I self-identify as a classical liberal: please take a quick look at my site’s (longish) title just above. Liberals like me look back past the Glorious Revolution of 1688, past Simon de Montfort’s Great Parliament in 1265, even past Aristotle and Plato, the origins of liberalism might go all the way back to the original Sophists (σοφιστής) (the word, back then, meant “wise” or “learned,” not what it does now) in the 5th and 4thc centuries BCE who taught the principles of ethics in public affairs and of a political theory that tried to see all sides of a question.
There are a few liberals in the Liberal Pary of Canada but most of their voices have been silenced since the arrival on the scene, in 1965, of Pierre Elliott Trudeau who was a very illiberal socialist and who changed Canada in ways that were and remain very popular with many, many voters. Prior to that, from the 1860s onwards, until the end of the 1960s, the Liberals were, largely, liberal. They provided Canada with generally good (only very occasionally (1925ish) scandalous) liberal government for almost 50 years from 1900 to 1968. The first time I voted (1962 ~ I wasn’t 21 yet, but we, regular Army soldiers, were allowed to vote despite being underage) I voted Liberal because I was well aware of that great party’s commitment to ideas and ideals that I shared. I was and still am proud to have done so. 1965 changed all that. The Liberal Party became increasingly illiberal, left-wing and intolerant. Today, in my opinion, it is, very nearly, a mortal sin to be a liberal in Justin Trudeau’s Liberal Party.
But, there’s a problem. No matter how good the next Conservative leader might be, and there are some excellent people running for office …
… history teaches us that, without fail, she or he and his/her team will get tired and stale after ten or twelve years in office; they will run out of good ideas, they will get too comfortable with power; they will need some time, on the opposition benches, to rest and rejuvenate, just as the Liberals did during the First World War, again in the late 1950s and early 60s, and in the Harper years. That’s not saying anything bad about the prospective Conservative leaders; it’s just saying what history teaches us all.
The Liberals, in my opinion, made poor use of their R&R in both the Diefenbaker and Harper years ~ they cast aside liberalism and liberal values and replaced them with slick media manipulation ~ thus the media phenomenon called Trudeaumania in the 1960s was phoney; even the young girls chasing Piere Trudeau were, sometimes, paid, Liberal staffers … his famous spontaneity was, in many instances, made up from carefully staged photo-ops, just as Justin Trudeau’s photobombs are craftily planned today.
I sincerely hope that the Conservatives will not make similar mistakes in 2020; Canada needs substance, not just style, in the coming years.
My main point today, however, is that I want the Liberal Party to succeed and prosper.
Now, I’ve been a card-carrying Conservative since I retired from the Army in the 1990s ~ we (especially senior officers) were discouraged from publicly supporting any political party. We were encouraged to vote; we were encouraged to think about policy and politics; we were, very properly, told to keep our political opinions to ourselves. It’s certainly not my place to tell the Liberal Party how to reform itself. Heaven knows there are some very good Liberals with, I am sure, some better ideas than I have about what’s needed …
… but it seems to me that step one must be to “send out the clowns.” I think that Justin Trudeau and Chrystia Freeland and many others need to be consigned to the rubbish heap of political history …
… along with the 50 years of failed shopworn, illiberal, Liberal notions about Canada and the world.
But, since we know that even the best Conservative governments will need time in opposition to rethink and rebuild every so often, then it follows that Canada needs a vital, liberal Liberal Party that is ready to step in and govern well on a regular basis. That’s why I care so much about the Liberal Party: Canada needs it. Canada needs two liberal parties: one somewhat right of centre, one somewhat to the left, but both, anchored, firmly, in the socially progressive and fiscally prudent political centre where most Canadians are most of the time:
I’m going to update an image I have used before with faces that are more often in the news today:
I believe, and I think the polling data also indicate, that something approaching 70% of Canadians are centrists ~ in the -1.5± to +1.5± area on the X-axis. To me, that suggests that there ought not to be too many huge differences, in major social, economic, foreign and defence policy areas, between the moderate Liberal and moderate Conservative parties … not if they want to win, anyway. My guess is that each of the Conservative and Liberal parties has a rock-solid core of about 20±% of the vote. I suspect that some people will vote for one or the other party just because granddad did and mom and dad do, too; and some will vote for one party or the other because of ill-informed but popular myths: the Conservatives are anti-gay climate deniers and the Liberals are crooks who pander to Québec. But I also think that 20+%, in the middle, can be persuaded to vote for either party … so long as both parties are moderate.
I think there was considerable policy overlap (which equates to voter choice) with, for example, Paul Martin and Stephen Harper; there certainly was with Brian Mulroney and Jean Chrétien, and also with Louis St Laurent John Diefenbaker and Lester Pearson. In each case, I believe, voters, as they so often do in Canada, decided to “throw the rascals out” because they were tired of them, not because they thought that e.g. Diefenbaker was going to diverge, radically, from St Laurent’s policies or that Stephen Harper would toss everything Paul Martin did into the trash.
I believe that overlap needs to be there in the 2020s and in the 2030s, ’40s and beyond. I think Canada needs two moderate, liberal parties that fight over the political centre. I believe there is room for more parties, representing fringe and regional interests but I think that most Canadians will vote only for moderate parties that represent the centre and I suspect that the Liberal Party has lost its centrist appeal because it is increasingly evident that the people who are pulling Justin Trudeau’s strings are extremists, not centrists, and the voters can now see that.
I also think that most of the centrist voters who can be persuaded to swing between the Liberal and Conservative parties live in suburbs in the lower mainland of British Columbia and, especially, in Ontario, mostly around the Greater Toronto Area. I believe that both the two major parties must focus their attentions there. Priority 1 for both parties must be to persuade the working and middle-class voters in those suburbs that the party has their interests at heart, rather than the special interests of others. My guess is that platitudes and phoney photo-ops will no longer do the trick; I think Justin Trudeau has used those tactics too often. I suspect that voters want to taste the meat of real policy, not just the small the enticing odours of fake promises.
I suspect that the Liberal Party has more work to do to get back to the centre than does the current iteration of the Conservative Party. The Liberals, under Pierre Trudeau, lurched sharply and suddenly to the left in 1968. John Turner, Jean Chrétien and Paul Martin all tried to bring them back towards the moderate middle but all failed because the allure of Pierret Trudeau’s ‘Just Society‘ ~ with all its “free” entitlements ~ was just too strong. The Conservatives ~ Andrew Scheer, specifically ~ fumbled the tolerance/equality issue in 2019. The gay pride parade question by a reporter was fair and should have been anticipated. It may have been a key issue because up until then a Conservative victory appeared likely. But the CPC seems to have come to grips with that issue, while the Liberals seem, to me, to be drifting farther and farther away from the moderate middle where most Canadian voters are found.
My Liberal friends ~ and, yes, I have some ~ will tell me that my (cheerfully admitted, up top) biases are showing. Pierre Trudeau, they will say, just did what every other Western leader was doing: he unrolled the welfare state that the people demanded ~ perhaps he went a bit father than was prudent but, in fairness, Canada was late because St Laurent, Diefenbaker and Pearson had been enormously cautious with money. The people who elected Trudeau and who pressed him forward, my Liberal friends will remind me, were the men and women who came of age in the Great Depression and served in the ranks in World War II and Korea; they were determined that their children and grandchildren would not endure the same; they wanted what Trudeau was offering ~ it was a symbiotic relationship. Only me and Milton Friedman and a handful of loonies, my friends will say, oppose what Pierre Trudeau did.
That being said, I believe the Liberals were wrong in the late 1960s and throughout the ’70s and ’80s. They were wrong, again, in the 1990s and ’00s to have not repudiated Trudeauism when they had the chances. They were even more wrong, in the 2010s, to have selected Justin Trudeau to lead the Party based, solely, it is now clear, on his name … because it is quite evident that he has no other qualifications to lead anyone or anything, anywhere. I think it is now becoming more and more clear to Canadians that Justin Trudeau and the Liberal Party are totally bereft of ideas: they have a few slogans, but there is no intellectual weight behind them. They have become the Soros-Thunberg Party, and they are, demonstrably, acting in ways that are inimical to the needs and wants of most Canadians. But, I am certain that the Liberal Party is redeemable. I am sure it can be reformed and rebuilt into the absolutely essential alternative government that Canada always needs. In the interim, for the next 10 to 15 years, Canada needs, strong, principled and moderately liberal Canadian Conservative governments to clean up the mess.