“On Monday, Prime Minister Stephen Harper brushed off Liberal questions in the House of Commons by saying: “The one difference between the NDP and the Liberal Party is at least the NDP brings bad ideas to this debate, whereas the Liberals bring none.”
And on Tuesday, he said: “The NDP, while I disagree with its policies, has put a few of those things – carbon tax, protectionism – on the table. The Liberal Party says, ‘look at us, we’re not either of them.’ That is not a policy. People expect to have some idea why the Liberal party still exists down there.”
- Liberals go on the attack after Harper says they stand for nothing, Globe and Mail.com, By Gloria Galloway, September 19, 2012
“Leaders emerge because they have ideas and carry them to fruition, winning support along the way. It is impossible to criticize your way to power.
Representative democracies rely on platforms to give aspiring leaders a vehicle to convince followers of their ideas. So if the Liberals are serious about coming back to lead, they better come back with plans for a better fire, maybe even a boat.”
- Liberal leaders could learn something from The Walking Dead, by Griff James, Globe and Mail, Last updated Monday, Sep. 24, 2012 01:52PM EDT
I was working on a piece that was going to talk about us and our values. I had sketched out some ideas on a possible blog entry and then I read a piece in the Globe and Mail. Written by Griff James, the piece blew my mind. For, in a few well written words, he described the problem with today’s Liberal Party: few in the party know what we stand for. Whether, he be a socialist, conservative, liberal or libertarian, Griff’s words speak for themselves.
This is why Mr. Harpers’ words cut so deeply (Liberals go on the attack after Harper says they stand for nothing, by Gloria Galloway, The Globe and Mail Sep. 20 2012). He said what many others were thinking. Or in Griff’s words, “And with all due respect to Mr. Goodale, indeed a fine politician, individual policies about student tuition or affordable housing are not convincing. The Liberal Party website, which should have their paradigm plastered in vivid colour, is instead a list of critiques. Potential followers are unsure what the Liberal’s, as potential leaders, would do if that potentiality evaporated.”
This may seem to be a damning analysis. However, our party – the party I love so much – has an answer at its doorsteps. One does not need to be a graduate student in public management from the London School of Economics to see it. One just needs to do a little bit of research to see it.
Liberalism, as it has been practiced in Canada, has two threads. The first is a “reformist” notion. Like the Grits of the 1860’s, Liberals want to strive for a continual state of perfection. Pierre Trudeau described this as the “Just Society”: a society which continually strives to include the excluded and strives to find better ways of governing itself.
However, there is another notion, another side. This is our pragmatic approach to difficult public policy questions: An approach which searches for objective solutions to real problems. For Laurier, it meant creating a Canadian Navy to avoid the Imperialist ambitions of the Borden and the Conservatives or the insular attitudes of the Nationalistes led by Henri Bourassa. This pragmatism led us to the policy of “Bilingualism and Biculturalism” and the creation of the idea of “Multiculturalism”. It led us to balance the Budget under Paul Martin and Jean Chretien and led to the Charter of Rights of Freedoms under Trudeau.
These two tracks – Pragmatism and Reform- lead us towards beliefs and not ideology. This trend toward belief makes it harder for us to illustrate and demonstrate our point; but as Pearson, Trudeau and Chretien verified, our task is not an impossible one. This is especially true when you are seeking to balance the needs of all in society; while at the same time, looking for a better outcome then that which came before.
This is why I love the idea of trying to respecting the “Interests of the Other”. For, if I respect the other, I will want the best for them. I will want pragmatic decisions to be made for their protection and I will seek to improve their standing at all times. This means that reform will come naturally. By seeking to improve the status and standing of “the Other”, we are looking to improve our friends, our neighbours and our fellow citizens. This means by respecting firefighters, we buy them wonderful equipment. This means that none of them will die from “black lungs” and it means that firefighters will have long careers. By providing the best equipment available, firefighter’s lives will be long and dignified. Firefighters will have long careers and more people will want to replace them when existing firefighters retire.
With this being said, by respecting firefighter’s lives, I respect my life and property. For, I have someone to protect me when there is a fire. In fact, my family, friends and their property are also protected by my act of respect. Therefore, by Respecting the Other, I can protect myself. The virtuous cycle of Pragmatism and Reform is completed and society binds itself together in a strong embrace. However, I don’t have to talk about people running into burning buildings to illustrate the point.
Think about our multicultural society. Over time, various cultures have been accepted. In Canada, alongside Christianity stands Islam, Judaism, Hinduism and the Sikh religion. This acceptance has meant it is easier for all of us to live and be included. Our society is strong because of the diversity and we all protect each other from abuse and ill-treatment. Therefore, whether it means providing a fire fighter with the most effective and efficient equipment or extending a welcome mat to minorities strength can come out of this Liberal notion of Pragmatism and Reform.
One will note that this idea set is distinct different from our ideological friends. For, instead of dividing the electorate between those who have and those who don’t – as our Conservative and New Democratic Friends do – Liberals have the unenviable task of finding a balance between the two extremes. Instead of fighting for Universities Staff or fighting against Students, Liberals have to find that balance. That balance means providing cost effective education which benefits our Canadian businesses and our economic future, while ensuring that professors and other staff are well paid so that they will come to Canada to teach our youth.
These are not simple ideas to describe or work through, but it is important that we do. It is important that as Liberals that we describe the choices regularly and what our vision is to resolve them. Recently, we have not done that. This is why Mr. Harper has attacked us. Liberal Leadership – elected and unelected – have been unsure about who we are. Instead of remembering our history, we have been timid. We need to remember the past and put it to work in the present. Or as an article describing Justin Trudeau put it, we need teamwork and not a saviour. (Trudeau says Liberals need teamwork, not a saviour, Sun News Network.ca, September 6th, 2012)
From my point of view, we have not looked at our reformist edge in recent years. Liberals have in fact been scared to talk about what we need to do to improve our economy. Economic efficiency is just one example of the need for a new approach. Over the last thirty years, one refrain has come to the fore: we are not as productive as our trade competitors. Western Europe and the US constantly outperform us. To this issue, our governments’ –Liberal, Progressive Conservative and Conservative – have had one approach: tax cuts.
Corporate taxes have been cut by Mulroney, Chretien, Martin and Harper. For the last thirty years, we have been told that economic prosperity and economic efficiency will improve if we cut taxes. Our taxes are so low now that Representative Paul Ryan – the American Republican Candidate for VP – uses them in his election arguments. Yet, our economic efficiency is still lower than our American Friends.
As Liberals, we need to rethink our approach to reform. We have not been courageous in that regard. Instead of a pragmatic approach to difficult public policy questions, we have been scared to make the big leaps. Our party – a party who balanced the Budget under Paul Martin and Jean Chretien, a party that led the fight for the Charter of Rights of Freedoms under – no longer has the big idea. This allows our NDP and Conservative Friends to gain the high ground on all policy debates. In my opinion, we should remember the words of Pearson: “don’t be downhearted in the thick of battle, it is where all good men would wish to be”. I wish to be fighter for our new vision, are you there yet?
Let us take our reformist side to heart and come up with the big idea. This might mean taking some of the ideas listed on this blog or it might mean going in an entirely new direction. It might mean government action or it might mean creative market solutions. However, we as Liberals need to think about the “Big Idea” and we need to do so now.
A PDF version can be found at http://www.scribd.com/doc/111341897