Wednesday, May 04, 2011

What needs to done: the Liberals need an agenda


1) Liberals need to offer National programs

So long as the NDP are going to play to the soft nationalist vote in Quebec they will be unwilling to propose any national programs.
Everything they will propose will come with the following proviso and so will amount to nothing. "We will work with the provinces to" The Conservatives on the other hand are philosophically opposed to such programs and so will never offer them. The Liberals need to be the party that is willing to propose national programs and national standards. They need to abandon asymmetrical federalism once and for all and become a truly national party with a truly national vision.

2) The Liberals need withdraw their support for collective rights and equity.

The Liberals seem blind to the fact that some of their core philosophy, viz., a commitment to equity and collective rights, is deeply unpopular with large segments of Canadian society. Weather it be the funding for religious schools in Ontario, or special treatment of Quebec many Canadians are deeply offended by the very suggestion that government monies and policy should be used to protect and or foster minority interests. Furthermore, weather one believes that employment equity, for example, actually makes the government less efficient is beside the point, a commitment to equity is incompatible with the liberal notion of a government built around merit. Hiring the best person for the job is a far cry from using the government as a counterpoint to perceived or actual deficiencies in the private sector employment. Government can not be seen or indeed be an affirmative action program. Government exists to further the public good and it furthers the public good not by who it hires but by what functions it carries out. So long as the philosophy of equity rules, conservatives will have an easy time claiming that government is the problem.

Democratic Reforms

1) The Liberals need to defend bilingualism, the notion of rep by population, and abolishing the senate.

The Liberals have never fully absorbed what happened to Liberal level of support in Western Canada following the 1974 election. Some blamed the NEP and others have even claimed the gun registry played a part. The latter claim is ridiculous. The gun registry had no impact on the Liberals share of the popular vote or their seat totals. Most important of all it was passed 16 years after the Liberals first showed a significant decline in their level of support. As for the former, the chronology is also wrong. It was the fact that the Liberal vote collapsed in Western Canada in 1979 that paved the way for the NEP politically and not the other way around. The NEP was introduced after the 1980 election. The Liberals took 1 seat in the three most western provinces in 1979 election and 0 in 1980.

The source of the collapse was 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. Ironically, it was the Mulroney's willingness to go even further in pandering to Quebec, particularly the Charlottetown Accord, that gave the Liberals some life again.

Let the "coalition" be a warning to the Liberals; these feelings are still deeply felt in "Western" Canada. The Liberals need to learn from history. They need to vigorously oppose the NDP's flirtation with extending bill 101 to federal intuitions in Quebec and their suggestion that Quebec's share of the House of Commons be fixed at 25%.

In a strange twist of fate the Liberals also need oppose an elected Senate and propose abolishing it -- supporting the status quo is an untenable position and has been for over 30 years. I say strange because an elected and "effective" senate was historically sold to Westerners as counterpoint to Quebec securing 25% of the seats in the House of Commons in perpetuity. The Liberals need to point out they 1) do not support the NDP's position 2) under any model of senate reform electoral clout of the Western provinces will be diluted. Also, an elected senate, particularly and "effective" one, is terrible idea for so many reasons it hard to count.

2) The Liberals need to support Mandatory voting:

So long as younger people vote in far few numbers than seniors the Liberal party is doomed. The Conservatives own the over 65% crowd.
The problem has proven intractable. Seniors vote in much greater numbers than young people and so politicians pay them more attention. The lack of attention paid to younger voters leads the youth to pay even less attention to politics and on it goes in a vicious circle. The only way out of this viscous circle is mandatory voting and the Liberals need to scream it from the roof tops.

Getting young people to the polls is not only vital for the Liberal party but for the future health of Canadian democracy. Many Canadians in their 20s will move into their 30s never having voted and it remains to be seen just how many will start voting.

Of course, what can be said about young and old voting patterns can also be said about other groups as well. Politicians pander to groups who show up to the vote in disproportionately large numbers to the detriment of everyone else.

Mandatory voting will also make elections more about issues. Indeed, anyone who has ever worked on a campaign knows that most of the focus is not spent convincing people to vote this way or that, but rather identifying party supporters and then to pestering them to show up on voting day. Make voting and mandatory and parties would spend more time focusing in on the issues and lot less time and expense tracking down supporters.

3) The Liberals need to support the per vote subsidy.

The Conservatives want to eliminate the political subsidy and so force political parties to raise their "own money". As usual, Harper is only thinking of what political advantage could be gained and not at all about what is good for the country. He is also being dishonest. Canada has long subsidized political parties by making political contributions tax deductible and the amount of money being subsidized by the Canadian tax payer is equal to the amount given out to the political party as part of the per vote subsidy. If we are going to eliminate a subsidy, it should be this one.

There are two reasons defending the per vote subsidy. The first is obvious. Making the political parties more beholden to those with money is a bad idea. However the Conservatives have partially neutralized this argument by limiting the amount any individual can contribute and by forbidding corporations and unions from making contributions. The second is less obvious and needs to be repeatedly explained to the public and to pundits alike. The more emphasis placed on fundraising, the less time politicians have to spend dealing with issues and serving the community. The extreme case is what is happening in the US. Bill Clinton lamented that an ever increasing amount of time was occupied by fundraising and by the end of second term it occupied most of his time and the time of most senators. That was more than 10 years ago. Things are 100 times worse now. We want our politicians believing that politically it is more advantageous for them to spend time representing their ridings and hearing the concerns of their constituents than it is giving speeches at series of $100 dollar a plate fundraising dinners.

We also want to see people be nominated by virtue of what talents they have and not by virtue of what kind of wealthy friends are in their Rolodex.

4) The Liberals need to support a Ban on political advertising outside of election time

Spending limits are designed to level the playing field and to lessen corporate influence and in process make campaigns more about issues than money. However, the effectiveness of such measures is undermined if parties are allowed to spend whatever they want outside of election time. It also makes the election cycle, particularly during minority governments, all but permanent.


Volkov said...

I'd agree with all except the equity comments - on that point, you're just totally off the mark. Otherwise, good post.

Anonymous said...

Enjoy your time in the wilderness.

Koby said...

"Enjoy your time in the wilderness"

As should be obvious, I did not think much of the Liberals in their current form. The Liberals were best of a very bad lot. In meantime it would be great if the Conservatives got rid, for example, family unification and the Employment Equity Act.

Koby said...

I thought you never agreed with me. Anyway, besides been a political looser in vast swaths of the country, Employment Equity Act does far more damage than good.