Friday, June 11, 2010

Liberals doomed to die a Slow Death

So long as the Liberal party -- or a strong portion of it anyway -- remain committed to collective rights, asymmetrical federalism and means tested social policy the party is doomed to die a slow death.

One thing that made the Liberal brand dominant for so long was the party's commitment to universality, most notably the Canada Health Act and Canada Pension plan. However, under Martin and Chrétien the Liberals abandoned universality and favored instead means tested programs. The thing is means tested social programs do not win elections; the populace is not going to get excited about paying for a service that only a small percentage of the public can use. By turning every social program on offer into a form of welfare, the ability of the Liberals to offer anything other than tax cuts is very limited. This has hobbled the Liberals politically. As Tom Flanagan crowed after the 2006 election, there are certain issues that favour the Conservatives and the economy and taxation are two. The simple fact of the matter is that most of the public will not gain a working knowledge of each party's economic policies over the course of the campaign and when assessing each of the parties on the issue of taxation will rely on worn out stereotypes.

Of course, the one exception to such a dispiriting turn is the Liberals early childhood proposal. That said, the Liberals unwillingness to step on provincial toes and lay out a coherent plan ahead of time have rendered such a policy politically useless. Indeed, during the 2006 election the Liberals promise to work out a different deal with each province amounted to little more than a vague promise to provide more daycare -- which the Liberals said early childhood education was not --- at sometime in the future. Canadians could not figure out what this would mean for their lives and not surprisingly they preferred the Conservative baby bonus.

If the Liberals reintroduce such a program in the future, they need to present it in a form in which voters can understand. They could, for example, promise to provide all day preschool and kindergarten for every 4 and 5 year old in Canada. Now, it will be said that the Liberals can not do this; education is under provincial control, but such thinking is the heart of the problem. Education is under provincial control, but so is health care and that never stopped Pearson from introducing Medical Care Act. It is high time this group of Liberals grow some. No one is ever going to vote for a party that is scared of the Conservatives, scared of the provinces and just plain scared period.

The other thing that people admired the Liberals for was their commitment to individual rights. The problem is that the more emphasis Trudeau placed on individual rights and a commitment to linguistic equality the more the rest of the country, particularly the West, resented the Liberals inability to put a stop to bill 178 and and 101 and its willingness to make special accommodations for Quebec. Quebec's Official Language Act spelled doom for the Liberals in Western Canada from the mid 70s until collapse of the Progressive Conservatives in 1993. The Liberals won but 3 seats over the next 4 elections in the three most Western provinces, one in 1979, one in 1984 and one in 1988. The later two were won by John Turner. Ironically, it was the Mulroney's willingness to go even further in pandering to Quebec that gave the Liberals some life again. However, given that these same sentiments also gave rise to the Reform party, the news was not all good for the Liberal party. Today, the country is no longer neatly divided among regional lines, but least the Liberals forget the source of their troubles in Western Canada, the unpopularity of the a coalition that included the Bloc made it abundantly clear that special treatment for Quebec is still political poison in Western Canada.

10 comments:

Anonymous said...

Oh here we go - you come out of the woodwork now and then to trash Liberals - I suspect you work for the Cons.

You never, ever have anything positive to say.

CanadianSense said...

Quebec should not be given special treatment. The minorities are second class citizens.

Manning, Day, Harper were on board with the cuts made by the Liberals to shrink Ottawa.

Today Harper does not have a dance partner to make more cuts.

Ignore the anons, they don't like criticism.

I was critical of the CPC auto bailout and the size of EAP.

The party survived my criticism.

As always a thought provoking post.

Tom said...

Your post implies that the Liberals were dominant until 'along came Chritien....'
How dominant were the Liberals when Chritien ruled the roost?
He must have done something right. maybe Iggy should study that.

Michael Harkov said...

He must have done something right. maybe Iggy should study that.

What is Iggy going to do, cause a split in the Conservatives, make them split into two parties?

Good gravy, wake up.

Anonymous said...

CanadianSense is always full of BS. Roving around the blogosphere day in day out with the crap.

Remember - Chretien didn't have the same fight as Ignatieff - he kind of had it easy in comparison and Chretien polled at 27% in the late 80's.

As they say, you can't go back '

Lyn

Koby said...

"Your post implies that the Liberals were dominant until 'along came Chritien....'"


Far from it. The rot began on Trudeau. Trudeau's decision to spend all his political capital on the Constitutional file and in the process all but abandon the pursuit of the Liberal version of the great society and his earlier social liberalism was a political mistake. His decision to enshrine collective rights in law in pursuit of his constitutional goals was nothing short of disaster for the party and for the country.

That said, Trudeau had scruples. He was only willing to go so far. Mulroney, on the other hand, had none and it was Mulroney that almost blew up the country in the process. I cringe whenever I hear some pundit saying anything nice about the man. He deserves nothing but bile.

Of course, Mulroney did blow up the Progressive Conservative party in the process and this left the Liberals in control of a highly divided country. Still despite wining back to back to back majorities the 1990s were a time of decay for the Liberals. Too often it was the opposition or courts that set the agenda rather than the party, polling for policy became common place, core principles were abandoned, the party became intellectually lazy, Bay Street gained way too much sway and last, but certainly not least, the Paul Martin cancer was never addressed.

It was only in the last year of Chrétien's reign did the party game some of its old luster and bounce. It during this time that Chrétien promised to legalize SSM, stay out of Iraq, limit corporate contributions and to decriminalize marijuana. Alas, this turned out to be only a Prague Spring.

Anonymous said...

Koby you are such a phony. You are NDP pretending to be Liberal so you can put out your vile crap.

Get over yourself and stop lying!

Lyn

Anonymous said...

Koby you are such a phony. You are NDP pretending to be Liberal so you can put out your vile crap.

Get over yourself and stop lying!

Lyn

Koby said...

Lyn, I have had plenty to say about the NDP and not much of positive.

When it comes to collective rights, affirmative action and asymmetrical federalism the NDP are even worse than the Liberals.

As for drawing a parallel between how the Liberals and Chretien polled in the early 90s and how Iggy and the Liberals are polling now, the situation in 1993 was so obviously sui generis I do not know way anyone would bother repeating such a stupid talking point.

Koby said...

Lyn

This article is for you.

http://www.thestar.com/news/insight/article/821970--walkom-tories-are-the-real-coalition-partners-for-liberals