Turning Talk into Action.

Authored by Brett Thalmann.

There has been a considerable amount of discussion and interest in reform and renewal of the Liberal Party of Canada after the historic loss in the election last Monday. 

All my conversations with friends and what I’ve been reading online has re-energized me in the face of the brutal election results. I am convinced that we as young progressive and liberal Canadians have a huge opportunity to make our mark on the Liberal Party and contribute in building a better Canada. 

To start, I wanted to react to a number of things that have been already written on-line. To be honest, there have been so much activity online it has been hard to keep track of it all, but here is my first take:

Rob Silver seemed to start it all off on the right foot with a number of great blog posts at the Globe that scope out what’s next for the Liberal Party. Of the four camps that Rob references, I am firmly with Rob in the 2nd group: 

2. Reform everything about the Liberal Party. Top-to-bottom. New blood, new voting coalition – there’s not much that stays the same in this new Liberal Party. This is obviously my preferred option and I will discuss it in more detail in the days and weeks to come.

Susan Delacourt provides a decent summary in this weekend’s Toronto Star, despite the headline, where she surveys much of the discussion in the media about the future of the LiberalParty. Unfortunately, most of it is about leadership and merger, both topics that I have no interest in talking about right now. I don’t think it is the time to be talking about leadership. The Liberals continually get caught up in these leadership battles at the expense of focusing time and energy on building grassroots organizations and institutions both within and outside the official Party who would, similar to organizations on the right, help to support and ultimately get a Liberal leader elected Prime Minister.

I very much agree with Vincent St. Pierre who argues on his blog Calgaryliberal.com that centrism is an electoral strategy, not a political philosophy, and that the Liberals should now start listening more closely to Preston Manning. Manning uses an iceberg metaphor to describe politics — parties in themselves represent the 10 per cent above the surface, while ideas, movements and activism form the 90 per cent you don’t see. St. Pierre writes: 

I fear the Liberals have become ice cubes — a party for a party’s sake, and an accumulation of people interested in being in a party and implementing a party’s vision. A party without a base of support, that is. Being solely ‘centrist’ will not get the Liberals anywhere.

I couldn’t agree more and on the “centrism” point specifically, Jesse Rosenberg nails it with the ending to his recent blog post:

That’s why our plan has to be to rebuild, and re-learn what it means to be really liberal, so we can start the mission of convincing Canadians to join a project, not a party

The other point from Manning about parties being only 10% rings very true to me, especially given my experience while I was in the U.S. during the Bush years. I saw first hand and participated in the development of progressive institutions and organizations that emerged to foster progressive activism and support for the Democratic Party. Canadian Liberals should look at the example down south, with the emergence of groups like Moveon.org, the Center for American Progress, the Campaign for America’s Future, Media Matters and progressive blogging communities like DailyKos, OpenLeft and others. 

Conservatives here in Canada get it. They have adopted the Republican strategy and developed right wing think tanks like the Fraser Institute, the Canada West Foundation and others. They recently founded the Manning Centre to help train and build the next generation of conservative activists and now have their very own version of Fox News with Sun TV News. 

Given all this, I think we need to move beyond just talking and take some action. LiberalThinking is a modest start and I encourage you to check it out and consider contributing something yourself. 

In recent days, I’ve been part of a number of discussions about what we as young liberals and those outside of the existing Liberal Party power structure can do to reform and rebuild the Party. If you are interested in getting involved please let me know.

Come Back

Authored by Jesse Rosenberg.

Thanks to everyone who read my last piece, by the way (even if you didn’t leave comments).


Here’s what I have to add today.

 The way for the Liberal Party of Canada to return to relevance is to work on small-L liberalism. I fervently believe that’s where the majority of the country actually is. Some of them currently voting Conservative, some of them are currently voting NDP, and a helluva lot of them are unengaged and don’t care.

 My contention is that most “soft” Conservatives are actually liberals. They may hate the culture of the party, they may be bitter over past mistakes, they may have somehow talked themselves into the ridiculous claim that the Harper minorities were fiscally responsible. But they’re liberals at heart; they don’t believe in abandoning the poor to the vagarities of a market that will surely destroy them, they’re just not thinking about that right now. They don’t believe that the Prime Minister should be able to ignore the truth; they’ve just tricked into thinking it’s not true.

 Similarly, I don’t think a lot of NDP voters are actually socialists. They’re socially conscious; they may really struggle with the challenges that managing capitalism bring; but they’re not socialists. They don’t believe in the trampling on individual rights that NDP beliefs would actually entail. They’re also about to find, it appears, that the “soft nationalism” (sounds so cute, doesn’t it?) is actually a big problem for those who believe in Canada.

 That’s why our plan has to be to rebuild, and re-learn what it means to be really liberal, so we can start the mission of convincing Canadians to join a project, not a party. 

Moving Forward.

Authored by John Edgar.

 In the hours that have followed the rather rabid culling of the liberal party, I have read blog after blog, article after article, comment after comment calling for party reform. It’s become quite clear that members of the party are yearning for change. The question is, how does that change happen? 

 

 I wonder how we begin to bring it all together, how does that conversation transpire and cultivate coming to fruition? We are so discombobulated, scattered across the country, everyone with their little piece of the puzzle. From coast to coast liberals sit in their homes emailing, blogging, tweeting and talking about their ideas of the future of the party.  And yet we all wonder the same thing: How does this rebuild transpire, and where do I fit in? How do you go about building something you don’t even know how to be a part of? 

 

 My concern is that if we don’t do something quickly, the old guard is going to step in and hinder any real progress that could be made. The email received today from Alfred Apps reeked of the same old Liberal disingenuous message, it wasn’t authentic. Telling people you want them to be part of the solution but not giving them a clear conduit to do so is simply sending a mixed and frustrating message. 

 

 I don’t know the best way to help the party move forward, I don’t know the best way for all of us to join together and help shape the future of the party, but I do know it’s something that must happen. 

 

 Rob Silver wrote an interesting article about a think-tank like convention, and I had earlier today shared my idea of small meetings across the country, groups of liberals getting together to discuss the future of the party, and collectively drafting mission statements. Using this collective approach to form a constitution for the party in-order for it to create the road map for moving forward and rebuilding. 

 

 Either way, it’s quite clear many members see this as a great opportunity for change, and I hope we can come to some resolution on the most effective way to do so. 

Far More Than “Centrist”

Authored by Jesse Rosenberg. 

Having watched Michael Ignatieff’s resignation speech and Gerard Kennedy’s speech Monday night, it’s interesting that Ignatieff’s case was “well, we’re centrist, people will come back” and Kennedy argued that “Canada will always need a party that can solve problems, take some from this side and some from that side”.  I’ve seen similar sentiments sprinkled through other media reports from leading Liberals.

 

 I really didn’t like either. Small ‘L” liberalism really means something to me, and I wonder if some of what’s been lost is that no one knows what that means anymore; it’s become just centrism (whereas Trudeau, I would argue, was really a liberal). We’re pale blue and pale orange, or we’re pure pragmatism, or we’re just trying to always tack to the supposed political centre. But I’m deeply unsatisfied with those statements. 

For a start, my liberalism would include the following commitments to building a better society:

 

 1) A maximal commitment to civil liberties. I recognize there will still be some balancing issues that will arise, but our goal has to be to protect individuals’ rights. I believe we should recognize group rights only insofar as addressing the concerns of the group gives us a useful kludge to protect individuals who all suffer from a particular unfairness of society or market, and I’m not totally sure it’s clear to me when that ever happens. One example that I can get behind is the idea, though not necessarily the specifics we have, of French language laws in Quebec. That’s a case where society needs to step in to act on behalf of a group, because a language isn’t something the individual can keep up on his or her own.

 

 2) A complete commitment to symmetrical federalism. Although I recognize that there may be some shake ups as we need to decide which level of government is best able to do a certain task, without assuming that the 1867 text is still best, the best way to achieve individual freedom is to have a strong federal government and equality between the provinces. Certain tasks can, of course, be divided up; in health, for example, it’s becoming increasingly clear that it may make sense to have the federal government take over drug coverage, because we can then negotiate nationally and maintain national standards (thus ensuring individuals are free to move from province to province despite their health conditions). But we need to stand up for fairness, and stand up for the fact that there are issues that need to be addressed as one people, not 10 + 3.

 

 3) A commitment to ensuring markets work fairly. I’m not a big fan of picking winners; there may be some circumstances in which a certain amount of angel funding should come from the government, but clear principles should be developed. Government should take a much larger role in ensuring the market place works fairly, not just efficiently, and a much smaller one in handing out subsidies.

 

 4) This commitment should also apply to our tax system; society needs to work fairly for rich and poor alike, with an eye towards maximizing the security of the poor. The tax handouts the Cons have gone whole hog for should be stopped; they heavily, heavily favour the rich (I don’t really think a lot of poor people can afford gym memberships or piano lessons). Along these lines, we should recognize that government is better at punishing than at encouraging; higher taxes on undesirable activities such as cigarettes and fatty/fast foods (which may disproportionately punish/benefit the poor) are fine by me, because there are always winners and losers in anything we do. If we want to discourage/raise money off of fast food, but we’re worried it will hurt poor people more, then we should give the money to poor people. I also am more and more becoming open to a negative income tax, which would be a huge shift and might be the kind of policy that could change our fortunes. That’s one way to be the party of everyone, not just the well off or whiny. Taxes are our way of coming together to invest in our common good and common future, not a “burden”. Liberals should commit to being part of the project of re-establishing the importance of a fair, progressive taxation system that can actually bring we, the nation, enough to protect we, the individuals, in the minds of Canadians.

 

 5) Environmental policy should focus on protection/enhancement of individuals. We should crush pollution, because, to start, it makes people sick. I think the case for working on climate change essentially comes from future generations and a commitment to world fairness, and is something we should take on as world citizens and good stewards of our common trust, not for selfish or terrified reasons.  Polluter pays should be enshrined as a guiding principle, and should apply to carbon emissions as well. I strongly support a carbon tax to that end.

 
6) Foreign policy so far trips me up, in the attempt to divide along these lines. It’s clear to me that liberalism requires a strong commitment to others around the world, and to the building and enhancement of international law and international institutions. But the big foreign policy issues of our day have been questions of when interventions are just, and I’m not too clear on how that works.

 

 Interestingly, this is one area where the best I have so far is that we should be defined as “nots”. We’re not the NDP, which is in favour of humanitarian intervention except when it’s “too hard” or the other parties want to do it, and has an isolationist branch, and we’re not the CPC, which wants to use foreign policy to try to trick Canadians into believe only the CPC is patriotic. I think it’s clear we have to stand with, and for, all people everywhere, not their leaders, but this all gives us few answers on what to do. We must also return to our world role as an honest broker, rather than an American lapdog or a socialist agitator.

 

 The fact that the final area is a struggle to sort out how principles sh0uld be applied is a feature, not a bug. Here’s a tip: if you think your ideology, or the company you keep, tells you so easily exactly how to solve complex issues like war and peace, then there’s something wrong with you, the ideology, the company, or all three.

 

 The difference between Liberals and the NDP should not be that we sit “right”, and the difference between Liberals and the Conservatives shouldn’t be that we’re more “left”. The ideas outlined above demonstrate that we are not just “in between”; we are something else that often happens to be in between. 

 

I see things this way:

NDP:

 
 1) The social difference is that the NDP stands for turning society into a series of collectivities in which those without a connection, and those whose connection the left doesn’t recognize are left out in the cold, while we stand for enhancing the liberty of all. 


 2) The economic difference is that the NDP stands for completely rewiring our economic system, whereas we recognize the genius and freedom of capitalism.


  3) The systemic difference needs to be that we are a party that is truly committed to democracy, from tail (ensuring our party becomes the most fair and democratic) to tip (ensuring that Parliament holds government accountable, and is itself held accountable, even when it does not serve our own interests). Democracy is a liberal principle, not a socialist one and we need to take it back and enforce its dictates brutally.

 

CPC:


 1) The social difference is that the CPC stands for trying to dial society back to an era where liberalism was even more imperfect, and majoritarianism could rule. Again, individuals who fail to be in the (real, perceived, or rigged) majority are excluded. Liberals stand for everyone. The Conservative claim to care about individual freedom and responsibility is high on my list for future debunking.


 2) The economic difference is that the CPC (Harper’s willingness to pander aside) stands for unchecked economic “freedom” that would leave the less fortunate (or, increasingly, the not-rich) to “free” fend for themselves in a system that would be even further rigged against them. We understand that capitalism is the worst form of economic organization, except for all the others that have been tried. 


 3) The systemic difference needs to be that we are a party that is truly committed to democracy, from tail (ensuring our party becomes the most fair and democratic) to tip (ensuring that Parliament holds government accountable, and is itself held accountable, even when it does not serve our own interests). Democracy is a liberal principle, not a Conservative one, and we need to take it back and enforce its dictates brutally.

 

 The one place where liberalism is definitely a true middle, rather than different, ground between the other two ideologies is in the role of the state. Unlike the NDP, we are aware enough to recognize that the state may have shortcomings, and to have a preference for allowing individuals to make their own choices; unlike the CPC, we understand how incredibly important it is for us to come together as a people to better our common good.

 Though I would reject “centrism” as an end, rather than a coincidence, I do not mean to reject pragmatism, at least in one particular sense; Liberals, over the years, have correctly not allowed the perfect to become the enemy of the good. It represents one of our true strengths over our opponents when wielded correctly. We should be comfortable making incremental progress, or taking the best deal available if accepting that deal is the only way to progress our goals. Pragmatism can become a weakness, however, if deal making becomes an end to itself in one of two ways. First, if we accept a deal without really getting anything in return; for example, in the current Parliament it seems stunningly unlikely there will be opportunities for us to agree with other parties unless their policies actually coincide with ours, because we have nothing to offer them. The CPC has no need of our votes, and the NDP won’t be accomplishing anything anyway. Second, pragmatism must never be allowed to slow us down in our mission to deliver a more just and successful society. Those pointing to the failure of full Democratic control of government from 2008-2010 to deliver larger successes in certain areas make arguments along this line that should be listened to, if not necessarily accepted as accurate given the complexity of the realities of the situation. Pragmatism where necessary, but not necessarily pragmatism.

 I really believe we can take back the Canada we want by driving in our own direction, rather than trying to mediate between the visions of others. We’re not always going to agree, and you won’t agree with everything I’ve suggested; but we know the same thing goes on in the other two parties, if to a lesser extent, and for all the wrong reasons. What we need to do is work from principle, so that both Liberals and Canadians understand where our vision comes from, and why the applications to specific issues are what they are. We also need to start seeing the politics as the country as something to try to move in our direction, rather than just races to win; we need to develop policies that we believe will make people free, and then try to get those policies enacted for their own sake. We need to build our institutional capacity to achieve these goals.

 This is going to be an interesting five years for a lot of the wrong reasons, unless the Conservative caucus is nothing like we know they are. But it can also be interesting for a lot of the right reasons if Liberals, liberals, and those who don’t yet realize that they’re either or both can all come together to build something far better than what we had before. The Liberal Party of Canada has achieved much for Canada and for the world; we can do it again.

The state of our Union.

Authored by John Edgar.

 What happened last night, May 2nd, 2011, was nothing short of depressing for those of us who are die hard liberals. Canada bled red, and sent a clear message to the party: We don’t trust you, rebuild. Plagued with a history of wrong doings and a run of mediocre leadership we can’t blame the Canadian people for this sentiment. The losses felt in the 41st General Election were a result of a few culminating factors.  

 
 First and foremost a low confidence in the leader of The Liberal Party. It was heard at the door time after time, rider after riding, day after day.. “It’s not you, it’s him”. Michael Ignatieff was not able to pull the support he needed to hold together the party, his personality, inexperience as a leader, and inability to connect with Canadians hurt not just him, but the party. To pin this solely on a Conservative smear campaign would be unwise and dangerous. We must face the harsh reality of the fact that while we elected a very capable, intelligent man as leader, Canadians didn’t warm to him.   

 

 Faced also with a nation that invoked a somewhat ill-advised voting strategically in two directions, one side fighting hard to try and stop the Tories, and one to stop the New Democrats, there was no hope. Small c and soft Cons that would, under the right circumstance vote center pushed right. While uber progressive Liberals and right facing democrats moved further left. It was with this shift of mindset that set the wheels in motion to make the dippers a credible option.
 

 The platform that we produced, while smart in terms of potentially knocking out a conservative government, was so far left it almost read as an NDP platform. Although well costed an fiscally responsible, it did allow the NDP to be seen as a valid alternative in light of the lackluster leadership in the Liberal boat. (I should note, I have no problem with a left of center platform, it just wasn’t a strong platform in terms of something Canadians could stand behind over the other two parties)

 

 Finally, Canadians had a hard time connecting the dots vis-à-vis being at the polls again. Many of them saw it as a Liberal power grab by Michael as his “only chance to make a stab for Prime Minister” (as one person told me at the door). The party did a poor job of explaining the issues surrounding contempt and how that resulted in an election. 

 

 It will take more than just charismatic people with gumption to fix the party however. What is needed is total party reform. We should never find ourselves in a place where our party can be sunk on the back of our leader. At party level, we should always be pushing the ideology, what it MEANS to be a Liberal. Being a liberal is about more than progressive socialism, it’s about more than our strengths and beliefs in fiscal responsibility. It’s about the feeling we get knowing that our country was built and raised on a moderate, centrist platform, it’s about our past, and using it to progress our future.

 

 We hear a repetitive theme among Liberals country wide: they want another Trudeau. Truly what that means is that Canadians are yearning for progression, not just slate stagnant policy after stale stagnant policy. Canada needs to move forward, make gains in so many sectors. We have lost our seats on the world stage, our respect internationally, we are a nation lost in a world of uncertainty. Where we had once been the champion for social reform, smart government, climate awareness and measured military support we are now on the back burner for many international considerations.

 

 We need to take this, the lowest point in our history and treat it as an opportunity to pause. The party needs to be re-built, and not just the leadership. What is needed is a grassroots movement to take place, pockets of people coming together to figure out where we are, and what we stand for. The Liberal Party has lost it’s direction, and without a strong skipper to head the right course, we are stuck in dead water. First however, that path must be charted, we must build a new road map, a new strategy and a fresh take on the core ideas of what the party stands for. The mission statement must be re-vamped to reflect our ever changing technology orientated world, youth engagement, new Canadians and the current state of the country. It would be extremely unwise for the party to start a leadership rally immediately without first taking some time to catch our breath. Our progressive leaders who have lost their seats need to come together as thought leaders, Ruby Dhalla, Gerard Kennedy, Mark Holland, Bob Rae, Martha Hall Findlay, Mario Silva, Carolyn Bennett, Justin Trudeau. Together, unified, we can create a new, well branded, functioning and trust worthy party capable of bringing back and building the Canada we know and love. 

 

And so I ask you, many of the aforementioned and anyone thinking about taking a stab at leadership. Hold off and allow the party a small amount of time to regroup before we start another expensive, failed, popularity contest.