Recommendations from a lapsed Liberal
Why a lapsed Liberal? There are two reasons; the second directly related to my primary recommendation.
About 35 years ago I first had the opportunity to provide policy advice to the Liberals. During the next 18 years or so I continued to have the privilege of advising both the Federal and Ontario Liberals, increasingly at the most senior levels. I voluntarily contributed thousands of hours to the Liberals, and enjoyed almost every minute. I learned more about policy making and politics than I did in all my years of post-secondary education, and more than I ever could have if I had read a library full of books in political science. It was an experience that everyone who has any aspirations to contribute in some way to this country should share.
Of course, there were both setbacks and victories; and both provided important learning experiences. Yet, after the 1993 election of Chretien, I decided to part company. During that campaign, Arthur Donner and I wrote most of the economic policy in the Red Book. Nevertheless, I believed that it was time for the next generation of policy advisors to have their chance to enjoy the same opportunities and privilege that I had had.
Following the initial victory by Rene Levesque and the first referendum, it became clear that the Liberals had failed to articulate a vision for Canada. The close call in 1995 dramatically emphasized this glaring gap. Instead of developing this vision, Chretien and his advisors concocted the Clarity Act, an Act that will prove to be entirely irrelevant and ineffective if Quebec ever decides to separate.
This leads to my second reason for becoming a lapsed Liberal, and to my principal recommendation to the Liberals. Starting in the late 1970s and for the next quarter century, I continued to stress the need for the Liberals to create the vision – to tell Canadians, all Canadians, why they should be proud to be a Canadian; to show all Canadians how we prosper as a united country; to convince Canadians that our country can become a light for many others.
The Liberals have not created this vision. They have no compelling narrative to convince Quebecers to want to be part of Canada; indeed, they have no such narrative to convince people in all other parts of the country to proudly be part of Canada. Instead, they have catered to parochial interests, and continue to espouse some foggy notion of being “socially responsible, and fiscally prudent”.
Unless the Liberals can figure out what Canada should stand for and what Canada should look like, they might end up wandering through the dessert for quite a while, waiting for the Conservatives to implode. A strategy of winning by default – being the lesser of two or three evils – is not the best strategy for Canada going forward.
My second piece of advice is based on my own decision about 18 years ago. Fresh blood is needed to rejuvenate the party. The next permanent leader should be in her/his 40s, with limited political experience to date. This new leader should surround herself/himself with a new generation of advisors. There is much talent across the country, and the old guard must step down.
Finally, Liberals must abandon their paternalistic mindset – their belief that they know best and the electorate is too simple to be trusted to know what is in their best interests. The people across Canada can tell the difference between good ideas and garbage, and they do have the right to periodically make mistakes. But never underestimate their ability to correct their mistakes. That is one of the the beauties of democracy and regular elections.
The opinions expressed in this blog are personal and do not reflect the views of either Global Brief or the Glendon School of Public and International Affairs.