By: Sean Kolenko, North Shore Outlook
For a party with only 34 seats in the House of Commons, the weakest presence on Parliament Hill in its history, the Liberal Party of Canada has been the focus of some national discussion lately.
Part of the Grit-focused conversation centres on the future leadership of both itself and the NDP: Will interim leader Bob Rae , parliamentarian of the year, assume the role of permanent leader and how will the choice of a new head of the New Democrats affect the Liberals’ third-place standing?
Neither question is approaching an immediate resolution — the NDP will elect a new leader in March 2012, the Liberals sometime in 2013 — but each decision is expected to help define the future of the party both from within and in regards to its competition.
The other news comes as a result of Peter C. Newman’s latest book When the Gods Changed: The Death of Liberal Canada. Unfortunately for the Liberals, what was originally planned as a story of Michael Ignatieff ’s heroic ascent to prime minster became a detailed account of the near destruction of Canada’s oldest political party.
In the second-to-last chapter of Newman’s book, he quotes former Pierre Trudeau aide and BC Liberal leader Gordon Gibson on what he sees as the fundamental problem facing the Liberals today: “The Liberal party is in great danger of becoming an irrelevance. Alas, that assumes there is still something to be called the Liberal party.”
With that ominous statement in mind, I went out to a Liberal function in Lower Lonsdale on Saturday afternoon to hear what local residents had to say about the future of their once mighty party.
After some general housekeeping items, including a vote on a new party bylaw and a tallying of delegates interested in attending a function in Ottawa in January, a policy discussion began.
The standing-room-only crowd, which included Liberal senator and Blueridge resident Mobina Jaffer, left no stone unturned when offering thoughts on issues the party should be discussing at community roundtable events and, potentially, include as part of its future mandate.
Popular ideas at the meeting, amongst the more than 20 suggestions proposed, were the environment, healthcare and the growing gap between the country’s rich and poor.
Interestingly, 22 ideas — including the decriminalization of marijuana, support for Canadians living abroad and a strengthening of the public pension system — were offered before the economy, the Conservative government’s go-to platform issue.
The Liberals have been criticized lately for taking too centrist an approach to governing, maintaining an umbrella of ideas so big the party’s message often appears incoherent.
To be fair, Saturday’s meeting was an informal neighbourhood chat and not a hard-line policy meeting. But with so many wide-ranging thoughts being proposed one wonders whether or not the Liberals have learned the importance of a streamlined platform, something Canadians seem to hold in high regard after voting overwhelmingly for the more-easily understood, platform-digestible Tories and New Democrats.
“The next four years is about cleaning house, figuring out who we are and start sharing our ideas with people. We have to take a stand on issues and ensure it’s not just about the party but about Canada,” said Taleeb Noormohamed, former Liberal candidate for North Vancouver and speaker at the weekend event.
“There is a stereotype of Liberals being too cerebral so how policies are discussed and imparted in the future is very important.”