of people. In Canadian History, books one can see the term Trudeaumania. A particular oddity of the 60’s and 70’s, Trudeau used his charisma and passion to move a country forward. Long after his death, Liberals of a certain age still talk about that time. A time when anything was possible, even the amending of the Constitution. Trudeau was not ruled by an ideology but by pragmatism and yet he was able to get people motivated.

While on the other side of the spectrum, one can look at Mr. Pearson. A quiet bureaucrat, he won a Nobel Peace Prize because of his quiet strength. He brought forth the policy of Bilingualism and Biculturalism. Pearson modernized the country by decriminalizing homosexuality and reforming the Immigration system. Pearson managed to galvanized members up to and beyond our centennial year. He too was a centrist; he too was a pragmatic man.

Furthermore, one can easily see that both men – Trudeau and Pearson – didn’t take Mr. St. Pierre’s advice. Mr. Pearson, as an example, sought out people who had “an axe to grind with government and society”. Just look at the ‘Three Wise Men’: Trudeau, Gérard Pelletier, Jean Marchand.

Trudeau wanted teach at the Université de Montréal, but was blacklisted three times from doing so by Maurice Duplessis, then Premier of Quebec. Trudeau criticized the Liberal Party of Lester Pearson when it supported arming Bomarc missiles in Canada with nuclear warheads. Gérard Pelletier, on the other hand, worked as a journalist for Le Devoir, and La Presse. Pelletier, with other French-Canadian intellectuals, Pierre Elliott Trudeau included, founded the journal Cité Libre. For those who do not know what Cité Libre, is just take a look at a quote from Wikipedia:

Cité Libre was an influential political journal published in Quebec, Canada, through the 1950s and 1960s. Co-founded in 1950 by editor and future Prime Minister of Canada Pierre Trudeau, the publication served as an organ of opposition to the conservative government of Maurice Duplessis.

The journal published contributions by intellectuals such as Trudeau, Gérard Pelletier, René Lévesque, Pierre Vallières and other intellectuals and activists. In doing so, the journal gained a reputation for its radical viewpoints at a time when anti-Duplessis views were difficult to get into print. The journal was anti-clerical and often criticized the strong influence that the Roman Catholic Church then had in Quebec.”

So with only a few words, I hope that I have shown that Liberals can be just as passionate as our more ideological cousins on both the left and the right. With a couple of stories, I hope that I have shown that the Liberal Party, since the days of George Brown, has been full of people who have axes to grind. Or put differently, in contrast to Mr. St. Pierre’s words, the Liberal Party of Canada has been able to show the spark of brilliance, passion and vision. Jean Chrétien seized this vision in 1993, when he talked about recapturing the glory of Trudeau and his idea of moving to the Just Society. King showed this when he led through ambiguity. He used ambiguity to lower levels of expectations. His famous quote, “not necessarily conscription but conscription if necessary,” came in the middle of the Conscription Crisis of 1944, as a way of finding a safe middle ground. But his announcement of “King or Chaos” drummed up the passion that was required to win the 1935; even though, Mr. King’s Government successive distanced himself from the King. While, in 1864, George Brown with his strength and determination made a speech in the Parliament of the Province of Canada which pushed Sir John A MacDonald along the road to Confederation.

However, if I am going to argue against my Liberal Colleague, I should have a positive position to replace his. My argument is simple: We can have a “Passionate Centre”, we just need to have a vision. My Vision is a place where we look after and take care of the “Other”. We do this for both altruist and selfish reasons. We help people with contagious diseases – through our Public Health and Health care System – because Canadians do not want to get sick. If we immunize our citizens and treat Colds, TB and Hepatitis, it is likely that fewer citizens will get sick.

Additionally, we help people because at some point, we might need help. The Canadian Pension Plan, the Employment Insurance Programme and the Old Age Security Programme were all created because of the fear that individuals have. Or put differently, citizens asked the question who will provide me assistance when I need it due to a catastrophic event. Trudeau called this the Just Society. I call it “taking care of the Other”. Either way, it is easy to rally people around these ideas. Liberals have done this for over 100 years, why should we change now.

The problem in recent years has been simple: Liberals have forgotten how to be bold. We do not boldly talk about our vision of the future. For in many ways, we are not sure what the future vision should be. So we have talked about our past accomplishments. We talk about the Charter, the Court Challenges Programme or Katimavik. As Liberals, we need to capture a vision of “who” and “what” we are. This means talking about the role of government in our lives and about the policies we wish to pursue. This is something that we have not done in a serious way in decades.

So there it is, laid out for all to see. Once Liberals have a vision of where we want to go, we will become passionate. Our passion will come from fantasizing about our new destination. As we hit milestones, there is no doubt that our passion will increase. Those passions will attract people as it did under Trudeau. From there, we can rebuild the party through the building of permanent institution and the reform of our existing riding associations. Liberals can be dynamic and we will need to be; if we want to win and if we are bold enough to create a new vision of where we want to be.

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