Thursday, January 31, 2008

The Bitter Truth

I just ran across this thoughtful piece by Frances Russell of the Winnipeg Free Press. It's ostensibly about the Manley Report, but it's really about the shifting political landscape in North America.

Get ready for a bracing splash of perspective (and my apologies for quoting at such length).

CANADIANS watch hopefully as the exciting, even transformational, U.S. presidential race unfolds. Then they watch despairingly as their politics stagnate in a slough of thuggery, ineptitude and opportunism.

A Harris-Decima poll released earlier this month found that 61 per cent of Canadians would choose a Democrat to win the White House compared to just 12 per cent who would pick a Republican.

These numbers, and a steady stream of polls showing Canadians want our combat role in Afghanistan to end in 2009, should be a warning to Conservatives and Liberals to choose their positions carefully as they address the report by the so-called "blue ribbon" panel on the future of the Afghanistan mission.

...Harper's Achilles heel with voters is a partisanship so intense it borders on thuggery. It appears Harper chose Manley for two reasons: to preordain the outcome (Canadians shouldn't forget that it was Manley who got Canada into Afghanistan in 2001) but chiefly, to sow discord in Liberal ranks.

It's not difficult to sow discord among Liberals. They're doing an excellent job themselves. Ideological parties have the glue of their core beliefs to hold them together in opposition and in power. But the only glue "mushy middle" parties like Canada's Liberals have is power itself. In a nation where two-thirds of the electorate leans to the centre-left, the Liberals' winning formula has always been to tilt to the left.

But the 1993 post-Mulroney political meltdown robbed the Liberals of most of their left wing. Arising from the ashes of Mulroney's doomed Quebec-Alberta axis, the Bloc Québécois deprived the party of Wilfrid Laurier and Pierre Trudeau of much of its leftist oxygen. Previously, the Liberals could always count on a large contingent of progressive Quebec MPs to counter the more right-wing, "business" Liberals from rural Ontario and the Maritimes.

The preponderance of business Liberals during the Jean Chrétien years was muffled by the leftish populism of the prime minister himself. But his successor, Paul Martin, was the best-known business Liberal of them all. The combination of Martin, the right's reunion and the sponsorship scandal dispatched the party to opposition in 2005. It immediately embarked on a debilitating 10-month leadership race won by the candidate who began the convention with just 16 per cent of the delegates.


I hate to admit it, but I think she might be spot on. Her analysis of the devolution of the Liberal Party in the post-Trudeau years and their backwards slide into the pro-corporate, America-centric Liberal Party of the 40s and 50s is upsetting, and yet essentially correct.

The schism between what Russell terms the "business Liberals" and the party's left wing is precisely mirrored in the Democratic party in the U.S. Thing is, the Democrats finally seem to be giving up on the centrist 'Blue Dog' appeasement strategy epitomized by the likes of Joe Lieberman and (to a lesser extent) the Clintons.

Instead, they appear to be flocking to the left - or at least as far left as Americans are capable of - in their embrace of the Kennedy-esque Obama and Edwards. Unfortunately, it took nearly eight long years of war, fiscal incompetence, ballooning debt and the near dismantling of American democracy to get them to this point. And even now, the final victory over Right-wing Republican menace is far from assured.

(seriously, you'd think the Democrats could nominate a HEAD OF CABBAGE to run for president and still beat the Republicans at this point - but apparently not.)

After all this time, I'm still not sure where Dion stands in this trend. Is he part of the same school of progressive, left-leaning Quebec intellectuals as Trudeau and his father, Leon Dion? Or is he more of a Martin-style, centrist Liberal, socially progressive but less concerned with Canada's economic sovereignty than with where the TSX closed? I know Dion talks a good game for social justice and the environment, but does he truly understand what it's going to take to go up against corporate interests to make those ideals a reality? And does he have the stones to go through with it?

Russell has some thoughts on election strategy and timing as well, via Lorne Nystrom.

Earlier this month, longtime NDP MP Lorne Nystrom sketched out Jack Layton's strategy -- the same strategy the NDP leader used in 2006 and Ed Broadbent employed in the 1988 free trade election: first, kill the Liberals. Nystrom told The Globe and Mail New Democrats are pushing for an early election to force the Liberals to abstain on confidence votes, making Dion look like a weak leader.

"If the economy gets worse and the election isn't held until fall and there's an anti-Conservative mood in the country, then usually what happens is people seek the largest alternative party which is the Liberals... If you have an early election, it may be too soon for the Liberals and work to the NDP's advantage," Nystrom said.

I'm not sure I agree entirely - among other things, Nystrom is forgetting the huge numbers of disaffected Cons who seem to be be fleeing to the Green Party as the least revolting alternative.

Besides, is it really going to take another six months, or twelve months, or two years of Stephen Harper making enough of a hash of things for Canadians to wake up and do away with him once and for all? I hope not, but if it will end up purging the Conservatives of the right-wing neo-liberal pseudo-Republicans who have taken over the party, then so be it.

I just hope the damage can be repaired afterwards.


(And BTW, if you think I've been on a major blogging bender over the past couple of days, you're probably right. The DH is out of town all week and now I'm down with the same cold he and the boi have infected me with. WTF else am I going to do?)

1 comment:

  1. As an NDP voter who has met Dion, I do think he comes from the real left part of the spectrum and is passionately committed to his vision of a Canada where social justice and caring for the environment are central. However, there appears to be a lot of forces within the Liberal party which pull to the center-right, and it is a question of how this all settles out.