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Liberals ready to Think Big


 

Nice reporting from the Star today, confirming that the Liberal party’s long-anticipated Big Thinkers conference is set to go in January.

I’m generally quite in favour of these sorts of things. A political party is the hinge institution of a democracy, where policy gets transferred into power. It’s bad for democracy when a party is too ideological and unwilling to sacrifice principle for power — as was too often the case with the Reform party. But it’s probably worse when a party is so blindly focused on gaining and keeping power that it loses sight of why it wants to govern in the first place. See: Liberal party from 2000 to 2006.

But here’s a caution to the Liberal party. From the Star’s piece, you already get the sense that expectations for this within the party are high, and getting higher by the week. As always, Liberals are thinking back to the famous Kingston conference that energized the Pearson years, and the Aylmer conference that gave Chretien a push. It’s like they think all they have to do is read a bunch of academic papers and the majority governments will beat a path to their door.

But things have changed a lot in Canada in the nearly 20 years since the Aylmer conference. It’s a much different country, and it faces much different challenges. I don’t have a solid argument on this, but my feeling is that the ideological landscape of Canada has narrowed considerably since then. What that means is that Canadian politics is much less amenable to Big Ideas and Grand Narratives. That isn’t to say we don’t face problems, many of which are open to partisan disagreement. But in general, the country seems to me to have become substantially post-partisan. To put it in a way that will drive a lot of you nuts: Canada, as a state, might have reached the End of History in the Fukuyamian sense.

Which means that the idea that the Liberals will come out of this conference brimming with a grand national vision is misplaced. Instead of a big policy conference every few decades, where they expect to set in motion a strategy that will bring them years of comfortable power, the Liberals might want to consider having a regular series of small conferences. Hold them every two years, or one a year alternating official languages. Or better yet, make long-term strategic thinking a permanent part of the party appparatus. But keep it small and keep it nimble — the world operates in a much higher tempo than it did when Mulroney was in power.

What the Liberals need are not a couple of Big Ideas (High Speed Rail! National Energy Grid!) that will require massive amounts of political and financial capital, but a whole bunch of great little ideas. Can a bunch of little ideas add up to a comprehensive strategy that could serve as a proper political brand? Of course. It’s harder to do, and it requires, in many ways, far more in the way of leadership.

Is Ignatieff the man for the job? Maybe, but only if he shows himself willing to think small.

(In many ways, what I’m getting at is something close to what Andrew Coyne and I both argued a few years ago for the 40th anniversay of This Magazine — our little essays are available here.)

are different challenges facing the country,

already feel the excitement building in the party, and with excitiemetn


 
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Liberals ready to Think Big

  1. It seems like a really dumb place to park their hopes. When I think of the rise of the Harper Conservatives, or even the Obama phenomenon, both relied heavily on a relationship to the grassroots (whether symbolic or actual is another matter). This Big Thinkers scheme is rooted in top-down policy making (it feels Trudeauish, n'est pas?), and could further alienate the party from voters.

    I suspect the substance of policy is mattering less and less to Canadians, whereas they at least need to feel like they're a part of things.

    On a related note, I wonder if Manning still has those giant 'THINK BIG' letters kicking around in his garage?

    (p.s.: Andrew – you forgot to delete the last few scratch sentences.)

    • "When I think of the rise of the Harper Conservatives, or even the Obama phenomenon, both relied heavily on a relationship to the grassroots (whether symbolic or actual is another matter)."

      Wrong on both front. The pre-Govt Harper laid out his Big Policy plans for his grassroots. Once in power, voters were asked to develop collective amnesia and forget everything he ever said on fiscal and social matters. Obama very much put forth Big Policy items, not to mention a clear vision for his country.

      • Obama's campaign certainly had big ideas, but was driven through the power of micro-donations and internet 'word of mouth'. I was careful to suggest that grassroots participation in policy need only be symbolic, and "Yes We Can" was designed to make individuals feel empowered.

        I think you're driven more by ideological projection than rational analysis when it comes to the Conservatives. Their base has continually ponied up donations, which is why they are so willing to surrender the per vote subsidy. Most of their party policies are very much the product of grassroots grievances. Failing to deliver on those platform planks can be debated as an outcome of minorities or outright cynicism on Harper's part, but it''s undeniable that the Conservatives have acheived their power through careful attention to the rank and file members of their party.

      • Obama's campaign certainly had big ideas, but was driven through the power of micro-donations and internet 'word of mouth'. I was careful to suggest that grassroots participation in policy need only be symbolic, and "Yes We Can" was designed to make individuals feel empowered.

        I think you're driven more by ideological projection than rational analysis when it comes to the Conservatives. Their base has continually ponied up donations, which is why they are so willing to surrender the per vote subsidy. Most of their party policies are very much the product of grassroots grievances with traditional federal governance. Failing to deliver on those platform planks can be debated as an outcome of minorities or outright cynicism on Harper's part, but it''s undeniable that the Conservatives have acheived their power through careful attention to the rank and file members of their party.

        • Sean i think you're missing something here. The Cons may have acchieved power by paying attention to rank and file members, but the result is not so different from liberal methods/style. The libs normally campaign from the left and govern from the centre – in other words they pay attention to their base too. But in both cases the parties run into something called reality once they're actually given power. As AP says ideally they abandon ideaology for pragmatism. Trudeau was the exception. Love him or leave him he did come with a set of ideas and an agenda. We can't, and probably shouldn't exspect that to happen too often. The liberal party needs to realise this and move on.

        • "I think you're driven more by ideological projection than rational analysis when it comes to the Conservatives. Their base has continually ponied up donations, which is why they are so willing to surrender the per vote subsidy. "

          Say Sean, why do you think that their base continually ponies up donations, as you say? I'd like to hear your "rational analysis" on that one, pls.

  2. I'll believe it when I see it. Remember how their policy convention in the spring turned out? No policy.

    This will probably just turn out to be a campaign rhetoric brainstorming session. But I wait to be proven incorrect.

  3. I bleive Mr Potter has rung a bell here. The problem isnt lack of Big Policy (a marketing/promotion problem. The problem is the big lack of policy (a product problem).

    As for it being top down or bottom up. It doesnt matter where the process starts but it has to iterate and percolate through all levels of the Liberal Party. Which is why I never understood the suicidal lurch towards an election, when they kept delaying this process.

    As well, just having the conference in January doesnt mean anything if they dont give it the time…I have said before and I will say it again the Liberal Party and Michael Ignatieff could each do themselves a favour and set their clocks to be prepare for an election in the Fall of 2010 or after. Any earlier and they are doign themselves and the Canadian people a disservice.

    But never underestimate a poltiical party's ability to get distracted by short term issues, that appplies to all of them.

  4. I believe Mr Potter has rung a bell here. The problem isnt lack of Big Policy (a marketing/promotion problem). The problem is the big lack of policy (a product problem).

    As for it being top down or bottom up. It doesnt matter where the process starts but it has to iterate and percolate through all levels of the Liberal Party. Which is why I never understood the suicidal lurch towards an election, when they kept delaying this process.

    As well, just having the conference in January doesnt mean anything if they dont give it the time…I have said before and I will say it again the Liberal Party and Michael Ignatieff could each do themselves a favour and set their clocks to be prepare for an election in the Fall of 2010 or after. Any earlier and they are doign themselves and the Canadian people a disservice.

    But never underestimate a poltiical party's ability to get distracted by short term issues, that appplies to all of them.

  5. I believe Mr Potter has rung a bell here. The problem isnt lack of Big Policy (a marketing/promotion problem. The problem is the big lack of policy (a product problem).

    As for it being top down or bottom up. It doesnt matter where the process starts but it has to iterate and percolate through all levels of the Liberal Party. Which is why I never understood the suicidal lurch towards an election, when they kept delaying this process.

    As well, just having the conference in January doesnt mean anything if they dont give it the time…I have said before and I will say it again the Liberal Party and Michael Ignatieff could each do themselves a favour and set their clocks to be prepare for an election in the Fall of 2010 or after. Any earlier and they are doign themselves and the Canadian people a disservice.

    But never underestimate a poltiical party's ability to get distracted by short term issues, that appplies to all of them.

  6. Whenever I enounter both the words ' Liberal ' and ' Big ' in the same paragraph my first reaction is to grab my wallet and look furtively around for the inevitable invisible hand reaching for it.

    • I too prefer the Conservative approach which involves stealing our children's and grandchildren's money.

      • The coalition approach, forced on the elected government…?

        • Would you guys kindly revise your talking points? We don't elect governments.

          But yes, I forgot that nothing is the Conservatives' fault or responsibility. Ever.

  7. "What the Liberals need are not a couple of Big Ideas (High Speed Rail! National Energy Grid!) that will require massive amounts of political and financial capital, but a whole bunch of great little ideas. Can a bunch of little ideas add up to a comprehensive strategy that could serve as a proper political brand? Of course. It's harder to do, and it requires, in many ways, far more in the way of leadership."

    Sounds like Potter is arguing for Retail politics as opposed to putting forth "visionary" type of policies.

    I couldn't disagree more. Putting forth a clear vision with Big Ideas a la Green Shift is what requires true courage, conviction and leadership nowadays, I don't care what the pundits say.

    Retail politics is the easy way out.

    • I think it's just Andrew Potter who doesn't like big ideas. Unless their his.

    • Putting forth a clear vision with Big Ideas a la Green Shift

      Refresh my memory; how'd that work out for them?

    • Putting forth a clear vision with Big Ideas a la Green Shift

      Refresh my memory; how'd that work out for them?

      When your first priority is a Big Idea, it's very easy to overlook that it might also be a Bad Idea.

      • That it was a bad idea is matter of opinion, avr. The point I made remains. It takes guts, courage and leadership to present a vision and an articulate idea like that of the Green Shift to voters. When was the last time that a politician presented something with this kind of scope and thought?

        Ridiculous policies like -2% on the GST don't require leadership. They don't even require deep thinking. The sheer stupidity of that policy says a whole lot about the people who put it forward.

        • Reducing the only tax low income Canadians pay, is a stupid idea?

          But raising taxes on everything, and then giving low income Canadians a break on the taxes you just raised,
          is a courageous idea?
          Right, the carrot and the stick.

  8. "To put it in a way that will drive a lot of you nuts: Canada, as a state, might have reached the End of History in the Fukuyamian sense."

    I don't understand. What's the point of attempting to make a persuasive argument by invoking a thesis that has been proved false, now just with the passage of time, but at the time it was advanced?

    Oh, hang on. "Persuasive argument?" From Andrew Potter?

  9. Oops. "they're."

  10. What that means is that Canadian politics is much less amenable to Big Ideas and Grand Narratives.

    Really, then why did Harper attain power with Big Ideas (reforming the Senate) and Grand Narratives (Canada's back!)? What you should be saying is that Canadian politics is much less satisfied by Big Ideas and Grand Narratives alone and now requires concrete steps to implement those Big Ideas and Grand Narratives.

    • He didn't win on those issues. If you recall, Harper lost in 2004 (when he still supported both of those things, in addition to major tax cuts). Moreover, his senate reform platform was incremental (if the provinces wanted to he would honour provincial senate elections and pick the winner of the senate election).

      Harper won on a platform that focused on a few small changes.
      1. A 2% GST cut.
      2. A baby bonus
      3. a wait time guarantee
      4. Some "tough on crime" legislation
      5. the accountability act
      6. More money for the provinces (this was emphasized more in Quebec)

      In 2008 he won with no platform.

      Incidentally, I disagree with Potter that the red book was a revolutionary document – it wasn't. It involved incremental changes (and maybe one major one – universal childcare – that was not met), and only looks revolutionary because it allowed the Liberals to stay in power for 13 years. You can do a lot if you stay in power for a long time. Even if you win an election as a radical, by contrast, as soon as you lose power, it is easy to reverse your reforms.

  11. "As always, Liberals are thinking back to the famous Kingston conference that energized the Pearson years, and the Aylmer conference that gave Chretien a push."

    These two contrasting conferences nicely illustrate the problem. I was at the Aylmer conference. It was a tightly scripted event designed to produce a series of outcomes predetermined by Chretien's inner circle. By all accounts, the Kingston conference was something else altogether. It's an open question whether the Liberals are willing and able to have a public discussion of actual ideas.

    And you don't have to look far for the reason. Are the Liberals the party of the left that their core supporters want them to be or are they the pragmatic centrists they want hoi polloi to believe they are. If they keep trying to be both, they will have to run scripted "ideas" like they had in Aylmer.

    • Kingston seemed to have caught the zeitgeist. Can it happen again for the liberal party? I don't see much evidence of openness to new ideas, sadly. They could be a great party again. Maybe liberalism has run its course; it always seemed to need to have big windmills to tilt at. But now It seems to be a bean-counters world. Call me a pesimist but i don't like where politics seems to be headed in this country.

  12. Potter misses the mark, the target, heck – even the firing range itself with this one.

    "A political party is the hinge institution of a democracy, where policy gets transferred into power. It's bad for democracy when a party is too ideological and unwilling to sacrifice principle for power"

    Parties ain't the 'hinge' – not for a generation. They are a collection of people who desire landing on the public teat. Those parties who sacrifice principle for power – ding! Same ghouls slobbering over your wallet.

    Shame to see a blogger/writer so jaded as to believe the interests of a political party are above those of the nation. There is good public policy, and bad public policy.

    Following bad public policy to retain power is likely the most contemptible action a public figure can pursue.

    So tell me Andrew – how does a journo get so pitifully jaded as to advocate such a world?

  13. Yes, but, just because an idea fails politically, doesn't mean it's a bad idea.

  14. Hooray! Big thoughts are a-comin'!

    • You called?

  15. "See: Liberal party from 2000 to 2006"

    See: Conservative party from 2006-present

  16. Try reading the piece again. Carefully. He's not advocating so much as analyzing.

  17. I think it may be a good idea for the Liberals to hold a policy conference. I would even welcome any good policy proposals that come out of it.

    But, if the Liberals are sincere in having a true policy conference and not just putting it on for show, then they need far more than three months to plan it. These things take at least six months to do properly. They can't be slapped together over the Xmas parliamentary break.

    I have the impression that this conference is more for show than a real attempt to identify the "next big policy thing". And that's too bad for the Liberals. Ignatieff should take a deep breath, accept the fact that his party will be in opposition for at least another year, and use the time to do something properly rather than rushing things in order to meet an artificial "election window" next spring.

    • Actually I think fad-ism is a real problem for the Liberals. They keep trying to define themselves in response to events. Martin took this to extremes, running around the country saying "this is very important!" Dion did this too – his emphasis on the environment largely coincided with an unusually warm winter, and an uptick in environmental awareness. It didn't last however. Similarly, Ignatieff has been defining himself in light of the recession, running a resume campaign ("we can do better", not "we would do things differently") – and as the recession wanes, so too does Iggy's schtick. Heck even Harper fell prey to this kind of posturing in 2004 when he focused his entire campaign on the sponsorship scandal.

      Parties need bedrock values and ideas that they are willing to stick to, even in bad times, and yes, even if there are temporary electoral costs. Why? Because a party that loses its grassroots can't fundraise or organize. Moreover, it makes voting for that party something like pulling the lever on a slot machine. You can go too far (as the Republicans have), but I don't think the Liberals are anywhere close to doing so. The news changes rapidly, and short term gains from basing policy on the news eat up long-term gains from developing credibility in particular issue areas.

  18. A decent analysis is usually accompanied by some kind of evidence.

    He's not advocating nor analyzing. He's orating.

  19. I likely haven't been clear enough, to be fair. Let me try again!

    Both the Conservatives and Obama were successful at tapping into reasonably focussed grassroots concerns and/or desires, and converting those into broader campaign platforms. I just don't see that happening in a single conference, which is likely to produce more top-down, Green Shift type proposals. Big Ideas, in this context, are something of a short cut to the hard work of creating and sustaining a political movement that resonates with large numbers of voters. And short cuts are usually dumb approaches, in my opinion.

    I have no quibble with the notion that all parties must face pragmatic realities once attaining power (sometimes we can even call that moderation or compromise – it isn't necessarily a bad thing in all cases).

  20. Why is this so hard for you?

    Because the party makes them feel like they have a voice. And substantively, many of their platform planks were the direct product of tapping into the real grievances and desires of their members. The Conservatives have been faced with minority parliaments, and thus have been cut a lot of slack by the base (it's another debate as to the wisdom of the Conservative base, in that respect).

    • Quite right, one of the main problems with the Liberals at this time is the annointing of certain leaders by the party hierarchy: There are some in LPC that want to go to a one man one vote at their convention which allows the grass roots people to have a say in who represents them. The CPC did that at their convention.

  21. "Big Ideas, in this context, are something of a short cut to the hard work of creating and sustaining a political movement that resonates with large numbers of voters. And short cuts are usually dumb approaches, in my opinion. "

    Without the big ideas and the vision, how do you propose to create a political movement? I'm sorry but what you are saying doesn't make sense to me.

  22. *in the context of a short cut*

    There's nothing wrong at all with big ideas and vision. But the source of such things has to be rooted in what people want, to put it plainly. One can fairly accuse the 'right' of cynical populism, when this approach is taken to extremes, but the 'left' has a tendency to assume the brilliance of their ideas are self evident.

    Maybe that worked for Trudeau, to some extent. But the current Liberal party needs to first find out what resonates with voters, THEN look at translating that into larger policy. As Two Yen aptly argues further down, it just isn't possible to slam together a quickie conference and assume anyone will care about the results.

  23. I tend to agree with you. It doesn't really matter where the ideas come from. To say they're all top down driven isn't accurate or fair. Liberal pols have to listen to their constituents and party members too. The generation of ideas large or small is a much more difficult process to discribe or define than most of us realise. And really dumb top down ideas still have to be sold and hopefully rejected. That said the liberals have to spend more time connecting to their grass roots, something they've been arguably poor at.

  24. You have it backwards, Sean. The Reformers presented their vision for the country and the people came. Not the other way around.

    That's what the Liberals are lacking. I would even say that what we have seen so far are small ideas (EI reform, protection for Canadians abroad, etc.) and no one is buying. Should Iggy come forth with a clear path for Canadians and one big idea, I think the reception will be different.

    The High Speed Rail is a great and worthy project but it is not a Big Idea. Sorry.

  25. "The type and formula of most schemes of philanthropy or humanitarianism is this: A and B put their heads together to decide what C shall be made to do for D. The radical vice of all these schemes, from a sociological point of view, is that C is not allowed a voice in the matter, and his position, character, and interests, as well as the ultimate effects on society through C's interests, are entirely overlooked. I call C the Forgotten Man. For once let us look him up and consider his case, for the characteristic of all social doctors is, that they fix their minds on some man or group of men whose case appeals to the sympathies and the imagination, and they plan remedies addressed to the particular trouble …. " William G Sumner, The Forgotten Man

    Whenever a left wing party proposes Big Ideas, I automatically think of Sumner's Forgotten Man.

    I think Libs problem is that they have won the ideological battle. Canadians are happy to live in a fascist state that takes care of them from cradle to grave, I even saw an ad last night from Ont government telling me how to store potatoes at home, so there are no big ideas left. Until the other parties, mainly the Cons, start to challenge status quo there are no debates to be had.

  26. "The type and formula of most schemes of philanthropy or humanitarianism is this: A and B put their heads together to decide what C shall be made to do for D. The radical vice of all these schemes, from a sociological point of view, is that C is not allowed a voice in the matter, and his position, character, and interests, as well as the ultimate effects on society through C's interests, are entirely overlooked. I call C the Forgotten Man. For once let us look him up and consider his case, for the characteristic of all social doctors is, that they fix their minds on some man or group of men whose case appeals to the sympathies and the imagination, and they plan remedies addressed to the particular trouble …. " William G Sumner, The Forgotten Man

    Whenever a left wing party proposes Big Ideas, I automatically think of Sumner's Forgotten Man.

    I think Libs problem is that they have won the ideological battle. Canadians are happy to live in a fascist state that takes care of them from cradle to grave, I even saw an ad last night from Ont government telling me how to store potatoes at home, so there are no big ideas left. Until the other parties, mainly the Cons, start to challenge status quo there are no debates to be had.

  27. 'Because the party makes them feel like they have a voice. And substantively, many of their platform planks were the direct product of tapping into the real grievances and desires of their members'

    You make it sound as if all the deep thinkers are down on the family farm or corner store. [ i'm sure there are ] The generation of ideas often comes from those with grievences who then join political parties and try to persuade others. Eventually you have a consensus of sorts. I don't dispute this is valid. But this is getting dangerously close to the canard that educated elite idealists should have no say because they aint ordinary folks. I'm sure you didn't intend that but you must agree it's a downside to modern populism. It's Pallinism writ large and frankly it disgusts me. I have no problem with populism if includes everyone, and doesn't just appeal to the lowest common denominator.

  28. Is that i any way like my father's gripe? I don't have children anymore. It's fascism. Why should i have to pay school taxes?

  29. I meant school age kids…sorry dad.

  30. "when fascism comes to America, it will not be in brown and black shirts. It will not be with jackboots. It will be Nike sneakers and smiley shirts. Smiley-smiley. Fascism – Germany lost the Second World War. Fascism won it. Believe me, my friend."

    I don't know your dad, nor do I know what he gripes about. But even George Carlin understood what's going on.

  31. "when fascism comes to America, it will not be in brown and black shirts. It will not be with jackboots. It will be Nike sneakers and smiley shirts. Smiley-smiley. Fascism – Germany lost the Second World War. Fascism won it. Believe me, my friend."

    I don't know your dad, nor do I know what he gripes about. But even George Carlin understood what's going on. But I do like your education example. State indoctrinating kids from an early age is a great example of fascism.

  32. "when fascism comes to America, it will not be in brown and black shirts. It will not be with jackboots. It will be Nike sneakers and smiley shirts. Smiley-smiley. Fascism – Germany lost the Second World War. Fascism won it. Believe me, my friend." George Carlin

    I don't know your dad, nor do I know what he gripes about. But I do like your education example. State indoctrinating kids from an early age is a great example of fascism. Even Carlin understood what's going on around us.

    • Alternately: "When fascism comes to America it will be wrapped in a flag and carrying a cross" –Sinclair Lewis.

      So jolyon, just so we're clear: you think Canada would be better off without a 100+-year history of educating its population at public expense? Never mind our current dropout rates and levels of illiteracy, you think we would all be better off if education bore out-of-pocket cost for each student?

      • "you think Canada would be better off without a 100+-year history of educating its population at public expense?"

        Yes. We would have much better education system if private companies were competing for students. I would prefer it if parents paid to educate their own children but I would accept State giving parents $10,000 per annum, per kid and let parents decide which school would best educate their children. This would allow all kinds of different types of schools to open and kids would no longer be expected to attend one size fits all school system we have now.

        I would even settle for system where we eliminated the past 45 years of educational quackery and teachers went back to how it used to be: impart useful knowledge kids need to know and stop teachers from thinking they are the moppets moral and spiritual guardians.

        • If parents paid directly for their kids' education, the poor would, of course, be even further disadvantaged. The very success of public education has been in setting a minimum standard of education for everybody and we all reap the benefits.

          As for vouchers – if you don't like your taxes paying to educate kids that aren't yours, how happy will you be about your taxes paying for the School for the Lifestyle You Disagree With around the corner? Do you think it'll be a good outcome to atomize children's upbringing into the narrow religious or special interest categories that appeal to their parents?

          Frankly, I don't like my tax dollars supporting the Separate school system (and I went through it!) because the state should have no involvement with religion. Now, in the name of eliminating "fascist" education, I'm supposed to support a school for every religion out there?

          As for the past 45 years of "educational quackery", I think you need to go back to shouting at those teenagers to get off your lawn. I have kids in the public education system right now. I'm not totally satisfied but your complaints about quackery bear no semblance to the reality I see.

  33. Liberals "Thinking Big" invariably translates into Canadians thinking big tax and spending increases.

    Conservatives are by no means angels in fiscal prudence right now, but all this big government talk coming from the left will be food for thought for any responsible Canadian moderately concerned with our tax levels and burgeoning government apparatus.

    Oh sure, there are many big government voters out there –

    but not nearly enough to divide up among three other parties.

    A long conservative reign is likely upon us.

    • ''A long conservative reign is likely upon us. ''

      As it should be,
      following a long Liberal reign that has left the LPC out of touch and out of ideas.

  34. Potter's very credible argument aside, I find it perplexing that the Liberals are calling for this conference after Mike has been appearing in ads proclaiming that he already has the big plan. Is this a newer bigger plan they are working on?

  35. "Mike has been appearing in ads proclaiming that he already has the big plan."

    No. That's just the post-literate "gut feeling" you got when you watched those ads. Ignatieff's notions of vision have been largely aspirational at this point.

    It's legitimate to argue against Big Ideas, but for once, I'd like to hear a persuasive one, and not just the usual eye-rolling we get from people like Andrew Potter.

  36. Good of you to grant what is legitimate to argue. Big Ideas died with the collapse of Keynesian economics and the fall of the Berlin Wall. That's persuasive enough for most people.

  37. Uh, in case you haven't noticed…it's over 20 years later (and how old were you when the Berlin Wall fell, anyway?). Neoliberalism and American triumphalism have also failed. Spectacularly, I might add.

    I was tired of Big Ideas back then too, but it wasn't too long before those two Big Ideas filled the vacuum.

    • You are arguing that big ideas haven't failed by arguing that big ideas have failed. Spectacular logic.

  38. What I am detecting here is a meme that with the end of socialism (affirming the end of history argument, incidentally) there are no big ideas out there. I think this reflects considerable success on the part of free-marketeers in painting the small government status quo as some sort of default – ie. as a world that is not the result of big ideas, but just the way things are. The Reagan/Gingrich/Chretien/Thatcher/Klein/Harris revolutions were big ideas, and controversial ones. I think it is meaningful that rolling back those revolutions is seen as revolutionary, while keeping them is not. It means that, for once, Conservatives can actually be Conservative defenders of the status quo. Indeed electorally motivated folks on the left (Ignatieff, Martin, Chretien, Clinton, most blue dems and Blair) have operated largely by co-opting those ideas, rather than challenging them.

    I am not so sure that is a permanent situation, however. Indeed, the 2008 recession was a good reminder that markets are imperfect. Perhaps the Liberals would do well to learn from the winner of the Nobel prize in economics this year (Elinor Ostrom). There is a third way to get things done other than markets and the states. In policymaking there are no panaceas – a statist approach works well in some areas (say, fighting crime), and a market approach in others. Still other systems (such as our parliament) operate with informal and unwritten rules and conventions that are mutually agreed upon and largely self-enforced (there is no law telling the governor-general… or is it the Queen… whom she must appoint as PM for instance).

    So perhaps if the Liberals wanted to "THINK BIG!" they might "think small". Canadian policy debates have traditionally been dominated by federal-provincial relations. The Liberals could push for a third way – becoming the party of local government.

  39. "my feeling is that the ideological landscape of Canada has narrowed considerably . . . . " Don't confuse BIG Ideas with BIG Government.
    If the Grits cannot see a Big idea tha does not involve bigger government, that will be their downfall in this generation.
    I also agree that "policy conferences" tend to be tightly scripted and closed affairs. With all progress in social networking and on-line blogging we seem to be as disconnected as ever from the policymaking work of Parliament.

  40. By jove – I think he's got it Mr. Wherry that is – I'm not sure about Mr. Ignatieff.
    In contrast to some of writers above – the policy conference came out with a well balanced mix of policies – which Policy chair Joan Bourassa pulled together for Mr. Ignatieff in July ( a little late – he wanted it by June).
    The grassroots got fire up in the spring debating al this online. Still full of optimism, they held on through the summer – waiting for the strategic moment when it would be released – with great fanfare – to differentiate us from the CPC. Then – polite enquiries to Ms. Bourassa got the standard reply – The constitution states that the leader does not have to take regard of the policies voted on at a policy confernece…Duh! Take that grassroots! I think the consequences of that decision – and playing peekaboo are beginning to sink in – at last!

    • That is depressing. Who would you blame for that? The party brass? Ignatieff? Or is it just rookie syndrome?

  41. Whenever the Liberals Think Big, large swaths of the country get significantly poorer.

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