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Hassan Arif

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Liberals, Bold Ideas Will Get You Everywhere

Posted: 12/11/2012 5:36 pm

For much of the 20th century, federal politics in Canada was dominated by two "catch-all" brokerage parties -- the Progressive Conservatives and the Liberals. The former could be considered slightly to the centre-right and the latter to the centre-left. Though on debates such as placement of nuclear missiles on Canadian soil in the early 1960s, it was the Diefenbaker Tories -- with a strong populist bent -- who were ultimately opposed and the more continentalist Liberals in favour. As well, many Blue Liberals could be considered to the right of many Red Tories.

There were third parties like Social Credit which came and went, and an "ideological" social democratic party, the CCF which would later become the NDP, which was the principled third party of the left. Though a new brand of NDPers, influenced by Tony Blair's Third Way, would take issue with their party being labelled "ideological."

Since the 1990s however, federal politics have seen a seismic change, where it has become less about who one's grandparents voted for or who will pave your road, and more about ideas and principles, what a party stands for, as a clearer left-right spectrum has emerged.

In the 1993 election, the Progressive Conservatives -- a party with an oxymoron of a name that embodied catch-all politics -- was reduced to two seats while the right-wing Reform Party emerged as a major player. Reform would eventually morph into the Canadian Alliance and ultimately merge with (many would say absorb) what was left of the Progressive Conservatives.

In 2011 NDP leader Jack Layton ran a spirited campaign that led to a stunning breakthrough in Quebec with ripple effects across the country as the NDP became official opposition and the Liberals were relegated to third party status. As it now embarks upon a leadership race, the once natural governing party faces the reality of third party status.

Justin Trudeau is young and charismatic with "star power" coming from his famous last name. For many Liberals, Trudeau is the answer to reviving the Liberal brand, making the party relevant to a new generation, and being the game-changer to bring the Liberals back to being contenders for power (polls upon Justin Trudeau entering the race have shown the Liberals edging ahead of the NDP, though whether this is a honeymoon period remains to be seen).

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  • Here are the 6 things you need to know about the<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/news/liberal-leadership-race"> Liberal leadership race for 2013</a>.

  • 6. The Dates

    The Liberal Party of Canada will hold an all-candidate showcase on April 6, 2013 in Toronto to kick off a week of voting before announcing the new leader on April 14 in Ottawa. Whoever wins will the seventh leader for the party 10 years.

  • 5. Who’s Running

    There are at least eight people challenging Justin Trudeau for the title. They are: defeated Liberal MP Martha Hall Findlay, lawyer and former professor Deborah Coyne (also the mother of Trudeau’s half sister), lawyer and failed Ottawa-area Liberal candidate David Bertschi, prosecutor and Vancouver Kingsway Liberal riding association president Alex Burton, the former head of the federal Liberals in B.C. David Merner and retired air force pilot and unsuccessful Ottawa-area candidate Karen McCrimmon. B.C. Liberal MP Joyce Murray and Montreal Liberal MP and former astronaut Marc Garneau are expected to announce their bids next week, sources tell HuffPost. Ontario Ministry of Finance economist Jonathan Mousley has also sent emails telling reporters he is considering a run, but has not officially declared his candidacy. So far, the party hasn’t officially registered anyone’s name. Some candidates, such as Bertschi, are still collecting the 300 signatures needed in three provinces and/or territories in order to enter the race.

  • 4. Drop Outs Expected

    The party expects for candidates to drop out before debates begin in late January and had made it easy for them to do so. Liberal Party President Mike Crawley told The Huffington Post Canada the party designed a three- stage payment structure for the non-refundable $75,000 entrance fee in order to make it “really easy” for weak candidates to drop out. “The whole idea was to allow more candidates to come forward and test the waters and then as the second and third payments come up, I think candidates will see how much money they raised and whether they have the support, and they may or may not decide to continue,” Crawley said. “It is very deliberate to encourage a lot of interest at the beginning but to narrow it down to those who are serious as we begin the debates.” Candidates must hand over $25,000 the day they officially register. Those who have registered must pay another $25,000 on Dec. 15, 2012 and a third and final instalment of $25,000 on January 13, 2013. That is also the last day for any candidate to join the race. As for the debates, the first will be held in Vancouver on Jan. 20. Other dates include: Feb. 2 in Winnipeg, Feb. 16 in the Greater Toronto Area, March 3 in Halifax and March 23 in Montreal. The party executive has yet to decide on the debate format.

  • 3. Staying In The Black

    The Liberal Party might charge you to attend a debate, their showcase in Toronto on April 6 or the announcement in Ottawa on April 14. Charging admission — especially for debates — is another controversial point the party’s executive still hasn’t decided on. Liberal insiders say this is nothing new, the party charged delegates $995 to participate in the 2006 leadership selection in Montreal and charged $25 for the public to attend candidates debates. Former Liberal MP Omar Alghabra, an organizer with Trudeau’s campaign, told HuffPost he hopes the party won’t charge people even a nominal fee to attend the debates. “I understand the desire of charging a fee for a service, but we are in the business of proposing to lead a country and generating excitement about our ideas and proposals and we need to make it as accessible as possible.” While, Crawley stressed no decision has been made, he said the party is looking at cost recovery options to fund the showcase, the announcement and all the debates. Since this is also the first non-delegate convention, the party is grappling with need to keep costs low. The party fears the candidates’ registration fee and the 10 per cent levy on all the money raised during the campaign may not be enough to keep the party in the black during this five-month race.

  • 2. Dirty Tricks Possible With ‘Supporters’?

    For the first time, Liberals are inviting non-members to vote for leader. But some in the party believe these supporters should still have to pay to cast a ballot. The party created a “supporter” category at their last convention in January 2012 that allows anyone who is interested in the Liberals to pledge their support online and vote for the national leader in April. So far, 30,000 people have signed up to be supporters. The supporter category is controversial. Some party members suggest only serious devoted Liberals should be allowed to cast a ballot and members and supporters should have to pay to vote in the race. Although the rules say a fee could be applied, Liberal Party President Mike Crawley told The Huffington Post Canada he is staunchly opposed to the idea. “This is not something that I support,” he said flatly Tuesday. “I would be surprised if we end up putting a fee on voting.” But some candidates, such as B.C.’s Joyce Murray, see value in having a nominal fee attached to a vote as a way of ensuring only genuine supporters cast a ballot. She also doesn’t think $5 will discourage anyone who wants to vote from doing so. “I think the principle of ensuring that supporters are real genuine supporters it is an important one and I leave it to the board to qualify supporters to ensure that our intention, which is that those are people who are genuinely in support of the Liberal Party, is what we are getting,” she told HuffPost Wednesday. Murray said that when the party opened up its leadership race, people understood there was a risk that some people from “for example the Conservative Party” would sign up as supporters in order to try to influence the outcome. <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/news/robocalls-scandal">The Tories, who are currently defending themselves from allegations that they purposefully misdirected voters to non-existent polling stations</a>, are not above such tricks, she said. “It wouldn’t be surprising if they would have a concerted, strategic, co-ordinated attempt to change the outcome of this race. So we have to be practical and we have to have measures that as best as possible ensure that won’t happen,” she said.

  • 1. Supporters Could Be Denied The Vote

    Even if you sign up to be a supporter, you could still be denied the ability to vote. The Liberals are looking at ways of verifying that supporters are who they say they are. The aim is to ensure supporters live where they say they do (the votes are weighted by electoral district) and that they are not a member of another political party. Crawley said the party is not sure yet how they are going to verify everyone’s identify and their party affiliation. He said the party will ask supporters to register and to supply additional information but declined to elaborate. The party’s executive has until March 17 to decide on registration procedures.


Justin Trudeau, however, faces questions about experience and readiness to lead, for instance comments calling the long-gun registry a "failure" even though he voted to save it, comments which he had to ultimately walk back. Marc Garneau, who is a generation older than Justin Trudeau, would seem the candidate for Liberals looking for a more experienced leader, with a long distinguished career outside and inside politics.

Other candidates are placing primary emphasis on policy and ideas, Martha Hall-Findlay, a defeated Toronto-area MP, is considered to be on the pro-business centre-right of the party. Meanwhile, Vancouver MP Joyce Murray can be considered centre-left, with a strong emphasis on environmental conservation, and her proposal to allow cooperation -- joint run-off nominations with other progressive parties in select ridings that choose to do so in order to defeat Conservatives. This latter idea would seem a logical way to deal with the problems of a divided left allowing Conservatives to come up the middle, but will be hard for many partisans to accept.

Columnist Andrew Coyne has written that Liberals should embrace third-party status, make bold policy statements that parties seeking power in 2015 would shy away from, essentially move away from the catch-all tradition. This is a strong argument, be the principled third party, take bold stands (that may be controversial by some in the party), and thereby attract a fervent core of supporters, much as the NDP had been able to do in surviving for decades as a viable third party.

In the short-run, a bold principled party can attract supporters who are attracted to the cause, not to the spoils of power per se. In the long run, with a strong loyal base, the party can rebuild to become a contender for government again. Being a third party could be a real chance to boldly define what "liberalism" is.

What about the more controversial -- at least among core partisans -- idea of merger? The Reform/Alliance needed the Progressive Conservatives to gain legitimacy east of Manitoba. For the NDP, the challenge is winning support in suburban areas that are traditionally Liberal versus Conservative contests and among immigrants and visible minorities who are traditionally a strong Liberal constituency. Thus the challenge for the NDP would be to win seats, for example, in Toronto suburbs such as Mississauga and Brampton where there are high populations of visible minorities and immigrants, not to mention be competitive in smaller cities such as Guelph, Kingston, Fredericton, and Moncton.

One could argue that a merger with the Liberals could give the NDP that needed legitimacy to break through into these constituencies. Though presently core Liberal partisans are hoping for a comeback and core NDP partisans are hoping to win government on their own terms. Likely it would take another election cycle, if the results are similar to 2011, for merger to be more seriously considered.

We do seem to be entering a more ideological -- left-right -- era in politics, not only in Canada but in the United States too with the blue/red divide, MSNBC versus Fox News. There is greater onus on political parties to present what they stand for. This is the new terrain Liberals must navigate.

A strong case can still be made for the Liberal Party -- as the party that emphasizes entrepreneurship and job creation drawing a distinction with the NDP (though the NDP is moving in on this territory), and as the party that emphasizes social programs (healthcare, poverty-reduction), environmental conservation, and facts-based policy, to draw a distinction with the Conservatives.

Liberals can be the party that is not afraid to push the limits of political debate with bold ideas. It is a new political terrain for the party, one that will necessitate a greater need to define what exactly "Liberalism" is.

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  • Liberal Leadership Race 2013

    Here are the remaining candidates for the leadership of the Liberal Party of Canada.

  • Justin Trudeau

    Age: 40 Occupation: MP for Montreal-area riding of Papineau <a href="http://justin.ca/en/">Website</a>

  • Joyce Murray

    Age: 58 Occupation: Liberal MP for Vancouver Quadra, former B.C. Liberal environment minister <a href="http://joycemurray.liberal.ca/">Website</a>

  • Martha Hall Findlay

    Age: 53 Occupation: Former Liberal MP for Willowdale and 2006 leadership candidate <a href="http://www.marthahallfindlay.ca/">Website</a>

  • Martin Cauchon

    Age: 50 Occupation: Lawyer, former Montreal Liberal MP <a href="http://martincauchon.ca/">Website</a>

  • Deborah Coyne

    Age: 57 Occupation: Lawyer, professor <a href="http://www.deborahcoyne.ca/">Website</a>

  • Karen McCrimmon

    Occupation: A retired Lieutenant-Colonel in the Canadian forces and mediator. <a href="http://karenforcanada.ca/" target="_hplink">Website</a>

 

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