On political seas, liberalism has always been a flag of convenience. It is a political party without heavy ideology. Looking back, the party was its leaders. It was leaders such as George Brown, Oliver Mowat, Wilfrid Laurier, William Lyon Mackenzie King, Louis St. Laurent, Lester Pearson, Pierre Trudeau, Jean Chrétien and lesser mortals. Michael Ignatieff saw the party as a big red tent that welcomed everyone but, with him leading it, he found that it tempted few.
Ignatieff’s main problem in the last election was that he had no concept of where the party should be going. We had fallen on hard times. The party’s promises were too vague for the voters. It could no longer survive on past success. This was the internationalist party that built and glorified the country around the world. It owned Quebec and spoke nationally for a bilingual and multicultural Canada. It was strong in the cities and their suburbs. It was the party that made things happen. It brought Medicare to the nation. Liberals created strong programs to support business and job creation. We were the party of the burgeoning middle class of Canada.
But we lost it. Quebec played with separatists and wandered off to the left and the demagogues of the elite. Like a jaded partner in a dull marriage, Quebec needed to experiment, to live it up, to try what is new and to regain the spirit. In a rising tide of political division in Canada, the Liberal Party tried to keep selling inclusion.
The Jean Chrétien years were the troubling years. The middle class was under attack and shrinking. The Reformers took over the Conservative Party. The rabid right in America was creating a new cant of property rights and small government in which nobody understood the contradictions. This new ideology of the right brought the religious right to their cause and a marriage of convenience was born.
Ontario experienced this new breed of ideologists earlier than the rest of the country when Michael Harris’ Conservatives replaced Bob Rae’s conflicted NDP. The two-term mandate of Harris created a base of support in Ontario for Harper’s new federal Conservative Party. And the resource-rich West gathered wealth to support him as the East bled manufacturing jobs.
In the 2011 General Election, two things happened. A tired Bloc Quebecois was increasing irrelevant to Quebecers and Jack Layton and his colloquial French offered a new and left-wing alternative. The Liberals were in disrepute and Harper’s Conservative ideologues had little to interest Quebec.
The second thing was the dominant newspaper in Ontario, the Toronto Star, abandoned the tired Liberal Party and told liberal voters it was alright to vote NDP. And they did in enough numbers to assure a majority for Harper’s Conservatives. The Liberal Party ended up with just 34 seats in Parliament.
We knew the party was in trouble and we needed time to think.
Copyright 2012 © Peter Lowry
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