Thursday, November 24, 2011

Party of Principle

While Peter C. Newman has been getting headlines with his diagnosis that the Liberal Party is dead, Andrew Coyne offers his recipe for resurrection here.

While I generally agree with Coyne's article, like Far and Wide, I would quibble that his criticism of the roadmap to renewal is unfair ("do you think it is easy to make a roadmap!?"). After all, opening the party to all Canadians is the first step towards the type of "grassroots, democratic party" Coyne urges the Liberals to become. And regardless of what the Liberal Party becomes, it's going to have to organize, fundraise, and communicate better.

That said, I agree with Coyne's thesis that the Liberals will not vault from third to first by defining themselves as nothing more than a "party of the centre". Instead they need to be seen as a "party of principle", taking bold and risky stances - sometimes zigging right and sometimes zagging left. As the Tories and NDP attempt the squeeze the Grits out of the centre and out of existence, it will become harder and harder to find differentiating positions. It's not simply enough to say "we're not Stephen Harper", because the NDP also happens to be "not Stephen Harper".

If life were like the West Wing, it would be enough for the Liberals to boldly declare themselves as the party of principle and, presto, they'd be back on top by sweeps month. Reality is a bit trickier. Principled positions aren't always popular and bold ideas aren't always practical. It's also not like there's an abundance of bold ideas laying around, though Coyne suggests a way to find them:

The answer will lie as much in the way the party develops policies as in the policies it ultimately adopts. On both scores, it will need to capitalize on its own misfortune—to seize the opportunity that defeat affords. Parties that are in close contention for power tend to have little room for dissent, or for that matter democracy. The Liberals, being nowhere near power, have an opportunity to build a truly grassroots, democratic party, one that holds its leaders closely to account, and to let its own example serve as a model of democratic reform for the country.


Bingo. The currently policy process of the Liberal Party is a joke. Policies are debated at convention every two years, prioritized, and forgotten. The top policies rarely find their way into the platform, and I'd be surprised if they're even read by the leader or the platform committee.

The candidates for LPC President and Policy Chair have all talked about making the policy process ongoing and more engaging, but that won't make a difference unless it becomes meaningful.

One solution to this would be to force the party to adopt prioritized policies in its platform. The Alberta Liberals recently passed a bylaw mandating that 2 of the top 3 policies passed at convention find their way to the platform, while the Canmore Renewal Document suggests 5 of 10. Whatever the number, it would make the policy process at convention worth the price of admission, rather than a prime time to visit the hotel bar.

A system like that would not only engage members, it would force the party to take a serious look at the principled and bold ideas they need to take a serious look at.

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25 Comments:

  • Two places where #LPC can distinguish itself in the area of civil rights/civil liberties, with bold positions that would have the support of most Canadians:
    * Marijuana
    * Euthanasia

    A renewed emphasis on civil liberties could also have the advantage of attracting some of the 'occupy' crowd. Just throwing this out there as a slogan for the next election: "Occupy Parliament"

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 9:23 AM  

  • A very incisive analysis of the policy making and implementation deficiencies of the LPC.

    Current policy making and implementation is a joke, as you point out. The Roadmap and Background Paper specifically reserves policy presented in Parliament to the Leader and Caucus, and so perpetuates the mistake.

    I support the solution in your post: a mechanism for the top 5 of the top 10 policies passed at convention to become party policy in Parliament.

    I also support bolder and more democratic methods for grassroots sourcing of policies.

    Without these two changes, the Roadmap is really a bit of an empty shell.

    By Blogger CuriosityCat, at 10:43 AM  

  • My understanding is that alot of the Liberal appeal was as a sort of natural party of government for Canada, having been in power for 63 out of 84 years between 1922 and 2004, including a 23 year uninterrupted run of majority governments at one point. The lack of interest in policy probably stems at least in part from this legacy. Being pushed into third place is very hard to recover from for this sort of party.

    I don't know if the Canadian Liberals should be looking more at the example of the British Liberals, who did manage a partial recovery, or at the example of the PRI in Mexico.

    Most of the remaining Liberal ridings seem to be in the wealthier suburbs of Montreal and Toronto, and in areas in the Maritime provinces that have historically voted Liberal. This suggests that a turn in the direction of classical (pro-free market and pro-civil liberties) liberalism could at least shore up their remaining support, provided an exception was made for continued federal aid to the Maritimes. However, there is a low ceiling on the votes that such a party could get, but at least it would give the Liberals something of a base.

    By Anonymous An American, at 11:43 AM  

  • When CG solicited ideas back in May, here's how I answered his questions.

    1. What do we stand for?
    - Fiscally conservative, socially progressive, but moderately so in both cases
    - Strong, centralized, inclusive one-Canada federalism that embraces bilingualism and multiculturalism
    - Traditional and compassionate values, both at home and abroad, where we play a strong role promoting them
    - Modern and leading-edge science, medicine, and engineering, with high investment in education
    - Open, democratic, responsible, ethical and transparent government

    2. Why should Canadians vote Liberal? (this answer cannot contain the words "NDP" or "Conservative Party" in it)
    - To keep Canada as a single, strong nation that is empowered by its diversity (regional or otherwise)
    - To ensure that assistance is always there for the most vulnerable, the sick/injured, the unemployed, the elderly, etc.
    - To have a known, trusted and consistent direction and voice, that promotes trade and investment
    - To maintain Canada's economic advantage, thanks to sound fiscal management, investment in education and immigration
    - To protect our democratic institutions, keeping them as open, responsible, ethical and transparent as possible

    3. How do we communicate the above to voters?
    - Patiently delivering a clear, consistent message
    - Using all available mediums, especially grassroots, social media and lots of town halls
    - Taking very open and bordering-on-the-extreme measures to improve the ethical character of the party

    4. Who exactly should we be convincing to vote for us? (I'd call this "who makes up the Liberal coalition", if not for the obvious attack ad it would lead to)
    - Those that fundamentally share our values. In the unlikely case that we are in the minority, so be it.

    5. How do we engage our membership?
    - Social media, town halls

    6. How do we raise enough money to live in the post-subsidy world?
    - The old-fashioned way! Donations from individuals and corporations.
    - Fundraisers with prominent Liberals (Chretien, Martin, and even Ignatieff)

    By Blogger Robert Vollman, at 12:05 PM  

  • Anon - Those are two fine examples of politically risky stands which the majority of voters likely would agree with.

    The added benefit of those issues is they go beyond the traditional right/left divide and wouldn't cost a lot of money to implement. Hell, you'd increase government revenues by several billion a year by legalizing pot.

    By Blogger calgarygrit, at 12:15 PM  

  • I actually think support for assisted suicide/euthanasia could pay more dividends (politically) than marijuana. And I say that as someone who strongly believes that it is simply the right thing to do.

    Move the debate to our terms. Other than ardent social conservatives, most Canadians will likely reflect on their experiences with family members/parents/grandparents and seriously consider this issue. In true Liberal form, it is about protecting what the individual would want.

    You get the benefit of being the first mover. If young people in this country are going to get re-engaged in politics, *maybe* it will involve actually addressing big areas of concern again. Even income inequality is too remote for many people these days. Whether their parents are able to choose how they die, however, is not.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 12:28 PM  

  • Now would be an opportune time for the Liberals to look at redefining the very role of government in our 21st century information age. A more open government promoting debate, engaging with citizens, and making information and data available to individuals, organizations, businesses,etc., for the purpose of decision-making and planning. Moving the country forward through collaboration and facilitation based on data and evidence, as opposed to steamrolling ideologically-based policy through parliament.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 12:33 PM  

  • Andrew Coyne would make a great leader.

    By Blogger Jordan, at 1:11 PM  

  • "Instead they need to be seen as a "party of principle", taking bold and risky stances - sometimes zigging right and sometimes zagging left."

    ... Because nothing says principle more than political opportunism.

    As for who makes up Liberal election policy and where, well, making it up on the fly has long been a party standard for the Liberals. I only wish I could repeat the stories I've heard. But reacting to the people met during the course of the campaign has been a big part of it.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 3:14 PM  

  • Euthanasia has more support, but legalizing marijuana has far more potential politically for three reasons.

    1) Other countries already have euthanasia policies in place. This is not the case for marijuana. No one has legalized pot. If Canada were to legalize pot, the amount of international attention would be enormous. The Conservative tough on crime agenda would be starved for oxygen.

    2) Not only does this have the support of huge numbers of people internationally, the issue is pregnant in ways that euthanasia is not. The huge cost of the war on drugs is straining budgets. Marijuana prohibition is quickly loosing legitimacy in the Western world, is quickly being rendered untenable by emergence of loose medical marijuana laws (e.g., California) and is feeding corruption and drug related violence elsewhere, most notably Mexico.

    3) Euthanasia like a abortion rises extremely complicated philosophical issues in ways that marijuana legalization does not. Deeply complex issues relating to personhood and viability abound. Marijuana is much more like SSM in that opposition arguments are so bad that that it mocked as a form of madness, reefer madness. This matters a lot. The Liberals will benefit from having the Conservatives trout out the same dumb arguments months on end.

    By Blogger Koby, at 4:40 PM  

  • You do realize that this is the exact opposite of what successful parties do?

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 5:00 PM  

  • CG: And regardless of what the Liberal Party becomes, it's going to have to organize, fundraise, and communicate better.

    Organize and fund raise depend on communicate, yet is put last in priority and attention. The LPC has been KILLED left right and centre on communication ... not just to party members (current and potential) but to Canadians in general. Until the communication problem is fixed, don't expect the organize and fund raise parts to get better.

    As for policy making, I'd rather see a larger pool of people to determine the "5 of 10" must have policies. Conventions attract the keeners, not the beer and popcorn crowd we're competing with. If we can have open leadership elections, why not open policy development too.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 8:19 PM  

  • The biggest hurdle facing the Liberals is relevance. They finished with less than 20% in two thirds of the seats. Outside of a few urban and suburban seats in Winnipeg and Vancouver and Goodale's seat the Liberals were neck and neck with the Green's west of Ontario. Outside of Montreal, the situation is even worse in Quebec.


    The Liberals are not going to be able to build from the grassroots up for the simple reason that in great swaths of the country there is no grassroots from which foster a rebirth.


    If the Liberals are going to make a comeback, it will have to be orchestrated from the top not from the bottom. Furthermore, such a rebirth is only possible within the next couple of years. The Canadian population feels no loyalty to the "natural governing party" whatsoever. The Liberals have for so long stood for nothing that no body stands with them now. If the Liberals do not reinvent themselves and quick, they will loose what urban seats they have left to the NDP and what suburban seats they have to the Conservatives.


    So, what can be done? The Liberals need to take advantage of the only thing they have going for them, viz., a residual interest in them from the nation's media. They must pursue policies that draw headlines and fuel editorials. That means support for legalizing marijuana and euthanasia. That means supporting mandatory voting. That means abandoning support for equity, asymmetrical federalism and collective rights. That means calls to abolish the senate, the monarchy and a call for much more representative House. The Liberals can not long afford be the party that defends the status quo. They have to be the one's challenging it.


    Of course, such a strategy will can only work if the Liberals abandon the notion that they can use the media to reach Canadians. The bulk of the silly, insubstantive, unoffensive, small ball talking points that Liberals trotted out in opposition interested no one least of all the media. Very few ever reached your average Canadian accept maybe as the objects of ridicule in various editorial columns. As the third party, things will be even worse. No, the Liberals have to develop coherent positions and arguments and serve as the liberal columnists and opinion makers that Canada simply does not have. Their goal should be to dominate the national discussion for long as possible.

    By Blogger Koby, at 9:18 PM  

  • Even to this day - after sending back my membership card years ago - I get more Conservative fundraising requests than I do Liberal ones, despite the fact that I'm a member of the latter. In fact, I get more Green requests (because I asked for their PROVINCIAL party mailing list, but still get FEDERAL requests) than I do Liberal requests.

    By Blogger ridingBYriding, at 3:57 AM  

  • "support for legalizing marijuana and euthanasia"

    Again, nothing says relevance more than moral bankruptcy and political opportunism.

    Good God, have the Liberals reached such a low?

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 3:57 AM  

  • It is interesting that the two policies that have leapt to mind here are marijuana and euthanasia.

    What is the underlying principle behind these two recommendations? It is exactly what Alf Apps said in his recent pronouncement Liberals stand for: "the autonomy of the individual."

    This kind of ideology only gets you so far in Canada. The country has an ancient adherence to group rights and collective action that has to be addressed.

    Unfortunately, the political sides on this terrain are already occupied: Conservatives (right/religion), and the NDP (left/social democracy/language i.e. Quebec).

    With no space open, it is hard to see how the Liberals can build a coherent movement that addresses group action, one based on underlying principles rather than one-off policies.

    As has been stated before, this leaves them in British Lib Dem territory, the party of home county professionals -- which in Canada doesn't get you very far.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 6:29 AM  

  • Euthanasia? Marijuana? Those are exactly the type of issues Harper wants the other parties to make a central component of their thrusts from here-on in.

    They'd love to let the NDP and/or Liberals debate the airy fairy social rights stuff while the Conservatives deal with the so-called bread-and-butter realities facing Canadians. Let the opposition ceed the central ground that is the policies, legislation and programs that make a significant difference in their everyday lives. Let the opposition take value-based stances on matters of middling priority while the Conservatives 'takcle' the things that truly shift the political consciousness and voting trends of a nation.

    By Anonymous form soccer, at 10:10 AM  

  • Maybe if the Liberals run on a pro-pot ticket, you can persuade some members of the Marijuana Party to sign on as Liberals. Do you remember how well that worked out for the Greens and the NDP in 2008?

    In 2008, three candidates were asked to step down over antisemitic remarks. And those three weren’t the only lunatics running for office.

    First to go was John Shavluck, a Green Party candidate, formerly a member of the Marijuana Party.

    In the midst of a semi-coherent rant against the United States (the usual stock in trade on his blog) Shavluck referred to: “your governments complicate [complicity in the] attack on your shoddily built Jewish world bank headquarters. you know "the 2 towers."

    The Green Party had the good sense to kick Shavluck out as soon as a blogger uncovered this posting and before the mainstream media even picked up on it.

    Shavluck wasn’t the only former Marijuana Party member forced to step down during this election. As part of an apparent policy of courting the political fringes, Jack Layton had cultivated the pothead constituency.

    In 2008, two former members of the Marijuana Party ran as NDP candidates.

    Dana Larsen was the first to step down after a blogger uncovered shows he’d done for Pot TV, including one that featured him driving while stoned on LSD.

    The other former Marijuana Party candidate stepped down soon after when it was discovered that he, too, took drugs. (Quelle surprise!)

    For myself, I was more concerned about Larsen’s politics. He was campaigning against “deep integration.”

    Within the sliver of sanity on this issue, some people oppose harmonizing regulations between Canada and the U.S. because they fear it will result in some loss in sovereignty and in greater power for corporations.

    Usually though, people who talk about “deep integration” see it as a secret conspiracy for an American take over of Canada. The NDP official website expresses the paranoia succinctly with a map of North America coloured all over with the stars and stripes of the American flag ...

    The Liberals ran a few loons of their own in 2008. Remember Leslie Hughes, the Liberal Truther who stepped down after her antisemitism was exposed. And then of course, there was the biggest loon of all: David Orchard.

    Orchard considers the invasion of Afghanistan – in which Canada participated – a war crime. A “supreme international crime,” he calls it.

    Presumably, then, Orchard considers the Canadian government of the time a bunch of war criminals. But that government included the present leader the Liberal Party, Stéphane Dion.

    The Liberals have always been a big tent party, a party that includes a wide diversity of views, but why Dion signed Orchard’s nomination papers is beyond me.

    Unlike Layton, Dion didn’t actively woo the political fringes, but with people like David Orchard and Lesley Hughes running for the Liberals, it looked like Dion didn’t understand the difference between a big tent and a circus tent.

    You don’t want to repeat that mistake.

    By the by, you can read this whole piece, as originally published here: http://www.engageonline.org.uk/blog/article.php?id=2158

    By Blogger Brian Henry, at 7:34 PM  

  • "The country has an ancient adherence to group rights and collective action that has to be addressed."

    No it does not. Prior to 1970, whatever group rights that existed were granted out of political necessity and certainly not any kind of ideological attraction. In the 1970s that changed. Various groups championed group rights both as means of correcting historical inequalities and as a manifestation of the concept of nation build around the idea of blood. Person and later Trudeau recognized these inequalities, but felt that such inequalities could be better addressed by means that did not elevate the poisonous and divisive concept of a blood nation. So far so good. The only problem is Trudeau sold out. Such was Trudeau's desire to repatriate the Constitution that he was willing to enshrine such claptrap a guiding legal principle. His actions were unforgivable. The country has suffered as a result but nearly as much as the Liberals. The schizophrenic nature of today's Liberal party can be traced back to Trudeau's Faustine gambit. The Liberals are now a party that celebrates Trudeau's principled Federalism well all the while practicing an unprincipled and opportunistic form of asymmetrical federalism. They are a party that celebrates, on the one hand, a famously inclusive, albeit nebulous Canadian identity that the party helped foster, while all the well paying homage to exotic level of government whose membership is exclusive to one legally defined race.


    Soccer "while the Conservatives deal with the so-called bread-and-butter realities facing Canadians."


    Ha ha


    You should realize that the areas in which the Conservative's have raised the by far the most, viz., defense and corrections, do not benefit your average Canadian family a lick and that the biggest tax cuts that they introduced, even bigger than GST cut, where not for individuals but for corporations.


    Speaking of those corporate tax cuts, it goes without saying that corporations have mostly hoarded that money and reinvested very little of it in the economy or jobs. The studies predicted predicted this and so far they have spot on. It also should be pointed out that they have been real boon for the US treasury. You see, corporate tax rates are a lot higher in the US. This means that U.S. corporations in Canada pay more American tax on their Canadian profits. On average, 4 to 6 billion dollars a year is transferred from Canada to the U.S.


    Finally, you should realize that Harper has long since counseled conservatives to turn their attention from economic issues to social ones. Stephen Harper: "The truth of the matter is that the real agenda and the defining issues have shifted from economic issues to social values, so conservatives must do the same."

    By Blogger Koby, at 3:55 AM  

  • Brain: Stephen Harper once joked that Conservative party should come with the following warning. "may contain nuts."

    He was right.

    Rondo Thomas "the facts don't matter"

    Paul Forseth: "Old age security is welfare for the aged."

    Peter Goldring: “I have strong concerns that we're building [homeless] shelters on a grander and grander scale.”

    Stephen Harper: “Any country with Canada’s insecure smugness and resentment can be dangerous.”

    Stephen Harper: “west of Winnipeg the ridings the Liberals hold are dominated by people who are either recent Asian immigrants or recent migrants from eastern Canada: people who live in ghettoes and who are not integrated into western Canadian society.”

    Conservative press release: “Today, [Paul] Martin says he’s against child pornography. But his voting record proves otherwise.”

    Art Hanger: “I suspect flogging straightens up behavior by jolting a criminal into reality … Compare it to our system, which provides no deterrence and is little more than a revolving door … Is corporal punishment extreme? … I don’t think so.”

    Stockwell Day: “Homosexuality is a mental disorder that can be cured through counseling”

    Gary Caldwell: “If homosexuality is normal, must we also permit bestiality?”

    Myron Thompson: “I want the whole world to know that I do not condone homosexuals. I do not condone their activity. I do not like what they do. I think it is wrong. I think it is unnatural and I think it is totally immoral. I will object to it forever they attack the good traditional Canadian family unit that built the country.”

    David Sweet: “men are natural influencers, whether we like it or not. … Its because Jesus knew women would naturally follow. Men, on the other hand, had to be called."

    Garry Breitkreuz: "In the 1950s, buggery was a criminal offence, now it’s a requirement to receive benefits from the federal government.”

    Darrell Reid: “The liberalization of divorce laws was the biggest disaster to hit Canada, short of common-law marriage”

    ...

    By Blogger Koby, at 4:13 AM  

  • This comment has been removed by the author.

    By Blogger Koby, at 4:17 AM  

  • But Koby, that's the point. It's a very convincing argument that corrections, military, corporate tax cuts, all have more of an impact than taking stands on no-win divisive moral issues like marijuana and euthanasia, even though it's arguably not the case.

    You should realize that reality and perception are completely different. But I guess that's one of the big reasons the Liberals have fallen as far as they have.

    And you should realize that your Harper quote is from 2003. What marginalized Harper for so long? Him and his crazy theo-cons and their divisive moral stances.

    And you should realize that ever since they came within a whiff of gaining power, Harper ceased his focus on 'moral' issues.

    Who's been the PM since 2008? What's he done on moral issues? Religion? Gay marriage?

    Niente. And that's the point.

    By Anonymous Marc from soccer, at 11:39 AM  

  • After the SSM debate wrapped up in the summer of 2005, the Conservatives were so badly malled that the media had all but written Stephen Harper off. The Liberals had a 12 point lead in the polls and Stephen Harper fittingly closed off the SSM debate by dressing like one of the village people for the Calgary Stampede. However, in the fall of 2005 the Liberals disastrously moved away from "cool" Canada to things that Martin was comfortable with. They stop pursuing hot button social issues and instead focused on tax cuts and throwing former colleagues under the bus. Both issues were tailor maid for the Conservatives. In opposition, the Liberals have avoided hot button issues like the plague.



    Stephen Harper meanwhile has been steady as she goes. Yes, it is true that the did not pursue SSM after a Commons vote in 2006, but he is very much focused on changing what "the state values" -- hence the Conservatives focus on crime and military.

    There is not a single prescript in that 2003 paper, by the way, that Harper has yet to pursue.

    "This same argument applies equally to a range of issues involving the family (all omitted from the Throne Speech), such as banning child pornography, raising the age of sexual consent, providing choice in education and strengthening the institution of marriage. All of these items are key to a conservative agenda."

    1) 'banning child pornography"

    The promise to ban child pornography should raise a few eyebrows.First, call me crazy, but is child pornography not already banned? Second, Harper, err, I mean some low level Conservative staffer, decided to test drive this line during the 2004 election campaign. "Today, [Paul] Martin says he's against child pornography. But his voting record proves otherwise.""The NDP Caucus Supports Child Pornography?"When asked whether he thought the line was in bad taste he said this. "What's in bad taste is the Liberal party's record on child pornography".

    Since the 2004 election debacle, Harper has toned things down the rhetoric a bit. 2006 Policy Declaration "The conservative government will eliminate all defenses that are currently used to justify the possession of child pornography." Sorry Harper there is only one.The public good defense, or if you prefer the Lolita Loophole prevents the state from seizing copies of, well, Lolita and exempts writers, artists, researchers and legal authorities from prosecution.

    2) Raising the age of consent:Policy Declaration: "The conservative party would rename the Age of Consent to the Age of Protection and raise it from 14 to 16." Age of protection huh; that is an interesting name change.

    3) "Choice in child care allowance" Who knew that Canada had national daycare program for so many years and that it was mislabled as the "baby bonus".

    By Blogger Koby, at 2:31 PM  

  • "On Thursday night, Robertson posted a message on the social net-working website Twitter: "Good to see 4 Vancouver ex-mayors calling for end of cannabis prohibition. I agree, we need to be smart and tax/regulate."

    Former Vancouver mayors Larry Campbell, Mike Harcourt, Sam Sullivan and Philip Owen all signed an open letter to politicians in B.C. on Wednesday claiming a change in the law will reduce gang slayings."

    http://www.vancouversun.com/news/Robertson+echoes+call+weed+prohibition/5772187/story.html

    By Blogger Koby, at 2:38 PM  

  • Andrew Coyne would fail in politics, precisely because he's too principled.

    By Anonymous Michael F, at 5:26 PM  

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