On The Benefits of Winning, In Canada
After reading this post on the future of the Liberal party from fellow DemReform blogger and every hopeful Liberal over at Curiosity Cat, I found my response turned into it’s own blog post. A snippet:
Within a week or so of Trudeau`s announcement of his run, I expect opinion polls will show two major changes in the expectation of voters:1. A substantial change in the percentage of voters who will indicate their willingness to vote for the Liberal Party in the next election; and2. A major reverse migration of voters from the NDP…
Speak to Liberals in ridings across the country – there is a renaissance taking place, of the spirit. Deep within the Liberal soul, hidden from view for many a year, lies a ferocious love of country, coupled to sincere values which embrace all Canadians, and a primal lust for power.
That lust has been kindled by Harper’s nefarious ways, and especially by his stated desire to terminate the Liberal Party with extreme prejudice.
Now I’m not a big fan of trying to wipe out political parties, which I agree the Conservatives were trying to do, at least before last election. But I’m also not a big fan of the whole “lust for power” thing from any party. Of course, it’s true the NDP also badly want to win power, but the Liberal party needs to be careful not to further define themselves primarily as “A party that wants to govern”, rather than a group of committed people focussed on a particular set of policies and a philosophy of governing.
As a non-partisan, progressive voter, I don’t particularly care about the Liberal party’s history or it’s soul, if a party can be said to have a soul. I do care about standard Liberal policy planks such as universal childcare, the centrality of the Charter and sensible fiscal management. However, I also care about turning around Canada’s horrendous environmental record and reviving our disfunctional democratic systems which are not things the Liberal party has a strong history with.
Maybe Trudeau could change all that but I just don’t have the faith that a Trudeau leadership would automatically be good for the country. He’s great as a person and even as a politician, so far as it goes. But Trudeau is so far untested as a leader and the next Liberal leader needs to be more than another example of the Liberal quick-leadership-fix strategy that they’ve tried for the past few elections. I still haven’t seen anything that makes me believe Harper wouldn’t eat Trudeau alive or that the Liberal party knows how to make their case any better than they did last election. But maybe I’m missing something.
What progressive Canadians need to think about right now as they look towards the next election is how to win it, not necessarily how to get the Liberals to win it or even to do better. Maybe this isn’t something the parties themselves need to work out but it is something voters need to consider when supporting parties or nonpartisan organizations such as Lead Now, The Council of Canadians or FairVote.
We cannot afford to solidify the Conservative argument that they are better at governing by letting them win again. On that topic see John Hodgman’s stupendous post on the intrinsic political good of winning for it’s own sake. He’s talking about the US situation and trying to convince progressive voters down there not to turn away from Obama just because he hasn’t satisfied all their hopes . He makes the point, which I agree with, that a Democratic loss would be an ideological defeat of everything Obama said he would do, not just what he actually did. In a similar way a major reverse against the NDP back in favour of the Liberals would be seen, ideologically and politically, as a defeat for that seismic shift of the last election and of everything Jack Layton stood for. In it’s place we would get a somewhat stronger Liberal party back but without necessarily any ideological meaning to it. What would it mean if the Liberals eked out more votes than the NDP next election and the Conservative still won another majority? The only conclusion most people, pundits or politicians would be able to draw is that everyone is happy with the way the Conservatives are running the country, which simply isn’t true.
I believe this mixed electoral outcome should be avoided at all costs, such a vindication would be dangerous. The Conservatives did not put in place most of the regulations that allowed Canada to weather the economic storm of the past few years yet they are taking all the credit for it. Meanwhile they are destroying our reputation around the world, gutting knowledge-based government decision making and making it harder to make any progress on global warming. This is ironic since Canada is going to be affected more than most nations as the ice caps continue to melt much faster than expected. A stronger way to send the message that the majority of Canadians disagree with this direction would be an NDP win, perhaps as a minority supported by the Liberal party, and of course, additional seats for the Green party.
Maybe hopeful Liberals are right and Trudeau would cause a large enough bump in Liberal fortunes to compete with the NDP. But if this jeopardizes the possibility of either of the major progressive, federalist parties from defeating the Conservatives then I think it would be a net loss for the country. Then again, second guessing those kinds of ramifications is a certain way to drive yourself mad.
The good news is we have a few years to figure it out, the bad news is we only have a few years to figure it out and that may still not be long enough to find a solution to this seemingly intractable problem.