On Liberal Leadership, George Brown and his example

Yesterday, a friend asked me to look at a tweet from Mike Hanlon (@HanlonMike). The tweet was as follows: “Is there anyone willing 2 run 4 #ablib leader on the premise of being open to a cooperative centre? The exec rejected it off hand. #abpoli”.  Truth be told, ever since, two words have held my attention: “cooperative centre”.

Now they hold my attention because I wonder what Mr. Hanlon means by “cooperative centre”. Does he mean that he wants to have a party that simply holds onto the centre? One which is a milquetoast version of either the Progressive Conservatives, the Wildrose or the New Democratic Party. Or does he want a person that can take the Alberta Liberal Party and give it an identity, a vision and a common cause that will attract a variety of people from within Alberta to its ranks?  Given that his message was 140 characters, I will have to take a guess and my hope is that he means the later.

For “cooperative” has a very Liberal meaning. According to Dictionary.com, it has four meanings, the most common being “working or acting together willingly for a common purpose or benefit”.  This last notion has a very Liberal connotation to me. After all, Pearson and Trudeau built common cause with the NDP to bring forth significant advancements in the 1970’s and early 80’s including the federal participation within Medicare. Trudeau, in the 1970’s invested and worked alongside two Progressive Conservative Premiers – Peter Loughheed of Alberta and Bill Davis of Ontario – to develop Syncrude and the Athabaskan Oilsands. While, Chretien, in the 1990s, Liberals adopted many more conservative positions including balancing the federal budget and cutting various government programmes. This should be no surprise. For, many of the Liberal Philosophers, including John Stuart Mill, argued that the government should provide “the most benefit to the most people” and not be unnecessarily ideological. Consequently, a Liberal leader needs to be cooperative.

However, he should have an identity. Don’t forget that it was a Liberal Prime Minister that pushed forward with many unpopular projects that were eventually proven to be right. Or put differently, the reason why TransCanada Corporation exists was because Liberal Government and a Liberal Prime Minister choose to work with Americans to create a “main pipeline carrying Canadian oil” which was laid on “Canadian soil”. To make this happen, the Liberal Minister C.D. Howe forced two competing Canadian companies to be one and pushed the project through Parliament. Unlike, the Progressive Conservatives who were angered by the majority American ownership during the construction phase of the project and the CCF wanted the project to be entirely owned by the government, it was Liberal Government worked with others to get things done. It should not be a surprise that it was this same Government that gave us the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) and Trans-Canada Air Lines (today Air Canada). Nor, should it be a surprise that it was that Government that tried to build a native aeronautical industry by building the AVRO Arrow.

However, Prime Minister Louis St. Laurent was not the only Liberal Prime Minister with Character. While, he proceeded to “go it alone” in building the St. Lawrence Seaway, when President Truman could not get the consent of Congress, his predecessor – Liberal Prime Minister Mackenzie King – had to do the same because Ontario and Quebec tried to hold up the original deal.

This is statement is even truer in Alberta. For being Liberal, in Alberta, federally or provincially, has always required fortitude, courage and co-operation. Rutherford and Sifton knew it. Rutherford as Alberta’s first Prime Minister established the legislation necessary to make the transition from territorial to provincial status. He started a public telephone system, expanded roads and railways within the Province, constructed a number of public buildings, and established a teacher-training facility and the University of Alberta. While, Sifton followed that up by granting women the right to vote in 1916. Each of these steps required co-operation and discussion, courage and compromise. Rutherford and Sifton, both Liberal Premiers, epitomized the definition of Liberalism: building for the future, while respecting the past.

So being Liberal is more than just being cooperative. It is providing “the most benefit to the most people”. It is providing protecting individuals and minorities against the tyranny of the majority. It is providing a balance and building infrastructure so that society can grow and develop within the confines of our environment. These are the qualities I want in the next Liberal leader because this is what it means to be Liberal.

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