The Liberal party continues to flounder. Recent polls have them trailing the Conservatives badly, by as much as 14 percentage points according to Ekos Research. Even in Quebec, where the Bloc still dominate, the Conservatives have crept past the Liberals in popularity.
The Liberals seem afraid to stand for anything. Maybe they fear being criticized by the media, or losing credibility with Bay St. But disaffected Liberals are prepared to hear what it means to be a Liberal. Undecided voters remain puzzled as to what the party represents.
The Liberal problem is not endemic to being out of power. Being in opposition — the important thing is to stand for something that matters to people. That is how an opposition leader rallies support against an unpopular leader, and his government. Why should the Liberals be afraid of ideas? If Liberals do not stand up for liberalism why should they expect Canadians to support them?
Philosophical liberalism can be a rich resource for a party looking for inspiration, and to inspire others. Michael Ignatieff wrote a biography of the great British Liberal, Isaiah Berlin. The career of Pierre Trudeau showed how Canadian liberalism can be made to resonate with voters. You would think Liberals would be eager to contest ideological conservatives such as Stephen Harper and confront him with liberal ideas. Instead, the Liberals seem to have decided the enemy is each other.
One Canadian has no fear of being ridiculed for his beliefs. Described inaptly as a space tourist, Cirque du Soleil founder Guy Laliberté, used his expensive two week voyage as a cosmonaut to launch a campaign to draw public attention to the fragility of the world’s water. His Poetic Social Mission included a 14 country televised show he hosted from space featuring former U.S. Vice-President Al Gore, entertainers such as Bono and water activist Maude Barlow.
Wearing a clown nose, Laliberté blasted off into space leading his space companions in song, but his objective was dead serious: save us from our willingness to waste our most precious resource.
You would think the Liberal party would embrace a cause, speak about justice, reach out to Canadians. Instead of taking environmental issues seriously, the party seems wrapped up in internal administrative skirmishes.
Last week Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff named one-time astronaut Marc Garneau his Quebec “representative.” This is not going to turn things around for the party in Quebec where Garneau has no political profile. The Westmount-Ville-Marie MP has name recognition going for him, and not much else. Garneau lost his first time out as a Liberal candidate, and instead of fighting on, he skipped over to the safety of a long time Liberal stronghold. No sign of confidence, Garneau did not even rate the title “lieutenant” carried by his predecessor, Denis Coderre.
Stephen Harper and the Conservative party have a bright future, so long as the Liberal party remains afraid of deciding what it stands for, fearful of offending the rich and powerful, and thinks leadership amounts to a shuffle of backroom players.
Duncan Cameron writes from Quebec City.