How Canada's Liberals Have Run Out of Ideas by Pieter Dorsman It was a rainy New Year's day when I ambled onto our local beach for the traditional dip and dash'. Usually the event is hosted by the mayor, but this time there was our Member of Parliament, Liberal Blair Wilson. Of course, he was surrounded by a group of curious people and I could not resist mixing into the circle and get a feel for the discussion that was consuming them.
Wilson was confident in reporting to the group around him that the days of Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s conservative minority government were pretty much numbered. Eighteen months, and that’s about it affirmed Wilson. All the bystanders reacted in the affirmative: Right, eighteen months.
A bit too confident to my liking as the latest polls were showing that Canadians were (a) not very interested to head back to the polls anytime soon and (b) were giving the conservatives still the edge over the liberals. Sure, Wilson and friends have a good six months before the year-and-a-half mark is reached, so I asked him what it was that the Liberal Party of Canada planned to campaign on in order to ensure their return to the halls of power.
To clarify my point I underlined that the last campaign was about the corruption of Wilson’s own party so what could we possibly expect this time?
Childcare was the confident answer from Wilson and the group started concurring again.
My rebuttal was swift, Many people with young children are quite happy with the monthly Harper check, pointing to the current government’s attempt to let parents figure out how to care for their kids rather than create another state-owned behemoth. Childcare an issue? Sure, but it will not swing an election.
Wilson was not easily taken. Afghanistan he said stridently, We’ll see the same here as in the US last November, people are just tired of the war.
It was not the place and time to take Wilson through the various reasons as to why the Democrats recaptured congress, but suffice it say that according to CNN’s exit polls they were in order of importance: corruption, terrorism, the economy with the Iraq War only number four on the list. Still, the man representing the party that instinctively rejects anything American wasted no time to put Canadian voters in the same box as their southern neighbors, conveniently forgetting that it was his own Liberal party that sent troops to Afghanistan in the first place. Barring any disaster, this is not something the Liberals would really want to campaign on.
Wilson must have sensed he was on feeble ground and quickly went on to the next issue that would move the Canadian vote: aboriginal or Indian issues.
I don’t think I needed to underline the folly of that particular item as the bystanders stopped nodding and now came to the rescue of our struggling parliamentarian: The environment!
Wilson was relieved to get this lifeline, how could he possibly have forgotten the flavor of the month and the pet issue of his party’s new leader, Stephane Dion? So, he started to celebrate the greening of his own party and to be frank, it has indeed become an issue for many; the marketing genius behind An Inconvenient Truth knows no boundaries.
Walking away and preparing for the dip in the ice cold Pacific Ocean I couldn’t help but think that none of the issues that the Liberal party has prioritized are all that compelling. Harper has enacted an accountability act that will hopefully address corruption for generations to come, he is carefully but steadily forking cash back into Canadian households and his clear stance on foreign affairs is admired, prompting one of Wilson’s own liberal colleagues, an immigrant Muslim no less, to join the conservative ranks. Afghanistan is not moving the nation and too hot to handle for the Liberals, childcare and aboriginal affairs are unlikely to get anyone seriously excited and Harper has in the meantime moved adroitly to regain control of the environmental portfolio.
The Liberals have routinely assumed power in Canada without ever offering a vision of the future and most of the times the electorate let them get away with this without much ado. That has bred the sort of complacency that forms the basis of the party’s lack of a strategy and its inability to articulate clear and compelling issues.
The result is simply hoping that the conservatives will somehow trip and that Canadians will wake up realizing they had been foolish to hand Harper a mandate. This attitude is not a strictly Canadian phenomenon; it is an ideological void that the liberal-left has run into in many other countries: it has lost the debate over the economy and fiscal policies, it has failed to grasp security and terror and multiculturalism is just too toxic to touch these days. So, on the wings of Al Gore it has embraced global warming as one of the last big issues alive.
As of today Stephen Harper has shown unusual strength in offering up new ideas and against all expectations, has mastered the political part of the game. Only the faint hope of an unforeseen disaster can bring the liberals back to power, hardly something to build your electoral strategy on. Harper will — as Canada stands today– last far longer than anyone, friend or foe, had expected.
To be frank, I was out of the freezing water in less than ten seconds, and a gracious Wilson, ever the politician, walked up to me and shook my hand. And in that he revealed what his party has always been very good at: politics, not ideas.
Pieter Dorsman has a guide to Dutch Politics @ DUTCH POLITICS 101. He studied law and obtained a Master’s degree in Economic and Social History at the Erasmus Universiteit in Rotterdam, The Netherlands. After graduation he joined Barclays Bank PLC in London where he worked in the corporate banking and risk management divisions of the bank. Pieter is the force behind Peaktalk, a weblog about international politics and economics. Some of Peaktalk’s posts have appeared in the National Post, one of Canada’s largest newspapers and more recently Pieter’s columns have appeared on PJ Media. Pieter has also appeared on a number of radio shows in the US and Canada to talk about European news and developments..