In Ottawa’s race to the middle, Liberals are way ahead

From civil liberties to the environment, NATO and deficit spending, the opposition parties can’t wrestle the middle away from the government

Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Ralph Goodale makes a funding announcement during a visit to an immigrant holding centre in Laval, Que., Monday, August 15, 2016. Immigration holding facilities in Vancouver and Laval, Que., will be replaced as part of a $138-million overhaul intended to improve detention conditions for newcomers to Canada. (Graham Hughes/CP)

Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Ralph Goodale makes a funding announcement during a visit to an immigrant holding centre in Laval, Que., Monday, August 15, 2016. Immigration holding facilities in Vancouver and Laval, Que., will be replaced as part of a $138-million overhaul intended to improve detention conditions for newcomers to Canada. (Graham Hughes/CP)

Minutes after the RCMP played a chilling video showing the black-clad, 24-year-old Aaron Driver pledging allegiance to ISIS, I spoke to his father, Wayne. By that time, his son had already detonated a homemade explosive device and died in a gunfire exchange with police. Wayne hadn’t seen the video before that moment, and he was reeling. “I didn’t have any thoughts, I just broke down crying,” he said. “Disbelief and shock set in right away and the more you listen, the more you look, you realize it’s your son, and, my God, what brought him this far? What could we have done differently to help him?”

If Wayne Driver is understandably bewildered by these questions, so too are most political leaders. Security, civil liberties and the war with radical Islam pose some of the defining questions of our times, but the answers are getting less clear. In the U.S., Donald Trump has turned them into a paranoid, ad-lib form of Republicanism, his latest idea being “extreme, extreme vetting” of immigrants. It’s like Trump has put the old PQ charter of values into a blender, super-sized it, and then chugged it down in front of the cameras. Here in Canada, the Liberal government is still trying to figure out its final position on Bill C-51, the controversial anti-terror law Stephen Harper passed, while the Conservatives and the NDP are both in the midst of full-blown identity crises—OK, let’s use the preferred euphemism, “leadership races”—so right now it’s hard to say what either actually believes in.

MORE: The troubling views that motivated Aaron Driver

Speaking with the Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale this week, I got the sense that not a lot of substance will actually change. There will be parliamentary oversight of the security intelligence review committee, a few definitional changes to ensure civil disobedience is not criminalized, tweaks to the no-fly list, money for deradicalization programs and . . . that’s it. The more controversial issues, like dealing with the lower threshold for issuing a peace bond, will probably remain unchanged.

It is telling that the Liberals are no longer worried about the politics of the security issue. The mealy-mouthed position they took on Bill C-51 while in opposition—voting for it while promising to change it if elected—is actually paying off. They can now drift into the middle ground like some implacable Star Trek character, the Borg of Liberal Pragmatism, simultaneously absorbing the Conservatives’ core issue of security and the NDP’s stand for civil liberties. They’ve done it on all sorts of files, from the environment to NATO to deficit spending. It’s driving the other two parties nuts.

Desperate to ignite interest in their tepid leadership races, both opposition parties are searching for defining issues, but ones that don’t cede the political middle ground to the Liberals.

The NDP is dealing with the Avi Lewis-Naomi Klein inspired Leap Manifesto, which is a genuinely idealistic document about the economy, the environment and First Nations, and the closest thing we’ve seen in Canada to the Bernie Sanders movement. Young people like it. If Avi Lewis polishes his French and decides to enter the moribund NDP leadership contest, it would jolt the party back to life. Still, it’s high risk. The Leap Manifesto is the type of document that can define a protest movement, but ruin a political party, a kind of progressive Thelma and Louise road trip that is exhilarating and affirming, but ends up careening the NDP off a cliff.

RELATED: The NDP’s hard-left turn into an existential crisis

Meanwhile, the Conservatives are in the “shelter in place” position until the Donald Trump movement burns itself out. If it does. They have the double challenge of distancing themselves from Trump’s whiplash nativism while trying to warm up Stephen Harper’s ice-blue Reformism. The security issue was once an easy point of orientation, but the Liberals have taken that back. By tripling the boots on the ground in Iraq, putting up to 500 soldiers in Latvia to face off against Russia and now preparing to put a UN force in Africa, it’s getting hard for Conservatives to call the Liberals a bunch of appeasing wimps. Soon they are going have to complain about military overstretch. That will be a back flip.

If they get co-opted on security, the CPC will inevitably tack back to their core issue, the economy. That’s doesn’t give them a clear runway either. Conservatives still have to explain why stimulating a slow economy with deficit spending was good when they did it, but bad when Liberals do it. They don’t have a Leap Manifesto to deal with, but Maxime Bernier is proving to be a genuine disrupter. Pollsters and pundits may laugh at his long-shot-idea campaign, but Bernier promises to abolish supply management, privatize airports and lift foreign restrictions on all sorts of industries like telecoms. Conservative campaign manager Nick Kouvalis has pointed out that Bernier used to happily accept government pork for local industries, the kind of corporate welfare he now rails against, but at least Bernier has fresh ideas.

Political parties need to have coherent answers to difficult, even painful questions, the kind being asked by Wayne Driver about his son’s dark journey toward radicalism. It’s too early to say what the Conservatives and the NDP will stand for in the future, but they have to find a way to avoid being pushed to the fringes by a government that is only too happy to snap up their best ideas and paint them red.


In Ottawa’s race to the middle, Liberals are way ahead

  1. Preston Manning used to say ‘Why did the Canadian cross the road?

    To get to the middle.

    Harp forgot that bit of wisdom

  2. We don’t need another centrist party. The Liberals have that covered already. We need legitimate choices at the election, not the same garbage packaged 4 different ways.

    • Well if you want to remain an extremist party you’ll have to get used to never being elected again.

      • Define extremist emily.

        • Right or left wing….whereas, as you say;, Libs are centrist.

          • No emily, what views specifically are extremist?

        • The left wing is socialist…..the right wing is libertarian

          They are ideologies……not middle of the road.

          • The right wing is not libertarian, but one struggle with you at a time I guess. At any rate, you are saying that any ideology that is not deemed “centrist” is extremist, which is an asinine and lazy comment. However, this is probably not your most ridiculous remark in this article as you also claim that unless the Conservatives mirror the Liberals, then they will never win an election again. Really? Never win an election again? That kind of hyperbole is par for the course with you, as is its lack of insight and total detachment from reality.

        • Well Ark2 I was a PC for 30 years, then Reform, then CA etc……until it got to Stock Day…..which is when I departed permanently

          Conservatives have turned into SoCon Libertarians……and while Canadians were willing to vote for PCs, once they realized what Harp’s crew actually was…Trudeau was the result

          Ideology is rigid……and you can’t impose one in a democracy.. Govt, especially today while we’re globalizing, has to be flexible and willing to move in new directions…..and willing to listen to the electorate.

          Canadian are not right-wing ideologues…..and they won’t vote for it to return

          You guys have mixed your religion and your economics with your politics…..and there is no market for that in Canada.

  3. But Justin is becoming a neocon, as he is about to launch an imperialist war somewhere in Africa. He needs a war so he has sent the defense minister to Africa to look for countries to invade.

    That is hardly the middle of the road.

    • LOL No he’s not…..stop taking those green pills

      • Yes he is. He wants to take on a UN peacekeeping mission in Africa but there is no peace to keep. The other day in South Sudan, female aides were gang raped by up to 15 men and male aides were beaten while UN peacekeepers refused to respond though they were within blocks of the compound. Today the Globe and Mail reported that the UN has all but admitted culpability for 10 thousand deaths from cholera in Haiti brought to the country by Nepalese peace keepers. The organization did nothing to provide clean water or help those suffering because the legal department told them not to admit they were in the wrong so they turned their backs and people died. What idiot would want to align themselves with that organization? Oh yes, our PM. Funny, how he has adopted Con policies and suddenly the policies are acceptable. Partisan’s souls truly are for sale. He is exactly like Harper. He doesn’t have an original thought but the party faithful don’t even realize that he is selling them the Con party line. Thank gawd we have some journalists to point it out. At least the only dummy on here defending is Emily. Surely Gayle and Keith aren’t in favour of war just because JT is at the helm. My guess is Liz May will go to the NDP. That Leap Manifesto is right up her alley.

        • This is one of the most confused versions of world events I have ever read.

          That aside ….there is a major difference between a military invasion and a UN peace-keeping mission. It’s the same kind of confusion you suffer on immigrants/refugees. You don’t know what the words mean

          Harp tried to kill off peace-keepers. Trudeau is restoring them…it’s what Canadians want.

          The UN is not an autonomous body…..it is run by the Security Council and we aren’t on it.

          Canada is returning to a leadership role in peacekeeping…..since it was our idea in the first place.. You will see quite a few changes.

          • Confused versions. What is confusing? African countries are in active combat. Peacekeepers die there trying to keep peace. It is another Rwanda. Further, the peacekeepers are not wanted or respected. The African factions are coming in to the peacekeepers fenced off areas and fighting one another. The peacekeepers do not respond to help those they have promised to..like people who come to provide aide to the countries.
            Also, the UN has been accused of agregious crime in killing off 10 thousand or more Haitians by bringing Cholera to the country through Nepalese peacekeepers who had the disease and built their latrines next to a major water supply. The UN refused to take responsibility or provide clean water.
            The UN is run by a legal team. If you don’t understand what I am talking about, read the Globe and Mail.
            After Rwanda, why would anyone believe that peacekeeping in Africa can be successful? Was Dallaire successful? No? Why? He had no support from the UN. Trudeau isn’t Lester Pearson and this isn’t the 1950’s. Over 100 peacekeepers have died trying to keep the peace in African countries. That isn’t peace keeping. That is combat. There is no respect for the blue helmet, only resentment. Why would we want a seat on the security council? Do we want to be there so we can help pay out the people in Haiti who hare suing the UN for the Cholera epidemic to the tune of billions of dollars?

        • Gage…none of that is happening

          And the G&M says nothing of the sort

          Africa is a continent…..not a country.. Africa is bigger than all of North America

          Some countries are at peace, some at war……and peacekeepers have to be invited

          Yes peacekeepers die. They even have a monument

          The UN certainly makes mistakes…all human institutions do…..but the solution is a better security council not eliminating peacekeepers.

          The UN in fact needs it’s own military…..a good new role for NATO

          Why do you always want to run home and hide?

          • None of That is Happening? Really? What News Do you Read? Or Do you Just Avoid it?

            Are you suggesting the UN is not being sued for the deaths of 10 thousand in Haiti from Cholera or that it is just another day at the UN?

            Are you suggesting that UN peacekeepers in South Sudan ignored the call to respond to the repeated rape of volunteer aides or are you saying that that is just normal for UN peacekeepers in Africa?

            Are you saying our own senator didn’t write a book entitled Shake Hands With the Devil to describe his own experience as a UN peacekeeper in Rwanda?

            Run home and hide? Hahahaha! You are just the kind of idiot they are looking for. The kind that really believes it is okay to sacrifice young Canadian men and women aide workers and military to do a job that can’t be accomplished. There is no peace to keep. There are gang raping aide workers but you want to buy into some ridiculous theory that Justin Trudeau can drop a bunch of peace keepers in the area and all will be well. You seem recognize PTSD in Con wars but not Lib wars. Why is that? Get your head out of your a##. Aide workers are targets and so are peacekeepers. You won’t likely be a target because you are 70 years old. How about you send a few of your grand kids over there. Then you talk to me about running home and hiding.

        • Okay, times up

          Gage you have mixed up several different news stories, misread the whole thing…..and then attacked me.

          This gimmick is both old and boring…Cons have tried it for years on here.

          I’ve given you all the attention you’re going to get

          Bye bye

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