(A version of this monograph was run January 29, 2010. Not much has changed.)
The Toronto Star ran a series on liberal philosophy that ended with a summation by Tom Kent, the guru of the 1960 Liberal conference in Kingston Ontario. In advocating major social reform such as medicare, the Kingston conference fit the tenor of aggressive social action of the times 50-years ago.
The question is what is the tenor of our times now? First of all, there is the anger and frustrations people feel. Betrayed by the sanctimonious right and then left in the lurch by the left wing of the political spectrum, why should the voters trust them? The growing distrust of politicians has lead to both lethargy and perfidy in voting. Lower turnouts, confusing choices and destructive voting can leave politicians equating the voters with unruly children.
And why should the voters not take it out on the politicians. Banks betray them. Business lies to them. Churches castigate them. Family ties have become more tenuous, easily broken. Who do you trust? Why do you want to trust them? The truth is, in life, we need trust. We need trust to live. Hedonism is lonely. There is no such thing as the truly self-sufficient person.
People used to believe in their church. They used to accept the doctrines but today it is much safer to be born again and connect directly with your God. Priests and pastors used to be there to help you find God but you found out in recent times that there are priests who fondle little boys and pastors who fondle the organist. Connect directly to God and you cut out the weak go-betweens. Unless you think your priest or pastor is God and that leads to all kinds of problems.
It is the same with business. If you put your trust in a company today, it will put you on tomorrow’s bread line.
Are you going to trust a political party that reads the polls and then tells you what you want to hear? Are you going to tell a pollster anything? Least of all, the truth?
Be honest, would you not rather have friends with benefits than a spouse? You will only change that course when you find someone who can hopefully share a family and, at least some of a life together.
And that explains only a small part of the problem. The political party that wants to connect with voters today has to exhibit leadership, direction, confidence, excitement and look good while carrying out its program. And yet, Barack Obama, who excited voters in the United States, is dropping in the polls in a post-coital period of blues. Sustaining the expectations in today’s society is a monumental and, maybe, an impossible task.
Michael Ignatieff is challenging Liberals to think of the party’s future but he also needs to have the party recapture some of its past. For example, it needs to go back to the Kingston Conference to rethink the social issues that the party saw at that time and why the party chose that direction.
It was a different party. It was a party with strength and drive across Canada. It was a truly national party that was built from the ground up. It was not the centrally directed and controlled party of today. It was a party with strong riding organizations, effective regional and provincial organizations, solid policy development at what was referred to as the grass roots. It was a party that recognized the rank and file member as the very essence of the party’s existence.
Regrettably, that old Liberal party is gone. Not that we want to be maudlin about its passing but we do have to be disappointed with the weak, sham of a party structure that has replaced it. It is the same with all parties. They are all run today from the top down. Stephen Harper revels in the God-like control he has on the Conservatives. Even Jack Layton cannot believe the control he has now of the union organizers who always had such control of the old, more contentious NDP. Michael Ignatieff was out of the country during the transition from a strong Liberal party and is still trying to come to grips with this party that he is supposed to control.
Maybe one of the problems Michael is having is that the party apparatchiks around him are from the right wing of the party. Trying to find some left wing liberals in Ottawa is a tough job. People like John Manley who took over the right-wing role of president of the Canadian Council of Chief Executives are among those around John Chrétien and Paul Martin who opened the door to Harper’s neo-conservatives. They have left our country floundering in the hands of an economist who in the last election refused to recognize the crumbling world economic problems.
It will only be a rebuilt Liberal party that will enable Canadians to once again have a confidence in politicians. There is a long road ahead……….
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