Wednesday, August 23, 2006

The Liberal Party in Crisis

There seems to be a lot of talk by Libloggers about the NDP lately; however, they seem to be oblivious to the crisis that their party is facing. Well, I guess being so close to the subject matter at hand makes one blind to these type of things. Anyways, let's look at why the Liberals are in Crisis.
  1. They really have no "official" ideology: The first problem with the Liberal Party is that they have no "official" ideology. Well, I suppose they once followed an ideology called "liberalism", but there is not much evidence of that anymore. Now, what the Liberals do is say that having an "official" ideology is bad. That is ridiculous! An ideology is a tool for a party, a roadmap if you will, that points towards the general direction that the party wants to go towards. Now I agree with the fact that sometimes you cannot do some things that ideology dictates because they make no sense in that time's political context; going a different way to suit the times is called pragmatism. However, since the Liberals have no official ideology, they don't know which way their party wants to go; so instead they say things that sound nice that everybody wants and then follow the opinion polls once they get into office. This is what is known as opportunism, which Liberals mistake for pragmatism.

  2. Their members have different ideologies: This problem stems straight from the first. Liberal members do have their own ideologies. To simplify this a little, I say that there are two major ideological groups within the Liberal Party: Progressives and Conservatives. One can see this by just looking at the members of Liblogs, or looking at Liberal Leadership Races. Leadership Races in the Liberals tend to be a battle between Progressives and Conservatives. The fact is, these two ideologies are going in two different directions, so one has to win out. Since the time after Pierre Trudeau, the Conservatives have won this battle, even if a Progressive wins the Leadership Race. Therefore the tendency has been that if one is a Progressive in the Liberal Party, one is left hung out to dry, despite the official Liberal rhetoric.

  3. The Candidates running in the Liberal Leadership Race are Second-Rate: One would think that a Liberal Leadership Race would attract First-Rate candidates. Well, guess again. All of the first-raters, such as John Manley, Frank McKenna, and Brian Tobin decided not to go for it. I suppose they saw the writing on the wall. So the second-raters came to fill the vacuum: Carolyn Bennett, Scott Brison, Stephane Dion, Ken Dryden, Martha Hall Findlay, Hedy Fry, Michael Ignatieff, Gerard Kennedy, Bob Rae, and Joe Volpe. Let's have a look at the top few.

    Michael Ignatieff: Let's see, where to start? First of all, Ignatieff has been out of the country for a long time, in places like the UK and the US. I'm really not sure how a person who has been outside the country for so long can suddenly become one of its top leaders. Ignatieff also does not have a lot of political experience, just becoming a MP in the last election and the other political experience being a delegate in a Liberal Leadership Race when he was young. Sure, he has been an academic studying political affairs, but I'm just not sure if that can be applied, at least not without some on the ground experience. There have been a lot of basic political mistakes during Ignatieff campaign, like not issuing a statement on the Middle East situation (when this guy is supposed to be the candidate on foreign affairs), and not correcting a major damaging misquote in due time. Ignatieff will also have an image problem, which will be very unfair in my opinion. He will be cast as a elite, as after all, he is the grandson of a Russian aristocrat that went to private schools and became an academic. Harper has already starting to attack Ignatieff in this way, it will only get worse.

    Stephane Dion: Probably the best of the lot, I suppose he borders between first and second-rater. However, what concerns me is the support that he is getting from David Orchard. It looks like Dion courted Orchard for his support, so who know if there was some sort of deal for, say, a cabinet seat. But the main thing is that Orchard is a social conservative with interesting economic views and, well, is it not social conservatism that the Liberals have been using as a weapon against the Conservative Party for many years?

    Bob Rae: He is simply a castoff of the NDP who saw the possibility of taking over the leadership of a floundering party, kinda like Orchard. He was not even a member of the Liberal party until only a few days before he started his leadership bid. In normal parties, it is people from that have spent years in the party that run for leader. As well, look at the people supporting him; a lot of them are from the Conservative portion of the Liberal Party. People like Maurizio Bevilacqua, Power Corporation, and even possibly Anne McLellan. I'll make this prediction again: if Rae becomes leader of the Liberals, he will be the most right-wing leader the Liberals ever had, for two reasons, the first being that the right-wing branch of the Liberal Party will chomp of his head if he goes left, and the second being based on the same principle that "only Nixon could go to China".

    Gerard Kennedy: Well, at first he sounded like an interesting candidate, but he has really been disappointing. He is not fully bilingual, as his supported claimed at first. As well, he does not have a lot of experience in the federal arena, just gotten out of provincial politics. I also hear a lot of interesting rhetoric from him; however it really is not backed up with solid policy. Basically, Kennedy is simply a cliche slogan spewer.

    Those candidates sound second-rate to me. Must I really explain the other candidates? As well, the Liberal Leadership Race has failed in another sense, that is getting people interested in the Liberals again.

  4. They can't really fundraise: The Liberal Party used to be excellent fundraisers, until the new electoral finance laws limiting donations to $5000 (soon to be $1000) kicked in. This changed the situation completely. Before, the Liberals gained most of their money from corporations, in large doses. Now, they must get it from the grassroots, in small doses and it seems that the Liberals have not learned to do this (disconnection from the grassroots?). It is well known that parties cannot win elections without money.

    I will leave you with the numbers: they speaker louder than words. The numbers are from Elections Canada. To find them, go to this page, make the "From" box "2004" and the "To" box "2005"; and press "search" with an arrow; then select Liberal Party of Canada / Annual 2004 and 2005, New Democratic Party / Annual 2004 and 2005, and Conservative Party of Canada / Annual 2004 and 2005; press the add arrow; press search with a magnifying glass; press "by return details"; press "Part 2f"; press "Next 4 returns" to see the remaining results.

    Conservative 2004 $10,949,560; 2005 $18,072,666
    Liberal 2004 $5,217,561; 2005 $9,182,460
    NDP 2004 $5,194,270; 2005 $5,137,251

    I'd also note that the Conservative Party and Liberal Party are about the same size.

  5. They do not deliver on their "vision": For the 13 years of Liberal government (1993-2006), we as Canadians had been listening to the Liberals deliver the promise of a Progressive Vision such as a greater commitment to the environment and public day care every single election. The fact is, they did not deliver on it. Now, I'm a reasonable person, and can understand the need to fix the fiscal problems left by Brian Mulroney's Progressive Conservatives. I also understand that some promises cannot be kept. But when a political party promises these things election after election, in good economic times and does not deliver, why should they be believed? The Liberals only started to address Child Care when they felt that they needed to keep power and had to have the support of the NDP. Why should Progressives believe the Liberals regarding their "next great vision" if they have a track record on not fulfilling their visions in the first place. I guess the "next great vision" will have to contain a promise not to break promises. That's going to go over well.

  6. They are not internally democratic: Just look at the current Liberal Leadership Race: the leader is going to be elected by relatively few delegates. How I understand how the Liberal delegate system works (correct me if I'm wrong), is that a riding association elects delegates at a meeting of the whole riding. The riding association then has a vote to see which leader they would like. For the first round of voting then, the delegates from that riding have to vote, proportionally, for the leadership candidates that their riding voted for. After the first round, the delegates can vote for whoever they want. There are even special delegates that are not bound to a riding association that can vote for whoever they want on the first round. Personally, I care about my party and want to see the person who I think is the best lead that party. I think that leadership races are too important to just trust a delegate with. What there should be is a one-member-one-vote (OMOV) system that most modern Canadian political parties use. As for the two major concerns about OMOV I hear from Liberals: that big cities would dominate and that there would be no leadership convention, well first of all OMOV can be adjusted in many ways, for example, by giving ridings equal weighting, and second of all, there will still be Leadership Conventions to show the world the new leader; its just that the most important voting will take place by party members instead of delegates.

    As well, (and I could be wrong about this), I hear that the Liberals do not have a national body made up of the Presidents of Riding Associations (source, Party Structure Proposal, pg 36, top). I was totally floored by this. How could the Liberals not have such a body to bounce ideas off of? The fact is, the Riding Associations are closest to the Liberal Grassroots, and not having their input further shows that the Liberals are not internally democratic.

  7. Powerful Centerist Parties are anomalies: If one looks at political party systems around the world, they will find that most of them contain two major groupings: party/parties on the Progressive Side, and party/parties on the Conservative Side, with the Centerist Parties being small/mid-size. For example, in the UK, one has Labour on the Progressive Side (well, traditionally), Conservative on the Conservative Side, and the mid-sized Liberal Democrats in the Centre. In the US, one has Democrats on the Progressive Side, Republicans on the Conservative Side, and (possibly) the Reform Party in the Centre. Maybe Canada is shifting (slowly but surely) to a political party system more like the rest of the world.
So there you have it, the Liberal Party is in Crisis. So please excuse the members of the Liberal Party, they are simply still going through the 5 stages of Grief regarding the last election:
  • Denial: "No, the Liberals will win the next election"
  • Anger: "It's all the NDP's fault!"
  • Bargaining: "If Progressives vote for us..."
  • Depression: Not there yet
  • Acceptance: REALLY not there yet
So just be kind to them.

1 comment:

Shawn Rennebohm said...

good post..