Sunday, March 28, 2010

Blunt words for a rudderless party

Former diplomat Robert Fowler tore into the Liberal Party of Canada at its so-called "Thinkers' Conference" in Montreal today. The Party, he declared, is "in danger of losing its soul."

"[I]t seems that Liberals today don't stand for much in the way of principle. I have the impression that they will endorse anything and everything that might return them to power and nothing which won't," he said.

Good grief. Hasn't that always been the Liberal modus operandi? Can anyone point to a single principle that the Liberals have ever consistently stood for during their long history? Has this Big Tent confection ever had a soul?

Former human rights advocate Michael Ignatieff, slipping ever-further into a kind of political automatism, has now embraced "xenophobia lite." Fowler's words will be waved off by the Natural Governing Party backroom boys and smug politicos. The LPC's drift to the Right will continue, with its endless unprincipled vote-trolling--they'll call it "pragmatic," or even "realist."

As usual, they're all tactics and no strategy.
Play to the basest instincts of the electorate. Try to be as much like the governing party as possible. Be all things to all people. It's worked in the past. But that was when both major parties played the same game.

Today's Conservative Party is not the party of Joe Clark and Brian Mulroney. It's populated by gimlet-eyed ideologues like Jason Kenney, Vic Toews, Stockwell Day, and, of course, the Prime Minister himself. They have a Maximum Programme for Canada that goes well beyond the traditional power-and-perks regimes of the past. Whatever mild concessions to centrism that they might have made, the Conservatives have a vision and a plan from which they have never wavered. But wavering is precisely what Liberals do.

And so, I suspect, that Ship of Fools is drawing ever-nearer to the electoral shoals. All Stephen Harper has to do now is sit tight and try not to make any more spectacularly silly moves like proroguing or defying Parliament. If the Libs keep on like this, he's in like Flynn. He has always stood for something, after all, in his cold, blue-eyed way.

Given a choice, people will vote for the real thing instead of the flagrantly opportunistic imitation. For all their vaunted pragmatism, this is one lesson today's Liberals just can't seem to learn--even with rare birds like Fowler telling it like it is. Dither, blow with the winds, anything but take a stand and offer a real alternative, a different way of doing politics, a vision to counter the Conservative one. Don't expect anything but more of the same to emerge from Montreal.

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