Party of Principle
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.
Labels: Liberal Renewal