Lest anyone accuse me of unfairness and one-sidedness, today's look into the pit of despair that is Canadian politics will focus on the Liberal Party of Canada. Before I go any further I should explain something to readers from beyond Canada's borders who may not be familiar with our political parties.
While the Conservative Party of Canada can be counted on to be conservative, the Liberals are a bizarre mixture of conservative and liberal policies. While it's tempting to say that the Liberals are fiscally conservative and socially liberal it really is impossible to be both at the same time.
Here are some important things to keep in mind over the course of the next few days as the Liberals gather to choose Paul Martin's replacement as leader of the federal Liberal party. I'm sure that over the next few days we will be hearing all about how the Conservative Party of Canada is destroying the social fabric of Canada. I'd advise adjusting the flavour of those remarks with as many grains of salt that you deem necessary considering the Liberal party's own history.
How can you claim to be a liberal socially when you gleefully cut spending on social programs? You can win the hearts and minds of the financial district in only one way and that's balancing the books. Since they don't want you taxing their clients, those wealthy enough to use the investment brokers and bankers you're trying to please, in order to increase revenues, you cut spending.
The majority of money that our federal government spends is on social programming so we all know where a fiscal conservative government is going to make its cuts. Which is exactly what the Liberals did for the first ten or so years of their twelve-year reign. Through the simple expedient of not keeping up with inflation they were able to decrease spending across the board, but of course that wasn't nearly enough for those thirsting to see their profits rise.
The Liberal party precipitated the health care crises that we are currently digging out from through either direct cuts to the system or by reducing the amount of money provinces received from the federal treasury that would have covered costs. In fact it was The Liberal party's cuts to these transfer payments that led to the lowering of standards across the board when it comes to a slew of social issues.
Education, social assistance, infrastructure, and provincial environmental testing facilities all suffered accordingly. With former Prime Minister Paul Martin wielding the scissors as Minister of Finance under his predecessor Jean Chrétien, the Liberals were far more reminiscent of a conservative party than anything even remotely liberal.
It will be interesting to hear how each of the four front-runners for the position of party leader and potentially Prime Minster of Canada have to say about the matter of the Conservative party. Will Bob Rae, Michael Ignatieff, Stephane Dion, and George Kennedy at least have the integrity not to blame all the social woes on the guys who inherited their predecessor's mess?
Already we've heard from the Liberal Women's Caucus about how badly the Conservatives treat women, while they ignored their own record of making the lot of single mothers more difficult through the Liberal party's cuts. It stands to reason that they are just the warm-up act for the heavy hitters running for leader.
Of the four, only Stephane Dion was actually a member of the previous Liberal government. He was Minister for Intergovernmental Affairs and was responsible for negotiating some of the financial deals and arrangements with the provinces and territories.
Of the remainder, only Michael Ignatieff even has a seat in the House of Commons, while Bob Rae is former Premier of Ontario as a member of the New Democratic Party, and George Kennedy was Minister for Education in Ontario's current Liberal government. All of which means is that these three guys at least aren't going to feel any compunctions about going after the Conservative record.
While not having been part of the government that implemented the policies of the mid- to late-nineties releases them from direct responsibility for their results, it doesn't mean they should be treated like they have a clean slate. By choosing to seek the leadership of the Liberal party they must accept responsibility for the party's legacy.
Of the four political parties that have members of the House of Commons, the New Democratic Party, The Conservative Party of Canada, and the Bloc Quebecois are fairly easy to predict as to what type of policy statements they will come up with. The Liberal party on the other hand is far more difficult to predict.
While they make noises about big-ticket programs, they are just as reluctant as any conservative to spend money on them. They will not hesitate to cut spending no matter how it may affect those who they claim to represent. Sometimes dealing with the Liberal Party of Canada is like dealing with a creature with two brains — one that thinks like a conservative and cuts spending with abandon, and the other who preaches spending on social programming.
The problem is you're never quite sure which brain you're going to be dealing with on a daily basis so voting Liberal is always a risky endeavour. I wonder if a new leader will make any difference, or if the party will just continue to suffer from a split personality.