It sometimes feels good to give vent to personal bitterness, but before sounding off, critics must carefully consider that what they are saying is correct.
Recently, Jeanine Krieber expressed several personal concerns about the Liberal Party’s impending demise, adding that she does not want to support a party that ‘could end up in the dustbins of history’. Had these concerns been based on solid facts, she would be right in what she says. But her opinions – they are not solid facts! – do not hold up to careful examination.
For instance, the Party’s current challenges do not signal that the “Liberal Party is falling apart, and will not recover” nor that “like all liberal parties in Europe, it will become a weakling at the mercy of ephemeral coalitions”. On the contrary: these challenges signal the need for radical recalibration of Liberal policies to place the party again at the centre of the Canadian psyche. This is not something new. The Liberal Party of Canada has always drawn its strength from and for the needs of the people of Canada.
Canadian Liberalism has always represented the middle ground of the hopes, fears, dreams and ambitions of Canadians. It has given the world peacekeepers, following the trauma of two world wars. It created the Canada Pension Plan, as our society moved toward a culture of greater individualism and senior Canadians wanted to feel secure in their ability to maintain their independence. It welcomed immigrants following a model that was unique in the world – multiculturalism – that enabled new Canadians to keep what made them feel at home from their cultures of origin, but also the freedom to shape their own individual identities within the Canadian mosaic. Liberals gave Canada a well-funded and well-organized health care system that is the envy of the world.
Liberalism has always united Canadians, made them feel secure, given them economic and cultural hope for themselves and their children. That has always been its strength. How the Party has done that has changed with the ages.
In the 90s, Liberalism meant giving Canadians the financial security they needed. While other countries were burdening themselves with debt, Liberal governments were maximizing Canadians’ freedom by reducing our debt load and restructuring government spending to reduce the burden on future generations. Through serious investments in higher education that created opportunities for Canadians from every social class to comfortably engage in postgraduate studies, Liberal policies enabled a boom in science and culture in Canada that, yet again, made us a beacon for the world.
Today, things have changed again. Radically.
Information and communication technologies, ranging from smart phones to computers to GPS, biotech and social media, have turned society on its head.
Our society is aging and that brings new challenges and opportunities.
Add to this that Capitalism has changed. Information and communication technologies have transformed the economic landscape.
This is the new reality. And it is terrifying for many.
However, we must not overlook the fact that Canada helped build the infrastructure for modern commerce, with world-beating companies like Nortel Networks, Research in Motion, Open Text, SoftImage and too many others to name. And Canadians will not stop there. We must surf the international wave of change and use our education advantage to be producers of high quality content to fill the bandwidths our engineers have created. We are quiet people of great innovation and great humility. But much of that potential is dormant.
Every generation or so, the Liberal Party of Canada has re-centered itself on the common ground of Canada’s social, economic and political life and then lighted a hopeful, moderate path forward through dark forest of an uncertain future.
Laurier did this. Pearson did this. Trudeau did this. Chrétien did this. Martin began to, but was cut short. And now Michael Ignatieff must do the same.
This is not the time for ideological certainties and simple solutions to complex problems. These are not visionary and will not make Canada a world leader and beacon of hope for the next 50 years – a position we have enjoyed for the last 50 years. This is nothing new.
In the past, the Liberal party has been the one that saw past the ideology, saw past the short-term political fixes, and had the courage to sound out the Canada public. To find out what is making it work, what is holding it back, making it dream, terrifying it. And then to propose a set of policies that take what is best and most widely applicable to most Canadians.
Liberal solutions have always been an elegant compromise between practical needs and visionary idealism. There is no defensible reason to believe that things are any different today.
Ms. Krieber rightfully says that the “time for choices is now.” But she is wrong to despair. The current rudderless feeling that Canadians are experiencing will become a part of the past, a part of the PREVIOUS generation, when Liberals look boldly toward the future and – yet again – set an example for the world.
She says that she feels members do not know Ignatieff because, presumably, they have have “not done their homework”, “did not read his books” and “were satisfied that he would be charming at cocktails”. She also says that “Stéphane would have been willing to take all the time and absord all the hits needed to rebuild the party”. If these conjectures are correct, they do point to squabbles and shortcomings that need to be addressed. However, this is not the time to “absorb all the hits needed to rebuild the party”; rather, it is the time to recognize that the Party has moved on, that it is facing today’s challenges head on.
Liberals must stop squabbling among themselves and with the other parties and get to work. They need to step back and think about what Canadians want.
It is time for a new vision. Mr. Ignatieff has the smarts, the vision and the generosity of spirit to guide Liberals toward it.
In the past, it has been Liberal policies that have awakened the dormant giant of Canadian creativity, enterprise, social justice and foreign affairs innovation. The Party will do so again but to get there, Liberals must engage the Canadian citizenry with an open mind and an open heart.
Canadians are waiting to be inspired and moved to action by a new Liberal vision for the next twenty years.