I have always tried to keep an open mind when it comes to politics. After all, partisanship taken to a fanatic and frenetic level is not what a pundit – or any voter – should pursue. Last year, I was in the fortunate position to get an inside look into both the Conservative Party of Canada and Liberal Party of Canada (as part of a “blogging experiment”). In the process, I got to mingle with Tories and Liberals at various events, making friends in both parties and also getting a feel for what goes on inside these two federal parties.
What struck me the most was that Liberals actually have a lot in common with Tories, even though the official policies of the Liberal Party would tell you otherwise. For example, at Liberal events I attended, Liberals were as outraged at Canada’s dysfunctional immigration policy as some of the “worst” Conservatives. Liberals, too, feel that the immigrants we take in should be able to speak the language, integrate and contribute to our society – even Anne McLellan, former (Liberal) Deputy Prime Minister, said so in so many words. But official party policy remains silent on the issue, at least under the current Liberal Party brand.
Also, when you mingle with Liberals in Alberta, you’ll also find that a lot of their members are provincial Tories. Maybe it’s true and Ralph Klein, Alberta’s long-serving premier, is also a federal Liberal.
One woman in our constituency, who is a devout Conservative, provincially and federally, told me today that she really did not care whether the Tories or the Liberals were in power, but that she had not voted Liberal because of the Liberals’ corruption and lack of honesty. If the Liberals were more honest, she said, there would be little to no difference between them and the Tories, and I have to agree with her. Given Prime Minister Harper’s record so far, one cannot help but label him “Liberal Lite”.
Then again, that these two parties are separated by a fine line only should not be surprising: after all, both parties adhere, or claim to adhere, to the principles of liberalism, which Random House Dictionary defines as “a political or social philosophy advocating the freedom of the individual, parliamentary systems of government, nonviolent modification of political, social, or economic institutions to assure unrestricted development in all spheres of human endeavor, and governmental guarantees of individual rights and civil liberties.” The only problem with the current Liberal brand, apart from its inherent corruption, is that the party has moved too far left in recent years, toward statism (i.e., excessively Big Government) and, thus, away from true liberalism.
The current Liberal leadership contest, however, has shone a light on a few candidates who might just be able to return the party to its roots of liberalism, e.g., Gerard Kennedy or Martha Hall Findlay. Even Michael Ignatieff is a serious contender for the title of “upholder of true liberalism”. Joe Volpe, on the other hand, represents everything that is wrong with the Liberal Party today. Volpe clings to the current Liberal brand introduced in 1993, but it is this brand that has no future with Canadian voters anymore. The future of the party lies with people like Kennedy, for example, but not the Volpes, of whom the party still has way too many.
As I mentioned in the introduction to this column, unlike most Canadians, I have had the unique experience of going deep inside both federal parties, and based on my personal experience, I am hard put to feel overly positive or negative about either one. But if someone asked me which party has the greatest potential at this time, I’d have to say it’s the Liberal Party. The Tories under Harper have dug in their heels; they keep pursuing their objectives, without ever looking right, left or, heaven forbid, forward (except for those few moments when they try to imagine what a future with them holding a majority government would look like). The Liberal Party, however, as it is going through a difficult “birthing process”, stands to make a gigantic leap forward, provided the party members make a smart choice at the leadership convention later this year. It is about “lessons learned”: learn from your mistakes, make amends and move forward.