Saturday, November 24, 2007

The CBC’s At Issue Panel Nails It: The Liberal Party is a Mess and Dion Has Been a Disaster So Far

The CBC’s At Issue panel nailed it on Thursday.

Andrew Coyne: “I am not sure anybody knows [what the Liberal party stands for] least of all the Liberals.”

Gordan Gibson: “They [The Liberal Party] have got to develop policy and they haven’t.”

Russo: “What the Liberal party has become is a party of nostalgia.”

Hebert: “Sometimes a rebirth [the 2006 Liberal leadership convention] is a stillbirth.”

The Liberal Party is a party without a soul, without courage, without direction, and without policy. Above all else, the party is hopelessly conservative.

The center point on the political spectrum is not achieved by splitting the difference between what the NDP say and the Conservatives say. What lies between the two is not fertile ground, but rather a desolate no mans land. The Liberal party brass does not seem to realize this. They love pasting together Conservative and NDP talking points to create a shit mix. Afghanistan is a great case in point. Talking points are not starting points. They are an end points. They must flow from a coherent position

Worse, the Liberals approach is entirely passive when it should be active. They should not seek to occupy the political center but to define what is central to being Canadian and let the Conservatives position themselves on the right of that vision and the NDP on the left. This is a daunting task, but it has done before. What we think of Canada is really the Liberal vision of the country under Trudeau and Pearson.

The Liberals need to again duplicate Trudeau and Pearson approach circa 63 through 68. They have to attract those on the left by proposing universal social programs and they need to bring libertarians under their tent by pursuing socially liberal ends. Finally, they have to tie this too approaches together using pragmatic Red Tory language.

The $64,000 question is what polices to pursue.


Legalize Euthanasia
Legalize marijuana
Long term legalize prostitution

Social Democrats

Universal Pharmacare program
4 weeks vacation for all Canadians
Universal dental care
Universal Child care

Long term preconditions for success

Deal with under representation of the cities in the House of Commons

Introduce mandatory voting; As long as seniors vote in much greater numbers than young people, Canadian politics will be stuck in the past

Abandon special interest politics


Rick said...

I like your post, and I agree that the Libs can no longer define themselves as "to the right of the NDP and to the left of the Conservatives." Trying to stick to a mushy middle does not work when the party in government is working to move the middle to where thy are, not to move toward the middle themselves. So having ideas and policy is the way to go.

Examining your points:

Legalize Euthanasia
Legalize marijuana
Long term legalize prostitution

Euthanasia won't win you an election, but could force the Tories to look like social conservatives again, just like SSM.

Odd that you want to legalize marijuana, as oppose to de-criminalize it like the Chretien government vowed to do. I don't agree with this for many reasons, but at least you are picking a topic

Prostitution - I'm a conservative at heart, so let people who want to hire prostitutes go right ahead.

Universal Pharmacare program
4 weeks vacation for all Canadians
Universal dental care
Universal Child care

Where do you get the money for a universal pharmacare progra, universal childcare program and universal dental care? Martin was spending billions a year, ad it was only going to crate spots for 1 out of every 8 kids. A very expensive option. Add to that pharmacare and dental care, and taxes will have to go up, not by a little.

Whatever we want to do as a country and as provinces and as cities (each have their own responsibilities), we have to do it with the money that is there now. we cannot raise taxes anymore. We will lose any competitive advantage we have when it comes to attracting the best workers and businesses if taxes go up any more.

Still, a good post, and at least you are trying to develop some policy.

Koby said...

>>>> Where do you get the money for a universal pharmacare progra, universal childcare program and universal dental care?
Martin was spending billions a year, ad it was only going to crate spots for 1 out of every 8 kids. A very expensive option. Add to that pharmacare and dental care, and taxes will have to go up, not by a little.

Depends. We are running fairly large surpluses. Anyway, there are plenty of other Western countries were all are a reality. Indeed, Canada is lagging far behind everyone else, with the exception of the US, in all 4 categories. If Britain, Denmark, Germany and Norway so can we. Finally, Dental care, pharmacare and 4 weeks vacation are certainly doable and should be done. Childcare is more tricky.

As for Marijuana:

The Liberals have long maintained that Canadians should not be saddled with a criminal record for consuming something that is, after all, less harmful than alcohol. It is in this light that former Prime Minster Chrétien famously joked about having a joint in one hand and the money to pay for the fine of having it in the other.

"I will have my money for my fine and a joint in my other hand."

At the same time as they have downplayed the affects of smoking marijuana, they have also stressed the importance of stiff penalties for trafficking. Taken in isolation such bipolar position has a certain superficial appeal. However, the Liberal policy of decriminalization is inherently incoherent; it is political position; it is an attempt to appeal to both sides of the political divide at the same time and it will not take too much time and effort to show how conflicted the Liberal position is. Indeed, image how ridiculous it would have sounded if this is what Chrétien said?

"I will have my money for my fine and a joint in my other hand. Having paid my fine, I would hope the cops find the person who sold it to me and put him in jail for a very long time."

This is essentially the Liberal’s current position. The problem is if it not already obvious by now that if the act of consumption is not deemed overly ruinous then the whole punitive rationale for trafficking comes crashing down. Add to the mix an acknowledgment that marijuana can serve a medical purpose and the fact that the Liberal dominated senate recommended in the strongest terms that marijuana be legalized and you have a conceptual train wreck as a policy.

All of this plays right into the Conservatives hands. The public is concerned about the growing number of grow ups and wants something done about it. The Conservatives not only promise action, but are going to blame the Liberals for the increase in grow ups. They are going to say the Liberals have long sent out mixed messages about marijuana. This they will imply, or explicitly say, has led to increased demand for the product and as a consequence an increased number of grow ups to meet the demand.

"We are very concerned about the damage and pain that drugs cause families and we intend to reverse the trend toward vague, ambiguous messaging that has characterized Canadian attitudes in the recent past," Clement said.
According to the United Nations office of Drugs and Crime, Clement said 16.8 per cent of Canadians between the ages of 15 and 64 smoke marijuana.

He said that's the highest rate of any country in the world and the figure is almost equal to the number of tobacco smokers in Canada."

In order to boaster their case the Conservatives are going to force feed the Liberals their own words. One can count on them repeatedly bringing up the Chrétien quote, and former Prime Minster Martin’s response to question about whether he ever smoked marijuana.

"The answer is: I never smoked. I never smoked anything, but there was an earlier time, years ago, when Sheila made some brownies and they did have a strange taste". Of course one can find quotes such as these going all the way back to Trudeau. Indeed, Gordon Gibson explained Trudeau’s reaction the Le Dain Commission in the August 4 2005 edition of the Globe and Mail thus:

"The report was released as we were touring a bull-semen facility in Guelph, Ont. (I am not making this up.) The press cared not at all about productive agriculture and totally about weed. At an end-of-tour press conference, the prime minister was asked if he favoured decriminalization. We were in the semen facility's boardroom and it had a blackboard with a permanent picture of Elsie the cow painted on, perhaps in recognition of the customer base. Mr. Trudeau was very quick. Saying not a word, he went to the blackboard, took the chalk and drew a cartoonist's balloon out of the cow's mouth. Inside he slowly wrote, "I like grass!" The room dissolved in laughter."

If the courts do end up striking Canada’s possession laws in BC, Ontario and possibly Quebec, the Conservatives will attack more than just the Liberals. They will be plenty of talk about "activist judges" as well.

The Liberals have only one effective counter to the Conservative attempt to tar them. Besides, The thing is politically it is just crazy enough to work. According to a recent Angus Reid poll 55% of Canadians favor legalization. That is legalization and not decriminalization. It would also fit right into how the Liberals have approached the last few elections.

It would work out like this.
Harper has been trying to create distance between himself and his social conservative base and the Bush administration ever since he became Prime Minster. If the Liberals promised to legalize marijuana, not only would Harper find himself in lock step with Campaign for Life and Real Women, but Dick Cheney, George Bush, John Walters, Fox news, the Washington Times, James Dobson, Pat Robinson and the faculty at Bob Jones University will line up behind him. The Liberals could play the nationalist card and social conservative card all at once. The thought of being able to strike a fatal blow the US war on drugs will make Canadians a little giddy. If that was not enough, on the flip side of things, a legion of rock stars, intellectuals, movie stars, and high brow magazines, such as the New Yorker and Harper’s will line up behind the Liberals. Canada would again be "cool". Imagine a hundred thousand people or more at a pro legalization concert in Vancouver, say, in the midst of an election campaign. Seattle’s Hempfest regularly draws over a 100,000 and in terms of significance such a concert would, how should I put this?, smoke it. It would not be possible to organize anything now, but should the Liberals announce such a policy now and stave off an election for say another 6 months it may be possible. Dion would certainly not lack for name recognition anymore. Overnight he would become a household name, not just in Canada but abroad as well. Continuing on, such a promise would tear the Right apart. Libertarians and social conservatives would be at each other’s throats and the National, Post and great swaths of the Sun Media chain will side with the Liberals on this one! The National Post Canada’s flag ship of Canadian conservativism has repeatedly called on marijuana to be legalized and has heaped scorn on the Conservative position: For example: March 11 2006

"But even decriminalizing marijuana does not go far enough. Under the Liberals' plan, trading in it would have remained illegal, and even those caught in possession of small amounts would have been subject to fines. In other words, users of a substance less harmful than alcohol and tobacco would still have been targeted by police. And to make matters worse, enforcement tends to be unevenly applied -- the vast majority of marijuana use overlooked while a select few face consequences.
If the widespread use and increasing social acceptance of marijuana are not enough to convince the Tories of the merits of legalization, the dent that it would put in crime should do so. For a government committed to a law-and-order agenda, the opportunity to end a black market should be enticing.
The best reason to change our drug laws, however, remains the principled one. As the Tories have recognized on other issues, Canadians are capable of making their own decisions without government holding their hands. Do they really need state protection from pot?"

Last but not least the Conservatives would left defending a bunch of talking points that are so discredited they are considered a form of "madness", "reefer madness".

The Grumpy Voter said...

A very good post and you're right, At Issue nailed it better than anyone could. I think there's still room for a party firmly in the center, but Liberals have to move fast because the Conservatives are quickly becoming identified as a centerist party now. This process starts with a simple assertion: the Liberal Party is going to be out of power for the next few years. Once people get their heads around this, perhaps then we might see organizational renewal occur. The time for discussing policy isn't there yet because the party is still terribly divided: that has to be addressed before any meaningful deliberations of public policy can occur.

Manuel said...

Legalizing Marijuana would be the best thing ever from my standpoint. I have never smoked weed, I know amazing growing up in Canada in a piss hap town no less. But I will get a real kick out of watching people get denied passage to the border constantly and getting searched for drugs like no tomorrow, hey guess what? useing marijuana is against to law in the states still and alot of people are dumb enough to say "why yes I do smoke the cronic" to the boarder folks thinking because it's legal here that they can hop into another country at will.

Anonymous said...

A need for policy yes, but go to the electorate with that list and expect an ass kicking.
try guns

Anonymous said...

So, you take the word of Coyne who pushed and admired Dion in the leadership race and Hebert who's been after Dion's ass from day one and predicted he wouldn't win the leadership race?

They are, after all, ONLY PUNDITS

Anonymous said...

Koby, you and the pundits, are wrong.
Take a step back and ask yourself why you are a Liberal.
1. Kyoto
2. Universal child care
3. Gun control
4. Kelowna, and the list goes on.
We have a very strong policy and idealogical base.
There is a huge gap between the feeling of caucus and what the media pundits choose to report.
I can't wait until the next election when all parties are on equal footing.
A difference a few months will make!

MarkCh said...

The more I think about it, the more I think that the so-called "underrepresentation of the cities" is a bogus issue. Sure the cities are underrepresented, but if we took, say, three seats, from the most overrepresented areas (ie, PEI and the North), and gave them to Toronto suburbs, would it really have much effect on the makeup of Parliament? Both of these areas reliably vote Liberal.

MarkCh said...

Anonymous, you are illustrating the exact problem Koby wants to address. Each of those 4 policies is fake. Here is the list:

1. Kyoto - Liberal governments made no real effort to meet the terms, and now all serious people view meeting Kyotos as impossible.

2. The Liberal plan never proposed covering more than one "eligible" child in eight.

3.Gun control? Please, like banning already impossible to obtain legally handguns, or simply harassing long gun owners, was going to achieve anything.

4. Kelowna? This was all about spending more money, with no policy for the structural issues which make spending on natives ineffective.

The Liberals should try to find some real policies, which they actually intend to implement, and which might actually accomplish something.

Koby said...

>>>>"1. Kyoto
2. Universal child care
3. Gun control
4. Kelowna, and the list goes on.
We have a very strong policy and idealogical base." <<<<<

The Liberals have convinced themselves that the platform they ran on and lost in 2006 is a winner. Why they think this is beyond me. The have not moved in the poles in almost two years! Worse, in my mind is that their platform is not all that good. Peel away the rhetoric and idiotic talking points and there is a lot broken promises, half baked schemes, half measures, half truths and mush brained thinking. Liberal Lite will not succeed. Trudeau’s Omnibus bill kicked off Trudeaumania and only full blooded social liberalism coupled a recommitment to universality has a chance of jump starting the Liberal party. As for the four that you mentioned, this is my take.

Kyoto Accord: The Conservatives announced that the targets set under the Kyoto protocol are unattainable. The opposition parties disagree and there will be a lot of righteous indignation heard from them over this. The thing is, though, the targets are unattainable. Canada is not going to meet the 2012 Kyoto targets without buying emission credits and this just will not sell domestically. That is just the half off it. So long as Kyoto is the focus, the question will arise as to why Canada is not going to meet its targets and this will allow the Conservatives to offer up Liberal inaction as the reason why. It gets worse. Although Harper is what Harper says about binding emissions is simply an excuse for doing nothing, what he says is nevertheless true. Without an accord that binds all major emitters to the same standards, the chances of such an accord actually making a dent in the problem and even holding together over time is not good.

Early childhood education: The problem with the Liberals early childhood education was that it was not universal. As a result, the more the Liberals talked up the need for such a program the more inadequate and lackluster their proposal appeared and the attractive the Conservatives universal baby bonus became. Indeed many voters hedged their bets. They figured that a $1200 bird in their hand was better than 15% chance of nailing two in the bush. If the Liberals want to capture the imagination of Canadians by again promising an national early childhood education program they better make sure that they are able to deliver universal program and that they are able to deliver and all at once.

Kelowna Accord: I do not have anything positive to say about the Kelowna Accord. It is just more money thrown after bad. The root cause of native poverty is not a lack of government money, but can rather be sourced back to the emphasis placed on communal property to exclusion of private property and manner by which government monies are distributed by the bands. Moreover, the accord is sold to the public in such a way as to appeal to the public’s sense of guilt. In that sense it is not only bad policy is also worm eaten pc mushy liberalism at its absolute worse. That said, the fact that Kelowna Accord does nothing to address the underlying causes of Native poverty does not mean that Native poverty is any the less real and any effort to fight poverty, however superficially, is usually welcomed by the public. Furthermore, there is political payoff to pursuing a policy that has been agreed upon by all the principle players.

Gun Control I am all in favor of banning head guns and I believe evidence for banning hand guns is actually much better than libertarian Canwest would ever allow to be printed in their papers or showing on Global.

>>>>"The more I think about it, the more I think that the so-called "underrepresentation of the cities" is a bogus issue. Sure the cities are underrepresented, but if we took, say, three seats, from the most overrepresented areas (ie, PEI and the North), and gave them to Toronto suburbs, would it really have much effect on the makeup of Parliament? Both of these areas reliably vote Liberal.<<<<

I will go you one better. The Conservatives have a larger portion of the seats in the 4 largest provinces than in the rest of country and it is 6 smallest provinces and 4 territories that are grossly overrepresented. No, the importance of correcting the imbalance is long term and when I talk about correcting the imbalance I am not talking about a seat there and seat here. Rural Sask, Manitoba, etc. are not going to be onside if the Liberals choose to emphasize social liberalism. Vancouver’s and Toronto’s suburbs are becoming more liberal as density increases. I imagine the same holds true for Montreal. It is these suburbs that need more seats and clout.