Editorial Comment

Liberally Speaking


Much has been written about the possible demise of the Liberal Party of Canada, either through a merger with the NDP or simply withering away like a once mighty tree limb succumbing to blight. With Thomas Mulcair getting headlines daily, his spotlight hogging is casting the Liberals into the shadows. Sure, the Libs may have a leadership question to settle now that Bob Rae has thankfully done the right thing and kept his word about not seeking the helm, but if they think it will attract more attention than, say, the recent NDP tilt that gave dark horse Mulcair the nod, they may be disappointed. The New Democrats leadership race was extraordinarily long, tedious, and not particularly well-covered by the media who reflected the public’s lack of interest. It will be a task and a half to be heard above Harper and Muclair’s chest thumping and bellowing while carving out a niche in the political landscape not already staked out by the other two parties. It will be a difficult, perhaps monumental job, but it is not impossible. There is wiggle room. If the Liberals can find a leader that can wiggle better than Mulcair and Harper, they just might have a chance.
The fact that the Liberals need to find out what they are supposed to believe in is a huge hurdle, however. Whether you are NDP or CPC, you are with that party because of beliefs you hold that match the policies of those respective parties. This isn’t quite the same for Liberals. They could be called The Opportunist Party, as they don’t come to the table with ideologically driven platforms. They come to the table armed with polls and surveys showing what they should believe in to get the most votes.  
Rather than opportunism, they could well argue that their approach is the most democratic of the three parties. To best represent the people, doesn’t it make sense to find out what the people want out of their government? Populism when possible and leadership when necessary should be the stated goal. 
There are definitely policies the Liberals could pursue that would put them on the side of the majority, and yet be radically different from The Other Guys.
One example would be to tackle parliamentary reform. This may not be top topic around the water coolers, but it should be. Some of the Harper initiatives to streamline government have robbed the opposition of once-held filibuster opportunities. Some may say this is a reasonable effort on the government’s party in the name of efficiency. After all, a ruling party has, thanks to the British parliamentary tradition of vote whipping, ultimate power to pass any law they want to. As much merit as there is to that argument, it does not take away from the fact the filibuster is practically the only procedural arrow in an Opposition’s quiver. The longer an issue is in the glare of the media spotlight, the more power the public has to change the government’s mind. Given that people are starting to look askance at the heavy-handed approach the Harper conservatives bring to every single issue, this may be a vein worth tapping.
Another possible chink in the armour of The Other Guys will be in their belligerent and combative leaders. Jack Layton did well because he projected his “Mr. Nice Guy” persona to perfection. All the new candidate has to do is to raise the decency stakes. Take the high ground. As The NewDees and the Cons battle it out with attack ads and thinly veiled hatred, the Libbers can be the choice for those seeking a different kind of politician that puts out a positive message and talks about its own beliefs and policies. 
They may want to consider something like “Establishng a blue ribbon panel to update the 1972 report “The Canadian Government Commission of Inquiry into the Non-Medical Use of Drugs” or the LeDain Commission, as it was otherwise known. This was an exhaustive and much heralded examination of the decriminalization of marijuana. By promising to study it, they may capture the pro-legalization folks while still not looking too scary to those in the “marijuana is a drug and drugs are bad” camp; hedging their bets, if you will. This position isn’t that far removed from past Liberal initiatives anyway, as both Chretien and Martin had decriminalization bills on their legislative agendas although both bills were allowed to die on the order paper for considerations both political and procedural.
Establish a new MP’s code of conduct more ironclad and stringent than the one routinely mangled by our current ruling class, Make sure it will eliminate the free spending ways of the Bev Odas of the government. Clothe it in terms of “we have learned our lesson and will be rigorous in upholding the code of conduct to the letter”. Then do it. Show some principle and you will definitely set yourselves apart from the rest.
Don’t pit province against province a la Mulcair or industry against environment like Harper. The Canadian voter may find it refreshing to see consensus and conciliation, not combativeness and confrontation. 
Given the current mood of the planet, where tax and spend liberalism is becoming a dying art, it will be necessary to embrace the small “c” conservative side of the fiscal leger as Paul Martin did brilliantly for Jean Chretien.  Don’t promise too much. It scares those on the electoral fence.
Higher paid minds should be able to come up with many other planks that might distance yourselves from The Other Guys and your own sketchy past. It’s important for all Canadian to at least have the choice of a party between the polarized extremes of left and right whether they wish to exercise it or not. 

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