THE BLOG

Is the Liberal Red Fading?

08/31/2012 11:17 EDT | Updated 10/30/2012 05:12 EDT
AFP/Getty Images

These are not, nor have the past five years, been the best of times to be a card carrying member of the Liberal Party. I'm barely old enough to recall a Canada that come election night was painted a deep Liberal red and I'm also just old enough to remember the pomp and pageantry of the last great Liberal shin-dig: the 2006 leadership race.

Anyone much younger than me has the right to ask: what Liberal Party?

As John Ibbitson of the Globe and Mail asked rhetorically as he examined examining the probable rout of the provincial Liberals in Quebec, the faltering Liberal brand in Ontario, as well as the rudderless national party: "Will the Liberal's Have a Brand Outside of Green Gables?" (Prince Edward Island appears to be the last bastion of Liberal support.)

The common narrative over the past six years, made more valid by the ascendant NDP, is that the Liberals are one election away from being relegated to the graveyard of 20th century big-tent progressive parties.

Without the possibility of electoral success it is expected that remnant Liberal supporters (for the record over 2.8 million Canadians voted for the party in the last federal election) are to simply roll over, hold our nose in the air like the dying gasp of empire and vote for the party that les bon jack built.

The collective end: the removal of Stephen Harper from 24 Sussex, it is assumed, justifies the dirty means.

And yet I, and presumably many, still recoil at the thought of trading Liberal red for bright orange.

For me to switch my vote to the NDP, and presumably for others to do so as well, I would have to believe that the NDP represents the quickest and easiest path to electoral victory. Punditry aside, however, I question whether basic NDP ideology will ever be able to represent a plurality of Canadian voters.

The oft repeated analogy for the NDP's march to power is that of the United Kingdom's Labour Party, which, after being rebranded as New Labour in 1994, went on to defeat the staid 18 year reign of the Margaret Thatcher/John Major Conservatives and also out play the Liberal-Democrat Party in the UK's 1997 general election.

However, this analogy seems too easy. First of all the Liberal-Democrats, or any preceding incarnations of a liberal party in the UK, had ceased to be a major political force following their decline in the 1920s. By the 1990s Labour had been the de-facto second party in the UK for almost half a century.

Furthermore, the success of Tony Blair's New Labour can be credited to a revolutionary shift in the Labour's ideological underpinnings. It was New Labour which saw the party drop its mantra of socialist economic nationalism in support of free market economics.

The Labour Party Rule Book has acted as the Party's constitution since it was written in 1918. Clause IV, once printed on the backside Labour Party membership cards, codifies the aims and values of the Party. It was this clause, which infamously detailed the Labour Party's ideological support for the rights of workers and the nationalization of industry. The Clause, written in 1918, declared: "To secure for the workers by hand or by brain the full fruits of their industry, went unchanged until late into the twentieth century."

Tony Blair's ascension to Labour leader in 1994 saw a major modification, if not revolution, to Clause IV in the embrace of market economics. As leader Blair rewrote Clause IV to read: "Enterprise of the market and the rigour of competition are joined with the forces of partnership and co-operation."

Indeed Tony Blair could argue that he was head of an entirely new labour party.

While the NDP's current constitution depicts itself as a democratic socialist party, much like Labour still does, the NDP has had no similar ideological intervention in its treatment of the economy. The current constitution still reads that: "the production and distribution of goods shall be directed to social and individual needs and... not to making a profit." Furthermore the constitution argues for the "modification and control of operations through social planning" and "where necessary the extension of the principal of social ownership."

Jack Layton and Thomas Muclair's NDP, while undergoing voter growth, is therefore not the spiritual brethren of New Labour. And while there is nothing wrong with staunch social democratic aims, it's just not my, nor I suspect many others, political cup of tea.

So if the ideological trains of Liberals and New Democrats will never meet what can Canada's centre do to temper its growing animus for Harper's conservative government?

The Liberals can be saved by the very ideology which once made Liberal red such a potent political force in Canada.

While the current Liberal constitution, makes no notion of economic capitalism, perhaps ironically, making the Liberals somewhat to the left of those free-wheeling capitalists in the UK's Labour party, the party's constitution does speak to some essential free-market economics: The Liberal Party of Canada is dedicated to the principles that have historically sustained the Party: individual freedom, responsibility and human dignity.

This very liberal freedom of individual, rooted in communal responsibility, is the ideological underpinning of the Liberal party and it is this ideology which offers the Liberal party a route back to power, even if it is a strategy that runs straight through Harper's existing coalition.

As has become increasingly clear with demographics - political future in Canada requires acceptance the suburbs of Calgary, Vancouver and Toronto. The Federal government proposed 30 new ridings for Canada's House of Commons, 11 will be in the Greater Toronto Area, 4 will be in other suburban Ontario regions and another 12 will be divided equally between BC and Alberta.

Canada's political future lies in new ridings carved out places like Brampton West, Oak Ridges-Markham, Vaughan, currently some of the largest and fastest growing ridings in Canada. It is in these municipalities, Canada's heartland and Canada's swing states, where the Canadian dream (or what's left of it) lives: the dream that an immigrant (as my grandparents were) can come to Canada and can create, for themselves, unfettered prosperity.

It is in this dream, where the Liberal Party, can find its salvation. Because to the entrepreneurial spirit, which has guided Canada since its inception, what is more a more powerful message: the direction of production for the benefit of social good or for the Liberal power of the individual?

Renewal for the Liberal Party isn't about finding ourselves, or heck, it's not even about finding a leader (as has been on the to-do list since 2006); the Liberal party simply needs to remember where it comes from and why that still matters to Canadians.