Monday, April 30, 2007

Why I Became a Liberal

Most of my friends think I have lost my mind.

My Toronto friends, who tend to vote NDP or Green, are starting to think that moving out to the boonies has somehow addled my brains and turned me into a middle-class establishment lackey. My Milton friends, most of whom vote Conservative, think that I’m some deluded radical who refuses to see the Liberals for the lying, corrupt hypocrites they obviously are.

My father and I have agreed to never speak of it again.

I didn’t used to be a Liberal. In my younger days I usually voted NDP - partly to annoy my father, but mostly because they were always the most progressive on social issues. Then Bob Rae got elected as Ontario’s first NDP Premier, and… well, we all know how that turned out. I still like the guy a lot, and the mess he left wasn’t entirely his fault (we weren’t the only ones in a recession), but after that I decided that the NDP makes a better opposition party than a government.

I’ve also voted Conservative in the past. Ok, only once, and it was the stupidest vote I ever cast. Not because of who I voted for, but why. Yes - I voted for Kim Campbell. And it wasn’t only because she was a woman, either. I actually believed that Jean Chretien was an embarrassing, buffoonish, Quebecois stereotype who could never be taken seriously as a world leader.

I’m a very intelligent person, but I can be really dumb sometimes.

The best vote I ever cast was for Rob Davis. He turned up at my door one day, told me he was running for city council, and asked me what my biggest concern as a resident was. The answer was crime. We were living at Eglinton and Oakwood at the time, and it was the first Toronto neighbourhood I had ever lived in where I heard gunshots on a regular basis - and I used to live in Parkdale. We had a refrigerator covered in news clippings about shootings, stabbings and arrests from within a three block radius of our building.

Rob acknowledged the problem and laid out exactly what he planned to do about it if he was elected - specifically, get the cops out of their cruisers and onto bicycles and sidewalks, and pull liquor and business licenses from local businesses which were known centres for drug trafficking and other crimes. Like the store that ran the after-hours club out of its basement, or the restaurant where the cops found coke stuffed into the napkin dispensers for convenient pickup.

I was impressed with the guy and thought he had some good ideas, so I voted for him. He won, and within a few months the gunshots heard and the clippings clipped had dropped to nearly zero. He got sued by some of the businesses whose licenses he revoked and later lost his seat, but at least I wasn’t scared to go outside anymore. Only later did I discover that he was a staunch conservative, but I don't hold it against him.

The point is, I’ve voted for a lot of different people for a lot of different reasons. I voted for Trudeau. I voted for Mel Lastman. I think I voted for the Rhinoceros Party once. I’ve voted for people I believed in. I’ve voted against people I disliked. Some votes I’m proud of, while others didn’t turn out so well. But until recently I had never even considered joining a specific party or volunteering to help in an election campaign.

Three things inspired me to send in my ten bucks and join the Liberal Party of Canada last fall. The first was when Chretien refused to join Dubya's 'Coalition of the Witless' in Iraq. I was immensely proud of my country and my Prime Minister that day, and felt bad that I used to think he was a fool.

The second was Martin’s handling of the same-sex marriage issue. Here’s a guy - a Catholic, no less - who was personally ambivalent about the whole thing, who had nothing to gain and everything to lose by supporting such a controversial and emotionally charged issue. He could have fought the court ruling. He could have fobbed it off on the next parliament as so many of his predecessors had done. He could have opened it to a free vote and blamed it on ‘the will of the people’ when his MPs got intimidated into voting against it by right-wing lobbyists.

He could have done the easy thing. He could have done the popular thing. Instead, he chose to do the right thing. It was one of the most courageous things I had ever seen a politician do, and it cost him. I swore I would vote Liberal forever more if he pulled it off.

The thing that finally inspired me to join the Liberals was Ken Dryden’s speech at the Liberal Leadership Convention. If you missed it, here’s a transcript. I didn’t know anything about him or his policies, and I still don’t think I would have picked him as party leader. But that speech brought me to tears. It expressed with great passion and eloquence exactly why I love this country so much, and reminded me which party has consistently, year after year, represented and promoted the values that I think of as being fundamentally Canadian. Tolerance. Inclusiveness. Diversity. Compassion. Social Justice.

I joined the party the next day.

I am not completely naïve. I know full well that politicians and political parties always disappoint. They never do everything they say they will, and they never live up to the ideals they espouse. Economic fortunes shift. Compromises are made. Bureaucracies take great ideas and turn them into miserable, expensive failures.

I remember when Bill Clinton was first elected, I thought he was the second coming of RFK who would bring in universal health care and progressive social policies and save America from her long, dark conservative nightmare. Then he was forced to abandon his ambitious health care reforms because Middle America didn’t like his wife. Then he was forced to compromise on gays in the military with ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ to appease the Religious Right and their puppets in Congress. Very, very disappointing.

And yet, Clinton was a great president. He left his country a better place than he found it. His intentions were good, and the goals he sought to achieve were laudable, even if he was unable to achieve them all. The Liberals are no different, and the list of things they have failed to accomplish over their decades in power could fill a phone book.

Still. I would rather support a party that tries and fails to live up to ideals that I share, than one which pretends to support whatever position it thinks will get it elected, just so it can use that power to transform my country into America North.

I want my Canada back, and I’m going to help the Liberals get it for me.

1 comment:

  1. Very much like what you've written here.
    I would like to be a Liberal -they're big tent electable and generally more progressive than not - but they initiated our membership in Fortress America and I haven't yet seen the political will in them to substantially reverse that position.
    I do realize it's entirely possible that 'resistance is futile' and the Libs are merely taking the realistic position of negotiating the best possible terms for us under these conditions, but I just can't vote for it.
    Hoping there are more Libs like you than not and I'll be cheering you on from the other side of the barricade.