Can the Liberal Party rebuild in time for the next election?
On Cross Country Checkup: remaking the Liberal Party of Canada
More accustomed to being in power than in opposition, the Liberals are not happy in third place.
They are huddling at a weekend convention in Ottawa to figure out a way back.
What do you think? Can the Liberals rebuild in time for the next election?
With host Rex Murphy.
Toll-free number 1-888-416-8333 (works only during the broadcast)
The last election handed the Liberal Party of Canada its worst defeat ever, reducing what at one time was called the 'natural governing party of Canada' to a third-party rump of just 34 seats.
Today the Liberals took their first steps to recover. Over three-thousand delegates just wrapped up a weekend convention in Ottawa where they laid the groundwork for what they hope will be a return to the heights of Canadian politics.
Some experts say the decline started as long ago as the Trudeau years in the 1970's, with slipping support in the West that slowly spread to other regions of the country. The majority successes of Jean Chretien in the 1990's were built on much narrower support, mainly in Ontario, and helped immensely by a divided opposition.
What will it take to rebuild the party? Is it something that can be done quickly in time for the next election? Or, is this a much longer term project?
The Liberal fortunes have been improving recently. The New Democratic Party, distracted by its own leadership race, has removed most of its high-profile figures from the day-to-day cut-and-thrust of politics. Interim Liberal leader Bob Rae has capitalized on the vacuum and eagerly jumped in to take on the government whenever possible. Just this week one NDP MP from a Quebc riding defected to the Liberals.
The Conservatives for their part do not look worried. They have broad support across the country and a modern system for tracking those supporters and encouraging them to donate money. Something the Liberals can only envy. It's part of what they started discussing at the weekend convention. A consensus seems to be emerging that the party needs both new people and new ideas ...and the ideas must be not only about policies but also about how the party operates. Bob Rae after the convention said that right now the most important thing for the party is how it operates, not what policies it pursues.
What do you think?
Is the era of the big-tent Liberal Party over? Can they turn back their decline and re-position themselves for the next election? What would success look like ...gaining Official Opposition ...or winning the election? Is that possible given their much reduced support across the country? What do Liberals have to do to bring their party back into contention?
Our question today: "Can the Liberals re-build in time for the next election?"
I'm Rex Murphy ...on CBC Radio One ...and on Sirius satellite radio channel 159 ...this is Cross Country Checkup.
- John Ivison
Political columnist for the National Post.
- Zach Paikin
Twenty-year-old Liberal Party activist who ran for National President Policy.
- Robin Sears
Veteran political strategist, now a public affairs consultant with Navigator Ltd. and a regular contributor to Policy Options Magazine.
- Janice MacKinnon
Former Finance Minister of Saskatchewan. Now Professor of History and Public Policy at the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon.
- Liberals say they are far from dead
- 6 hot topics at the Liberal convention
- Liberals set sights on strategy and renewal
- Liberal youth looking to reshape their party
- Rae tells Liberals to expand grassroots membership
- Bob Rae rallies Liberals for a fight
- Copps, Crawley battle for Liberal presidency
- Liberal convention reveals party stirring from stupor, by John Ivison
- Bob Rae finding Liberal leadership ambition hard to hide, by John Ivison
- Crux of Liberal convention is one of existence itself, by Andrew Coyne
- Helpful advice for the Liberal party, whether they want it or not, by Kelly McParland
- Rae still eyes Liberal leadership, John Ivison
- Lise St-Denis' defection to the Liberals sign of Quebec's volatile politics, by Graeme Hamilton
Globe and Mail
- Trudeau-era hubris beaten out of them, Liberals at last look ready to rebuild, by Bruce Anderson
- Rae rallies Liberals with effervescent defence of his NDP record
- Should Rae have his day as Liberal leader? by John Ibbitson
- Let's face it, the Liberals are out of gas, by Margaret Wente
- Defection reminds NDP and Liberals it's Quebec or bust
- Where federal parties stand in early January 2012
- Party members aren't mere props, by Thomas S. Axworthy
- Liberals "not dead yet" in West: Rae, by Peter O'Neil
- Liberal train will struggle with overloaded baggage car, by Michael Den Tandt
- Pretender to the Liberal throne: Peter C. Newman on Bob Rae, the man who could be king
- An important party for the weekend, by Adam Goldenberg
- Editorial: Federal Liberals need a stronger sales pitch at convention
- How Bob Rae has kept the near-dead Liberal party alive, by Thomas Walkom
- Liberals should adopt U.S. system to choose a leader, by Bob Hepburn
I suggest that a revived party should have a new name. A title of "The New Liberal Party of Canada" would break with the cronyism of the past. It would delineate the party from the (not so really) New Democratic Party and stimulate debate. I am sure all other parties including the regressive Conservative Party would call on the New Liberal Part of Canada to come up with new ideas. Not a bad thing for a tired old machine rusting at the seams in bad need of a lube job.
With the Conservatives making parliament and government irrelevant in Canada, the only way for the Liberals to come back is to show Canadians that there is a need for governance. They must focus on using the commons as a forum for meaningful debate to determine the best way forward for Canada. Otherwise with the Conservatives approach we are as close to a dictatorship as any democratic country can get.
I listened to Bob Rae's speech today. I admired his passion and energy. However, it seemed to be filled with the same recycled material from past conventions, that is all the so called great liberal policies of old. Meanwhile in the twitter verse, the young liberals seemed to be advocating policy straight out of the NDP manifesto. Party renewal, hardly, more clash of the generations. The Liberals have a long road ahead. It's future, too soon to tell.
Vacouver, British Columbia.
If you recall the Liberal convention when the leadership of the Party was between Michael Ignatieff and Bob Rae, the Conservatives were not happy with the thought that Bob Rae would be elected Leader. If anyone can defeat Stephen Harper, it is Bob Rae.
Galiano Island, British Columbia
It's a wonder that the Liberals have any feet left; they've shot them so many times. I think the downfall for them started when Martin ran for leader. He ran down and bad-mouthed Chretien to such a degree you'd think he was lambasting some twit from another party. Since then with all the new so-called leaders sniping at each other in the same party, what do they expect people to think of them?
I detest, 'Attack Ads' and that's more or less all we've heard from them regarding their value to the electorate. How can a party be viable when none of them seem to like anyone else in their own party? Until they can get someone who could grab a bystander and ask him,'Hey, you want me to make your face look like mine'.
They need everything, they've blown themselves all to Hell and I don't see one iota of charisma in the whole party. The Liberals had two of the most successful Prime Ministers in history and so many disliked them but had to respect their intellect and backbone.
Vancouver, British Columbia.
I've been a faithful NDP supporter throughout my adulthood, but I feel very, very strongly that, at this crossroads that the NDP and the Liberals find themselves in, it is absolutely the time to join forces and merge these two parties. I know that may send ripples of fear and nausea through the veins of many die-hards in both camps, but the answer is clear. Roughly 60% of voters in the last federal election did not vote Conservative. The other 40% had one choice in the right-wing camp -Conservative. Hence, a majority government, much to the great dismay of the rest of us because those of us who swing from center to left have three options, or more, on the ballot. So we are split. We are divided and conquered. The NDP and the Liberals have, from my vantage point, never been closer to being on the same page in ideology. The Greens share a lot of the same values as well and should get on board also. There could be no better time than now, with the NDP struggling with their leadership, and the Liberals struggling to have a party at all, to come together.
There are excellent leaders in both camps, that we all respect, who should shake hands and create a new, fantastic center-left party that will slay Harper and his cronies in the next election. We, the 60%, are dying to have one clear option on the next federal ballot.
Without a merger, we will never take down the Conservatives. They figured out the recipe for success years ago - a merger of the Reform Party and the PC's - why is it taking the other parties so long to do the math?
I like Bob Rae. I voted for him when he was premier of Ontario and, from that day to now, I still have not found faults with what he had said or done. He has a mind, and the mouth to translate it, unequalled in politics in Canada for a long time. Too bad he had to take such a back seat to Ignatieff; I cannot believe that we would pass him up.
If Bob Rae is not at the head of the Liberal party, I would vote NDP in the next election, as I have in the last many years. My wish would be that both would unite.
As for Marijuana, it is about time. And I am not a youth either. It seems simply the intelligent thing to do.
Marie Louise Poland,
I too almost drove off the road when he heard about Liberal proposals to legalize marijuana. At first I was confused that when asked to explain his moral objection Jeffrey inexplicably began complaining about the possible inconvenience legalization could cause at the US border. Probably what upset Jeffrey so was his heartfelt belief that a plant can be immoral. Most folks realise plants are neutral and only the use by humans of certain plants could conceivably be considered immoral. What Jeffrey fails to understand is that legalization of marijuana pulls the rug out from under criminal organizations that profit from its current illegality. The way gangs use those profits is where the true immorality comes in and the Liberals advocation to legalize pot is courageous and enlightened.
Vancouver, British Columbia.
One name. Mark Carney. Great international credibility and could get our country back on a fiscally responsible track. He would have my vote. From a 27 year old young voter.
Ingonish, Nova Scotia.
Responding to the caller who asked 'what is moral about legalizing marijuana?' What, precisely, is immoral about marijuana? As a 49-year-old woman who has been smoking it off and on for more than half my life, I find now, at the age of menopause, that I appreciate its gifts more every day, as in a long marriage. So much for pursuing the 'youth vote.'
I find it to be adaptogenic, addressing one's most pressing physical, psychological and spiritual needs. It energizes when weary, gives rest when overstimulated and unable to sleep, brings me closer to the creator and instills a great appreciation of the simple joys and beauties of life, including lovemaking, being in nature and listening to music. It is a spark of inspiration in creative pursuits. And it is simple, innocent fun. How are any of these harmful or immoral?
I am a fully functional, highly-educated adult, and there is no case to be made, in my case, for harm to myself or anyone else. I will continue to uphold my natural right to use the gifts of the creator that we have been given, and continue to ignore laws that make normal, reasonable, beneficial activities, such as making use of this most wonderful plant medicine. (which, by the wasy was a legal cash crop until the prohibition years, for textiles and paper and which is also a superb and stunningly healthy food plant)
You might as well criminalize breast-feeding, in my opinion.
For some time we have heard the marijuana discussion among Liberals, but it has not come to pass. The American problem alone should give us pause, whether we want the stuff legal or not. At this point we should note CBC programmes that noted the beginnings of studies on cannabis and motor vehicle driverimpairment. (we may even start to look for amphetamine impairment some day)
The main thing however is this. Having cigarettes legal and cannabis not creates a large logical question, particularly given the huge known harms of tobacco. To say the cannabis issue is more a moral one than a health one is to suggest that wrecking one'shealth, for instance with tobacco products, is not a moral issue. The whole mess is one whose consistent resolution could bankrupt government or on the other hand send drug use rampant across society and destroy our moral acceptance in America. I think the Liberals are headed for one of their favourite places, a cleft stick. Yet they do so well in that position.
Kingston, Nova Scotia.
While the media gleefully trumpets the death of the Liberal pary, how many Canadians actually voted to the Liberal party? How many voted for the Harper party? In our insane "first past the post" system those who win the most seats can blithely ignore the wishes of what might be the majority.
I sincerely hope that the Liberal party can re-emerge to be a healthy strong force that can help Canadians get back and maintain what made Canada such a wonderful place to live. I can only hope and pray that more Canadians will come to thier senses and take a look at what the conservatives are doing and pay less attention to their attack ads and to what they say.
Salmon Arm, Ontario.
The liberal party for years got away with talking like progressives to get elected and then governed like the corporate cons. That worked for them and against the NDP when many held the nose and voted lib out of fear of a Harper government. That scam is over.
Liberals have a choice to join with the NDP or go the way of the British liberals. From the statements I here coming from liberals they still believe they can return to the ruling party with the right spin. They are a delusional bunch who if they keep this distorted view of the current political scene will split the left vote and elect more conservatives than the Harper army of paid messengers.
I think the key quote of the Liberal party convention went something like this: "The Keys to 24 Sussex drive can be found in the dirt of rural Canada." Even as a suburbanite, I believe this to be true.
The Liberals have lost the West. lost Quebec and lost most of rural Ontario. They retain a handful of seats scattered throughout the Maritime Provinces, a few in Ontario - mostly in Toronto, and a few in British Columbia. Otherwise, we see Tory blue, pretty much everywhere, except Quebec.
For many rural Canadians, the Liberal Party has become the party which doesn't listen, because they're too busy telling Canadians what is good for them, and having observed the Liberal convention from the sidelines, it appears that they have learned absolutely nothing, and are still content to telling Canadians what's good for them.
One former Liberal MP exemplified this elitist, arrogant attitude in the days leading up to the convention when he stated that it was the National Rifle Association which was behindhis defeat on May 2nd. This is in spite of the fact that at least one person drove from British Columbia all the way to Ontario just to campaign against him.
After this weekend's convention, I believe that the Liberals have not yet learned how to listen. Perhaps in the next election, Canadians will speak a little louder still.
Why do we need the Liberal Party of Canada when we have basically a Liberal government already under the Harper Conservatives, who are more Liberal, middle of the road, pragmatic and certainly not fiscal conservatives. So if the Liberals want to rebuild, they have to be essentially different from the present ruling Harper Conservative-Liberal Government. We need a real Conservative Party in Canada, which we do not have now.
The liberal party has always sold itself as a centrist party,with the increasing polarization of opinions there is no place for a centrist. At the convention this weekend they displayed indecisiveness and confusion by adopting contradictory policies and showing no sense of direction of leadership.
Fort Vermilion, Alberta
Whether it is the Liberal party, the NDP, the Green party, or any other party, the party system and the underlying system of selection of our representatives has not served the purpose of democracy and the goal of an egalitarian society anywhere in the world so far.
The problem is the influence of money, power and other factors that are quite difficult to eliminate in the current system of selection by election. If money plays a role in which candidate or party wins the election, then do we really have representatives that have been selected democratically or are they the agents of those who have money? I do not believe that any process of selection in which money play any role is a democratic process.
It is about time that as members of society we begin to think of a different selection process such as the one by sortition of the casting of lots used in the Athenian democracy almost 2500 years ago. Clearly, the role of money and other influences are eliminated entirely if we use the process of sortition.
Additionally, the hundreds of million of dollars that are needed to run an election is no longer needed. With sortition, the cost is next to nothing and there are other advantages that are too numerous to list in this short message.
It is about time that we begin to think outside the box and re-examine the current system of selection of candidates by election.
The Liberal party's problems are deeper that the convention cared to admit: bad policies (such as becoming a war party just like the Cons., e.g eagerly bombing Libya), ignoring and disempowering its grass roots members at the riding level, and not dealing openly an intelligently with the problem of the opposition parties splitting the vote, thereby enabling Harper to gain his majority.
One of your callers noted the power of the youth as being our future, but one thing stood out among those who tout the youth vote as "our" only hope. A youth burdened with debt, that is witness to a higher education which has turned out to be useless and an endless line of McJobs as their reward. There is no way it will feel confident enough to vote in more of the same. No government is making any effort to seriously court the young graduates by divesting them of that economic ball and chain.
Retirement care, health care and a free education are the keys to the youth vote.
Let's forget the liberals for now. We owe a huge debt to the NDP for knocking off the block, a major impediment to Canadian politics for decades. The liberals owe the NDP loyalty; the Liberals stole and lived off CCF/NDP policies (pensions, health care, insurance, and much more) for decades. It is now time for the NDP to steal and have liberal support for coming decades. Give credit where credit is due and elect the NDP to the government of Canada. The Liberals have always been empty of policy except for Pearson and a few others, they have bent themselves in too many directions. The brittleness and the weakness of Conservativism and their willingness to go to war is bound to defeat them with time.
Victoria, British Columbia.
The political landscape has changed. The Liberal party cannot restore itself by reconstituting itself in it former appearance: a party neither the of left nor the right but the wisest parts from both. This landscape will be occupied by moderate Conservative and New Democratic parties.
In order to restore themselves they will need to find new ground. Fortunately for them such ground exists. Presently, in the NDP we have a party with a progressive approach to social policy, but which is hobbled by a naive foreign policy, a thinly veiled pacifism and an inclination to farm out our foreign policy to the UN. The Conservatives on the other hand have a realistic foreign policy, but are marked by a socially backward and destructive domestic policy.
Where is the social democratic party with a strong, worldly and mature foreign policy, a party that will recognize the value of our social safety net, but doesn't go weak at the knees at the sight of a blue beret, a party that while fiscally responsible, isn't afraid to fund both poverty reduction strategies and the military alike.
There is fertile ground between the Conservatives and the NDP, but not where the Liberals traditionally go looking for it.
As cynical as this may sound, I find myself wishing that the Liberals would have positioned themselves more on the economic right. It would hopefully introduce a split in the right wing electorate and cost the Conservatives their majority in government. I don't believe that the Liberals have the possibility of winning an election, nevermind with a majority. We are at odds with an extremely conservative government, that is changing the fundamental fabric of Canadian politics and in such an environment, the Liberals should not be trying to steal votes from the NDP. I would rather like for them to increase their appeal to moderate right wing voters and take votes from the unified Canadian right wing.
Marc Andre Leger,
It's about time the Liberals did some groundwork and it seems to have been popular, according to those who have called in to your program. The backroom boys who have been responsile for the past two leader decapitations mayhave at last been pushed aside, to allow a groundswellof support and fresh new ideas and leaders to emerge. Canada really needs to hear from its youth on politics. We also need to recognize that our economic engine is western coal and oil. We need to move to renewable energy technologies without killing the goose that lays the golden egg. As for the next leader it's obvious that Trudeau has potential but does not feel ready whereas Bob Rae is comfortable and familiar. Let his so-called baggage be a bygone issue.
Halifax, Nova Scotia.