Liberal strategy rooted in irrelevancy
Bob Rae, interim leader of the Liberal Party of Canada, has not fully ruled out running for the permanent leadership. If he should run and win the Liberal leadership, the Liberal party runs the risk of becoming irrelevant. I feel this way simply because there would be little difference between the Liberals and New Democratic Party (NDP). Both would be left-wing parties and in order for the Liberals to be relevant in today’s politics, they need to throw out any old conceptions of the dated and oversimplified political spectrum.
If more than one party occupies the left-wing spot, they become redundant. The Liberals can continue to fight the NDP to represent similar ideas or they can move elsewhere. On the other hand, the NDP may wither away and maybe everyone is making too big a fuss about the Liberal party performance. The problem with the NDP is that Jack Layton had a cult of personality. The NDP was centred on one person and with a new leader their support may move elsewhere. However, if we assume the NDP support continues and does not move, then the Liberals need to adapt to survive.
In the past, the Liberal party has chosen to take the middle ground on issues. That’s a fine position to take. However, if a party is to do this they become weakened as their base has no coherent political ideology to be grounded in. This is bad for any grassroots organization. By claiming the middle ground, they do not have any opinions of their own and they tend to flip flop on multiple issues for political expediency. For example, take corporate taxes. They were for cutting them under Paul Martin and Stephen Dion but Michael Ignatieff wanted to raise them. Here’s another example: compare and contrast Ignatieff to McGuinty, one wanted to raise corporate taxes, the other wanted to lower them (and the same people campaigned for them). True they could argue that they adjusted due to the conditions of the country but in reality it does depend upon their leader’s beliefs and whatever he or she feels. This is because the Liberals have left wing and right wing groups within them.
The problem with having the centre-right and centre-left in one party is the left- and right-wing parties will move to the centre and take those votes from that voting bloc. Being moderate on every issue may not be the answer. The Liberals need to rethink the political spectrum since the mushy political middle is quickly bleeding to parties to their left and right.
Before we find the Liberals’ appropriate place in politics, let’s think about what left and right mean in simple terms. The right (Conservative Party) is broken into social and fiscal conservatives while the left (NDP) is just social liberals and fiscal reform liberals (as opposed to classical liberals). The Liberals can snap this political spectrum by taking firm positions on both the right side and the left side.
This leaves becoming social conservative and fiscally reform liberal or becoming fiscally conservative and socially liberal. Since totalitarianism is not very popular in Canada, it would be best to go for the latter. This could be impossible simply because there is no logical connection between social conservatism and economic conservatism. The former expands government; the latter lessens it.
The same can be said for social liberalism and fiscal reform liberalism. The two are contradictory: one expands government power over people’s lives, the other retracts it. Focusing on reducing the government in both spheres is the way forward not mimicking what is already being done by a party.
This means that the Liberal party would support the free market. They would want the government out of the economy. They would propose reducing spending and regulations and lowering taxes and trade barriers. Being socially Liberal they would oppose legislation curtailing civil liberties such as the Anti-Terrorism Act. This reform would make them relevant and unique. It would be returning the word ‘liberal’ back to what it actually means and not a word for social democrat egalitarian. The Liberals would once again be the party of Wilfrid Laurier.
Of course there are difficulties in doing this. The Liberals do have a large number of supporters who are simply New Democrats in all but brand. Several of their MPs are like this too, such as their current leader, Bob Rae.
In order to pass this reform the Liberal party needs members like former members of parliament Keith Martin and Martha Hall Findlay. They would have to restructure their base. The Liberals would maintain some of their previous supporters, the social liberals, and would have to take the fiscal conservatives out of the conservative base.
If the NDP are able to maintain support then the Liberals need a plan to adjust. They need to have something to stand for other than the middle ground. They can stand for reducing the government and enhancing liberty and this will get those votes and bring a unique voice to the podium in the debates.