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Liberals Can Return, Like Lazarus (and Nixon)

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The response of most survivors to the implosion of the natural governing party has been to paraphrase what Will Rogers said about the Democrats:

I am not a member of any organized political party. I am a Liberal!

After all, to mix metaphors again, God, in her almighty wisdom, no longer smiles on dogs, drunks and Liberals.

I do not share this defeatist view. I submit that, like Lazarus, Nixon and Bourassa, we can still return from the land of the living dead.

Indeed, I wholeheartedly support the true sages of the party, Tom Axworthy and Jerry Grafstein, both of whom served Trudeau well and whose counsel was ignored in the dismal Ignatieff era, in believing the party can renew itself.

But there is an essential precondition to doing that. We have to use the keystones that Laurier, Pearson and Trudeau left us -- economic growth, equal opportunity and social justice in a united, indivisible Canada -- to support new policy pillars for prosperity in a fickle new century.

In saying this, I remind readers that the last really new idea to be presented to Canadians was Brian Mulroney's North American Free Trade Agreement in 1988, which my then boss, John Turner, opposed. In fact, if there is any single foundation to our relative prosperity (which gave birth to Canadian complacency), it is NAFTA. Of course, the emergence of China, India and Brazil as nascent economic super-powers has changed that comforting illusion.

So, what has to be done to build a stronger Canada? I have these bold-stroke proposals. They can be fleshed out in the 18 months before we elect a leader. (That leader just could be Bob Rae -- if he can re-invent himself as the advocate of a better future, rather than the relic of socialist failure in the 90s. Bay Street lawyers, like party president Alf Apps, the only survivor of the May 2 debacle, can change the goal posts for him if he succeeds as the caretaker.)

I submit, first, that instead of depending on our very profitable legacy of being hewers of wood and drawers of water for the Americans, we have to develop a policy to compete more effectively in the borderless knowledge economy, of which (to wax self-serving) the emergence of the Huffington Post is one example. Access to the Internet has to be the right of every Canadian, regardless of origin or income, period.

Second, the governance of public and private enterprises must be made more transparent, open and accessible to Canadians. The all-knowing imperial prime minster-ship that regards parliament as an irritating irrelevancy has to be de-fanged. Bay Street, which does a better job that Ottawa in creating real wealth, must be reined in when it pays CEOs huge increases while stiffing working Canadians.

Third, the Liberal Party must offer new ideas responsibly to exploit our most precious resources, water and energy. We need to harness the waters of Hudson's Bay to generate more hydroelectric power and erect huge new turbines to increase the energy output of Niagara, which created Ontario's economic clout a century ago.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, we have to develop new policies to enhance our crumbling infrastructure, which will initially cost $200-billion. Europe, whose shared economy is more fragile than ours, is doing that. Why can't we, eh?

If China and Europe can build high-speed trains, modern highways, harbours and airports, why can't we? This process of infrastructure renewal could begin with a job-creating Quebec City-Windsor super train, linked to the project Barack Obama plans for the northeast United States.

But, you object, all this would cost the Treasury too much . The answer is that a public-private investment bank, in which the government would be a 25 per cent stakeholder, could pay for it. It could make a profit, too, just as the St. Lawrence Seaway did in the era of our grand-parents.

Raymond Heard, a Bay Street media consultant, was communications director to John Turner, Leader of the Opposition, 1986-1990.

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