Saturday, January 26, 2013

Gutted Grits

I think I said I probably wasn't going to write about politics here, but I guess that was a lie. I just finished reading Peter C. Newman's When the Gods Changed: The Death of Liberal Canada. Newman is probably my second favourite Canadian political history writer, behind only Lawrence Martin (if you haven't read Harperland you're seriously missing out). When the Gods Changed was just as excellent as I had hoped, and expected at this point from Newman. Newman weaves beautifully through decades of Liberal history while simultaneously documenting the most recent election campaign of Michael Ignatieff, mixing in a wide array of wonderfully insightful and amusing anecdotes which could only be accumulated through his decades of work in Canadian journalism. While Newman is brutally honest over the disaster that was the 2011 election for the Liberals, he also gives the distinct impression that he liked and perhaps even admired Michael Ignatieff, the man.

Before I go any further, I should probably say that while I'm not a card-carrying Liberal, I've thought about applying in the past. It is actually the NDP who most closely align with my natural political leanings, and my idealist tendencies occasionally push me into orange. However, I am also a pragmatist, perhaps first and foremost, and I both respect the Liberal track record in Canada, and have more faith in them to successfully govern the country in the future. The truth is that all major socialist developments in this nation, such as subsidized health care and welfare, developments which I both admire and treasure, were implemented by Liberal governments. In fact, I can't think of any significant Conservative measures to be proud of since Diefenbaker's National Bill of Rights (which was itself later superseded by Trudeau's Charter of Rights and Freedoms).

Additionally, the NDP has exactly zero governing experience. They have only formed the official opposition once, and it was opposing a majority government. While many people may look at the limited remaining Liberal MPs and wonder how much experience they have themselves, MPs are but a part of the machine that forms a governing political party. There are countless key people working in the background of any political party, pulling strings and drafting policy, many of whom in the Liberals still date back to the Trudeau era (perhaps soon to be known as the first Trudeau era). The NDP has none of that experience, and would likely find themselves lost if thrust into power, a political situation that typically ends in scandal.

There is also one more key element that keeps me from defecting to the NDP: divisiveness. While I might be a left-leaning individual, this country is comprised of millions who are not. I don't necessarily want to elect a strongly left-leaning government which polarizes the nation and undermines the unity that has been so hard-fought for so many years. With separatist notions finally seeming to recede in Quebec and Alberta, the last thing I want is to see the country torn apart again. So, while I might prefer a left-leaning party, I will accept a more moderate stance in the name of compromise. That is a point of view which I firmly believe was at one time at the essence of being a Canadian, though perhaps it is no longer.

So it is a little depressing to read Newman's painfully honest assessment of the party and their hopes. Simply put, Newman does not expect the Liberal Party of Canada to ever regain their past status as the "natural governing party" in Canada. Thankfully, despite Newman's rather dreary account of the past decade or so of Liberal politics, I disagree with his conclusion.

The biggest obstacle which I fear is facing the Liberals is a potential lack of patience. They will not win the next election. A return to second party status should be considered a great accomplishment for them. If they can manage to choose a dynamic leader who can actually energize Canadians, he or she must be given time to build support; at least a couple of elections. Abandoning ship and starting over after a single mediocre result would be a terrible decision, but I feel like Canadian leaders today are not given that kind of time.

The Conservatives have a long documented habit of devouring their own leaders. At only 53 years old, Harper is still young for a politician, but even he cannot continue forever. Every leader grows stale eventually, and Harper's widely acknowledged contempt for political institutions could bite him hard. Even worse, his evasiveness and contempt for the media could eventually turn even the most ardent right-wing outlets against him. Inevitably, Harper will fall, the question is only whether he leaves on his own terms or not. When he is gone, does the fiercely controlled Conservative party have a ready candidate to fill the void?

It may not happen the next election, but every government falls eventually. Even Mackenzie King, Trudeau, and Laurier lost multiple elections. When Harper's time comes, would you rather bet on the Liberals or the NDP, a party with a completely unproven leader and infrastructure, as well as a polarizing place on the political spectrum? At this point, despite the disaster that the post-Chretien era has become, I'd still bet it all on the Liberals.

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