Saturday, July 07, 2007

No to Uniting the Left Yes to Liberal Rebranding

I am not convinced it is in the best interests of the Canadian public or even the Liberal party to seek to unite the left.

For at its best, the NDP has provided an invaluable service to all Canadians; it widened the Canadian political debate and did so by historically being the most ideological of the major political parities. Parties concerned with the “art of the possible” are not infusing the political debate with new ideas with little chance of furthering their party at the polls. They are reactive. However, the catch 22 of such pragmatism is that such parties concede some of the field to those who are not so cautious. To use an evolutionary metaphor, the politically brave and ideologically pure help determine the policy areas to be discussed; the powerful and pragmatic determine what policies get accepted. Historically, the NDP were able to get “results” for Canadians in two ways. One, they played king maker in several Liberal minority governments. Two, they were able to achieve successes at a distance by continually infusing the political arena with new policy ideas. Either way the Liberal party benefited. By infusing the political arena with ideas from a leftist perspective, the NDP shifted the political debate in Canada leftward, leaving Liberals and not the Progressive Conservatives as the “natural governing party of Canada”.

That said, the problem is that the NDP at its worst is what it is under Jack Layton, viz., a sometimes Liberal echo chamber (on Kyoto, and Kelowna) but all in all a soulless new left party fixated on identity politics to determent of furthering social democratic ideals premised on the notion of universality. Under Layton, the NDP no longer champion European social democracy, a la Tommy Douglas. One consequence of this is that the gulf between Europe and Canada in many areas is simply enormous. The Europeans are light years ahead on a whole variety of issues.

With the NDP serving no useful purpose at this moment, it is falls to the Liberals to pick up the slack. For the sake of the party’s own electoral health, the Liberals must develop the type of social democratic ideas it has in the past poached from the NDP and in the process insure that the political discourse shifts leftward. At the same time the party must be aware of the constraints and pragmatic considerations placed on any party hopping to form the next government. This is no easy feat.

The party must also do something else. It desperately needs to rebrand itself. The sponsorship scandal and years of political compromise have stained the once bright gloss. “What is does mean to be a Liberal?” has become as intractable as “what does it mean to be a Canadian?”. It need not be this way. Indeed, it must not be this way. Having urged the party to make a break with the past in my previous post, I urge the party to return to more distant past and in the process prove two things. 1) The party must show the Canadian public, as outlined above, that it is the only major party willing to commit Canada to the best of European social democracy. 2) It must also prove itself to be the champion of social liberalism the way Trudeau did, particularly in 1968-1969.

Alas in the past couple of years the party has done neither. Sure the Liberals passed SSM legislation and promised to decriminalize marijuana and these were two reasons why Canada was “cool” back in 2003/2004, but it was the courts forced the Liberals to at last acknowledge that the issues were pregnant. Moreover, Martin did not laud bill 38 as an historic and just expansion of the societal franchise as true liberals everywhere were doing. On the contrary, Martin argued the Charter sometimes compels the government to act in way it may not like. In Martin’s words, the government can not “cherry pick rights”. The implication being that SSM was not a cherry. For Martin’s Liberals, SSM was not a righteous cause, but was rather the straight man’s burden. Martin gave SSM the defense befitting a pornographer.

Just as bad, the Liberals have followed the NDP down the rabbit hole and have begun mimicking the NDP’s love of identity politics. For example, the Liberals have embraced, as never before, the intellectual abortion that is native self government and the associated ethnic essentialism on steroids.


Anonymous said...

This is amusing. In an nutshell, you are saying that the NDP party is becoming the Liberal party and that the Liberals should morphe into New Democrats. Now that is a challenge, even for the Liberal Chameleon.

Koby said...

In a nutshell you are wrong. My point is this: Instead of waiting for the NDP to do so, the Liberals need import some European social democracy and become the champions of social liberalism. The NDP needs to go back to its roots, viz., the whole sale importers European social democracy. Both parties need to pitfalls of identity politics. Of course there will be overlap. The period, 60s and early 70s, when the Liberal brand was strongest happened to be when the bounds between the NDP and Liberals were particularly strong and I am suggesting that period serve as guide.

Koby said...

Sorry. Both parties need to avoid the pitfalls of identity politics.

Anonymous said...

"The period, 60s and early 70s, when the Liberal brand was strongest"

Not sure about that. Trudeau's era was ideologically exciting but politically nightmarish. Liberals would prefer the King-St. Laurent era of consecutive majorities. Laurier and Chretien are just as successful.

Brian in Calgary said...

Laurier and Chretien are just as successful.

Laurier, yes. Chretien - well, I'm not sure. I think he was only as successful as he was (and yes, three consecutive majorities does qualify as political success) because the opposition was so splintered.

Anonymous said...


Splintered opposition. That was the story of the right in Canada during the King era. Arthur Meighen, the Progressives, Robert Manion, John Bracken, George Drew.

No wonder the Cons are paranoid and in attack mode. History always manage to repeat itself.

Koby said...

In terms of electoral success yes Mushroom. Chrétien years were equally successful. Three terms is three terms is three terms. However the Liberal brand name hardly flourished under Chrétien and that is what I was discussing. This is especially true when you compare the Chrétien years to the Trudeau and Pearson years. Indeed, if you ask Canadians what programs they identify with invariably you go back to Trudeau and Pearson years. That is quite a feet. Moreover, never has Canada seen anything like Trudeau mania or Trudeau for the matter. Yes I know; the fact that Trudeau was sui generis counts against what I am saying.