During the summer doldrums, political commentators seem to be competing with each other to assess the pros and cons of a Liberal leadership bid by 40-year-old Justin Trudeau, a relative novice whose form eclipses his substance in public affairs, but who shows signs of intellectual growth.
Meanwhile, a question of perhaps more importance to the Liberal Party -- and indeed, Canada -- gets less media attention, even as it is debated on the barbecue circuit by the party's self-styled powerbrokers and "strategists." It was the topic when five Grit senators attended the recent Huffington Post birthday celebration in Toronto.
That question is: Should the Liberals merge with the New Democrats? To Jean Chrétien, who won three majority terms as Liberal Prime Minister, the answer is yes. He would sponsor a merger even if it means making a deal with Thomas Mulcair's crypto-separatist socialists who believe Canada can be destroyed by a single vote in another rigged Quebec referendum.
Clearly, Chrétien is a summer patriot of the highest order. He believes that, to save the natural governing party, it must be destroyed. He echoes the theme of Peter C. Newman's best seller -- the God's have changed to the point where Liberalism is dead. Unfortunately, he is not a lone voice in the Liberal wilderness.
His long-time aide, Warren Kinsella, reveals that a merger is such a serious party matter that "serious people" at a "serious level" are giving it serious consideration. For his part, Justin Trudeau concedes that, if his party does not "shine" by the 2015 election, a merger may indeed be the only way to evict Stephen Harper from 24 Sussex Drive. More importantly, perhaps, when a recent Ipsos Reid poll asked Liberals if they like the idea of a merger, a staggering 64 per cent said yes, while 57 per cent of New Democrats approved. This poll also found that 56 per cent of Canadians, and 27 per cent of Liberals, see the Liberals as a spent force.
As a devil's advocate who predicted the failures of Martin, Dion and Ignatieff to stem the post-Chrétien rot, I would like to suggest that, if Chrétien has his way -- and he usually did when he was PM -- not all of us will follow him on his march of folly. We will deeply regret the departure of the merger forces because they include decent, very thoughtful Canadians. But those of us who survive will rebuild the party -- the New Liberal Party -- on centrist new pillars that just might return us to power.
The New Liberal Party, apart from affording a haven to mainstream Grits like me who reject a shotgun marriage with the NDP driven by guilt and failure, or -- worse, perhaps -- defecting in disgust to the Tories, could appeal to mainstream Tories. These are voters who find Harper's take-no-prisoners brand to be mean-spirited when it comes to the social justice policies most Canadians support. And -- who knows? -- in a five party field consisting of the Tories, the merged Liberal Democrats, the new Liberals, the probably resurgent Bloc and Greens, we could not only hold the balance of power, but perhaps win enough seats to form another minority Liberal Government.
The New Liberals would be fiscally conservative and socially progressive. We would offer clear alternatives to the tax-and-spend Liberal Democrats, whose policies would bankrupt Canada. Our economic thesis would be that, after providing an infrastructure for Canada to compete, the government should withdraw from the market. We would campaign boldly on what is alien to the quasi-separatist Mulcair Dippers and the devolutionist Harper Tories: the Trudeauite view Canada as much greater than her sum parts.
We would insist that, to keep the peace, Canada sometimes has to make the peace by force of arms, as in Libya; that to protect the continent from nuclear missiles launched by rogue states, an anti-missile umbrella is required. We would end apartheid for the original Canadians, reforming their education system and training them in the resource-rich North to defend the region from predatory powers. We would not tolerate the anti-Americanism, based on envy and hate, of the radical fringe of the Liberals or the NDP. To develop new policies we would stage a policy conference, open not to party hacks but to thinkers of the unthinkable (even on issues like health care), like the Kingston conclave that laid the foundations for the party's era of success from Pearson to Chrétien.
The model for my strategy is -- and I warned you, I am a contrarian -- Alison Redford's totally unexpected (at least by the pundits) victory in the Alberta election over the right-wing Wild Rose and distinctly Harperite insurgents. As a Conservative of the Lougheed, rather than the Harper stripe, she appealed to Liberals, New Democrats and unions representing civil servants, teachers and cops, to build a mainstream consensus. She also pledged to strengthen Canada rather than isolating affluent Alberta. Maybe a renewed Liberal Party could follow her noble example.