Andrew Coyne speaks to the Liberal Party, but will they listen?
I’m just growing more and more fond of Andrew Coyne as time goes on. Maybe I’m getting older and more conservative, or maybe he’s getting less so. Or just maybe, the old templates of “conservative” and “liberal” aren’t nearly as useful as they once seemed to be. That is essentially the point of Coyne fantastic article which could be titled “The Rise and Fall of the Liberal Empire…And how they can reinvent themselves.”
You simply have to read it. Its long but its worth it, mostly because of his concluding list (on page 5) of things the Liberals could do to reinvent itself and distinguish itself to the electorate by being relevant again (SPOILER ALERT). Essentially, they can become:
- The party of democratic reform. How we nominate candidates, how we choose leaders, how we elect members, how Parliament functions—there’s clearly lots of work to do here. This used to be a Conservative issue. Today, not so much.
- The party of individual rights. In 2006, Paul Martin proposed removing the notwithstanding clause from the Constitution. Less ambitiously, Liberals could propose shoring up our national commitment to freedom of expression, by abolishing the ban on hate speech (the “incitement to violence” provision is surely enough) and clipping the human rights commissions’ wings.
- The party of consumers. Every economist will tell you: protectionism is a conspiracy against consumers, notably our egregious tariffs on agricultural imports. More competition, domestic or foreign, is the best way to bring prices down, and productivity up.
- The party of taxpayers. Former Liberal MP Dennis Mills used to campaign vigorously for the flat tax, complete with postcard-sized tax form. A corollary would be reform of EI and social assistance, along the lines recommended by the impeccably Liberal Macdonald commission: a simplified, streamlined universal income guarantee.
- The party of pensioners. The Quebec Caisse de dépôt’s ill-fated plunge into asset-backed commercial paper shows the perils of trusting everyone’s pension savings to one big investment fund. Why wait for some similar misfortune to overtake the CPP? Liberals are talking now of adding a supplementary individual savings plan on top of the CPP, as a way of addressing pension shortfalls. Why not reverse-engineer the CPP on the same lines, breaking it up into individually owned plans?
- The party of the environment. Yes, that means a carbon tax. It’s a good idea, the only way Canada is ever going to come close to meeting its carbon emissions targets, and everyone knows it. Was it the carbon tax, as myth holds, that doomed the Liberals in the last election? Or was it because it was poorly designed and poorly presented? A better plan, better presented—a real “tax shift,” as implemented by Gordon Campbell’s Liberal government in B.C.—might be a winner.
If you are a regular reader of PopTheStack you can probably guess which two approach I think the Liberals should follow, yep, 1 and 6. I like that he lists becoming the party of democratic reform as number one. As I’ve said before (nya and nya), I think it is truly the most bold option open to them and one that could ignite the electorate if done right. The advantage of this is that its something people in the West and Ontario could get excited about. I’m glad Andrew agrees. But from discussions I’ve had with Liberal Party members they have a very skewed and flat view of what reform means, they think Senate reform is all about Tripe-E and they think any electoral reform other than Alternative Voting is fatally flawed. They aren’t at the point where they can propose such a re-imaging of their party and if Ignatieff did, I think many party insiders would rebel against such an idea as treason against Liberal values (which they can’t define).
But you know, I could be wrong, often am. Maybe they’ll all read Coyne’s article and go, oh yeah, THAT’s what we should do! I’m thinking not. Prove me wrong Liberal Party…please.