Monday, January 09, 2012

No Way to Bob Rae as Leader

A common lament is that if not for his record as premier of Ontario, Bob Rae would make a great leader. It is said in this regard that he a good debater, charismatic, well spoken, and funny. He is all that and his decision to focus on the big issues rather than minor scandals is a freshening change and one that the Liberals urgently needed to make. But Rae is also emblematic of everything that is wrong with the Liberal party.

Rae has always been an enthusiastic backer of a asymmetrical federalism, collective rights, and equity, i.e., affirmative action. His support for all three shape his ideas about what the Liberal party is and should continue to be.

The first two are wholly inconsistent with Pearson Trudeau tradition and make a mockery of the Liberal's attempt to draw a line from them to present times. Worse, support for both has real political consequences that the Liberals are blissfully unaware of.

Indeed, 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 in Western Canada. 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. 60.2% Albertans voted against the Charlottetown Accord, and 68.3% of British Colombians did. The later figure was by far the highest in country and the voter turn out in BC was second only to Quebec. It should be noted, in passing, that Rae still stands by the Charlottetown Accord.

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%. Instead, Rae seems to lend support to such clap trap.

As for the third, it is terrible policy -- albeit not nearly as stupid or destructive as the asinine concept of "collective rights". As it does nothing to address underlying causes of inequality, equity does little to advance equality. A National daycare care system, for example, would do far more in a year for women's wage equality than 25 years of the putrid Employment Equity Act has. The former addresses the underlying causes of the wage gap, the later hurts the cause of young white males because 50 something white males earn more than than their 50 something female colleges. Equity sows division within Canadian society and is an anachronism given Canada's rapidly changing demographic profile. Worst of all, the focus on equity has meant that instead of trying to move the case of all workers forward, something that is desperately needed, liberals have instead devoted virtually all their energies to shuffling the deck. Calls for a bigger share of the pie have been abandoned for sake of each of the ever smaller pieces having an equal amount of fruit.

Equity is also bad politics. Whether 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, whether 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. So long as the philosophy of equity rules, Canadians will not have any faith that government is fully committed to furthering the public good. Meanwhile, conservatives will have an easy time claiming that government is in certain respects a make work project for disadvantaged groups and as such, government hurts more than it helps.

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