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The Liberal Party of Canada: historically weak

Mandos's picture

US bloggers still bandy about the idea that they'll run away to Canada if things get worse in the USA. This week, it appears that this is less justified than ever.

Despite campaign gaffes, the Conservative Party is still on the train to a majority government in Canada. Thus saith Nik Nanos, who is apparently the most trusted Canadian pollster. They are at 40% in the polls with a 15% gap between them and the Liberal Party. Another couple of points, and assuming that the poll results would hold at the ballot box, and they would have more than half the seats in the Canadian House of Commons, and full control of the levers of government.

So why is the Liberal Party doing so badly?

Well, for one thing, the Liberal Party still has not put itself back together again as an institution after the infighting that destroyed it the last time around. Skilled Chrétien campaigners were effectively purged from the party. (I am not, by the way, a fan of Warren Kinsella, but there's no denying that he was an effective operator for Chrétien.) The remaining campaigners that surrounded Paul Martin have managed to surround Chrétien loyalist Stéphane Dion, and have apparently been misleading him off a cliff.

Why would they do so? Well, in terms of their ostensible motivations, they suffer from the Canadian version of the Unity Pony disease. But that history is rather convoluted and requires its own post. Suffice it to say that, for some reason, some politicians are attracted to the Unity Pony like moths to a flame, even when it leads to their own destruction. The Unity Pony is often the very harbinger of disunity---the punishing of the Chrétien wing of the party was justified as the necessary sacrifice.

A corollary is that for various reasons, technical and ideological, they didn't oppose the government when they had a chance. Consequently, they fell prey to two arguments. One is that the Conservatives are now seen just the more competent version of the Liberals; after all, the Liberals endorsed all their policies. And for those dissatisfied, the real opposition was led by Jack Layton and the NDP, who follow the more correct strategy of sticking to their red lines. (But who, as a left third party, have to sprint to stand still.)

So, the Liberals are just not seen as being ready for prime time yet. A tone deaf campaign on an environmental issue that is hard to sell: a "revenue-neutral" carbon tax that nevertheless makes it look like the middle class is being taxed during a time of economic risk.

And speaking of economic risk, perhaps the biggest and most puzzling reason is this (from another Nanos blog entry):

In my opinion, the Wall Street meltdown has validated the importance of the economy as the election issue at this time, thus giving a bump for the Tories, who are driving a “in times of uncertainty, don’t risk things on the other guy” mantra.

So, you would think Canadians would run screaming from the obvious ideological cousins of the USA because of the economy. Stephen Harper publicly believes most of the neocon ideological framework on most issues. But, it turns out, Canadians are simply not buying the Harper=Bush equation. Or, if they are, they just don't care. They don't believe that Harper would manage the economy the way that Bush did.

After all, the Liberals never opposed them.

Now, there is a deeper story as to how the Liberals became weak and disunited, and how the Conservatives managed to cobble together the regional movements that they have into what appears to be another Mulroney Coalition. (If it's only that bad, I'd be relieved.)

And, in fact, what is going on seems to be a repeat of what happened in Ontario when the Harris Tories were reelected. Sometimes, when Canada looks more "progressive" than the USA, it really is just more inertial---and yet not, considering the rabid ebb and flow of regional movements.

But unless something changes in the next couple of weeks, full-fledged neoconnery is going to emanate from Ottawa for the next four years.

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HenryFTP's picture
Submitted by HenryFTP on

I have not been following the Liberal Party soap opera very closely since Harper squeaked in at the last election. I had watched the falling out of Jean Chrétien and Paul Martin that preceded that election, a narcissistic personality conflict that left the Party in disarray.

The Liberals still evidently view themselves as the "natural party of Government", just as the Congressional Democrats in Washington still do, even though the voters restored a two-party system in the 1994 mid-terms.

Like the Congressional Democrats, the Liberals do not know how to behave in Opposition -- their Opposition to the Mulroney Government was long on pyrotechnics and short on substance.

They have been relying for as long as I can remember on the ineptitude of their opponents rather than standing for anything apart from the Canadian Establishment and its long-term interest in a more centralized Canada dominated by Toronto and Montreal with separatist tendencies in Québec and the West kept under control.

They do remain the only true federal party, but then neither the Tories nor the NDP have ever been much of a factor in Québec. The Grits could nonetheless wake up one day after a general election and find that they've become a museum piece like the English Liberals.