Searching for the Liberal Party. Day 2. -

Searching for the Liberal Party. Day 2.

AARON WHERRY reports from the Canada 150 conference in Montreal


canada 150 ignatieffGreetings from Montreal, where, for the next three days, we’ll be hanging around the Liberal party’s Canada 150 conference. Herein a running diary of the proceedings. Day 1’s diary is here.

8:29am. Good morning. Montreal is chilly and quiet. In a few moments we will be roused by the dulcet tones of David “The Dodge” Dodge, former governor of the Bank of Canada.

8:36am. For those of you scoring at home, the colour of the lights today is orange. And the subject is Families.

8:45am. This conference was apparently the most tweeted subject in Canada yesterday. The Liberals are immensely proud of this.

8:57am. David Dodge is now growling at us. He sounds just a bit like Cookie Monster. If Cookie Monster wore a suit and was once responsible for shaping this country’s fiscal systems and regulations. This seems an ode to fiscal conservatism. Business tax rates should be reasonable, employment insurance should be reformed, we must avoid over-regulation, fiscal balance should be sought, debt must be paid down, but we mustn’t move too fast to do so. If we are to care for each other as a society, we need the income and wealth that makes it possible to do so.

9:01am. Individuals will have to save more and retire later. And don’t forget yesterday’s point about no more summer vacation. I would like to see a line graph forecasting just how much “fun” will decline over the next two decades.

9:03am. Advancements in medical technology, an aging population and greater demand for long-term care will dramatically increase the cost of health care. “We have to face up to this,” Dodge says. We could introduce new taxes to pay for health care, we could reduce services, we could introduce co-payments, we could reduce the quality of services and create a two-tier system. “There is no magic solution,” he says. “We absolutely most have an adult debate about how we’re going to deal with this.” I look forward to us avoiding such a debate for another decade until we are at a point of absolute crisis.

9:09am. The David Dodge Straight-Talk Express concludes with an extended metaphor on what a terrible table he’s set for the day and with that he invites today’s panellists to figure this all out. Cue the uncomfortable laughter.

9:24am. The NDP deftly employed quotation marks the other day to suggest there were not actually any ordinary or progressive Canadians here this weekend. It’s unclear whether Ken Georgetti, who spoke to the NDP convention in Halifax last year and is participating in a panel here now, is meant to take that personally.

9:35am. Susan Delacourt has a nice story this morning on Mr. Ignatieff and his moleskine notepads. He was up front all yesterday, and is again today, quietly taking notes. The Liberals should promise a moleskine for every child. I’m convinced this would boost our national productivity. Or at least our self-esteem. It’s impossible to carry around a moleskine and not feel like your thoughts are important and worth writing down. My egomania has improved immeasurably since I started using them.

9:50am. A gentleman in the audience suggests political parties need to come forward with “clearly defined solutions” for pension reform. We’re apparently at the point where people feel the need to explicitly request as much from their political leaders.

9:56am. A complete reimagining of the very idea of retirement is apparently necessary. In the future, we will all be more like Michael Jordan.

10:13am. Here is video of David Dodge’s remarks. The Liberals are archiving each session separately. Of yesterday’s discussions, I’d recommend Rick Miner on labour force demographics and the panel on education policy.

11:08am. An online participant wonders whether it’s time to consider greater privatization of the health care system. This is followed by a moment of uncomfortable silence from a panel that includes a former Liberal cabinet minister and three health care professionals.

11:19am. And now an attendee suggests it is time to expand public health care to better cover pharmaceutical costs. We’ve spent the past year looking on with horror as America nearly self-immolated over this debate. How confident are we that we won’t go similarly bonkers whenever we get round to having this conversation?

11:37am. Everyone seems convinced that we need to follow an “evidence-based” approach to health care. I’m not sure why this is considered something that needs to be said. Well, actually, I do understand why it needs to be said. I just find it mildly horrifying that that’s the case.

11:53am. Be it resolved that we need to improve our health care system. And be it resolved that we forget for now what David Dodge said about how difficult it will be to go about doing that. Time for lunch.

1:26pm. Sheila Watt-Cloutier begins the afternoon with remarks on the North, Aboriginal affairs, the Inuit and climate change. The lighting is now green and the subject is Energy. Which is perhaps a way of saying environment without actually using the word.

1:35pm. Ms. Watt-Cloutier suggests we are running our arctic policy by press release. She speculates that by 2017 we’ll have to have moved on from empty words. Just seven years left then. Speak vacuously now, while you still can.

1:43pm. In news not entirely unrelated to this weekend, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown has outlined the five pledges that will define the Labour platform in a soon-to-be-called election. Today’s speech is here. The slogan is apparently “A Future Fair For All.”

2:11pm. When I convene my own thinkers conference, the second day (after a day spent discussing the teleprompter’s detrimental impact on our democracy) will be dedicated to asking why someone like Kim Furlong—who moderated yesterday’s innovation discussion and could be described as well-spoken, smart, bilingual, confident, accomplished and relatively young—isn’t running for office? It’s not necessarily a bad thing that she isn’t, depending largely on your idea of who and what kind of people are supposed to occupy elected office. But it’s got to be discussed, if only because we’re so fond of regularly lamenting the sorts of people who presently occupy office. I believe there’s a Simpsons episode about this.

2:19pm. We’ve officially broached the subject of putting a price on carbon. Stephane Dion’s legacy can only go one of two ways at this point. Ten years from now, we’ll either regard him as having sacrificed his political career on a idea that was simply too far ahead of its time or we’ll regard environmental policy discussion as pre-Dion and post-Dion. Or maybe both.

2:25pm. This panel discussion on energy is drawing a surprising amount of laughs from the audience. It’s the funniest discussion of energy policy I’ve ever heard.

2:31pm. What I mean is, Mr. Dion will either be proven right or his failure will be understood as a turning point, after which the political and popular will, or the perceived popular will, moved us to figure something else out. Witness the sudden demise of cap-and-trade in the United States.

2:40pm. An attendee suggests the Liberals didn’t lose in 2008 because Canadians didn’t want a carbon tax, but rather because Canadians didn’t particularly perceive the Liberals to be competent. Awkward.

2:46pm. An entirely worthwhile discussion of carbon taxation, the relative righteousness of such a policy and the need for political courage. All tape of this discussion is going to be immediately destroyed.

3:24pm. A new panel on energy, but the carbon tax conversation has carried over, broadening into a wider debate on practical results, political realities and international affairs. Anyway. Here is what this weekend is increasingly coming down to. There are any number of real, potential or forthcoming problems. There are any number of solutions and, however dire the worst-case scenario, the best-case scenarios are enticing and perhaps even feasible. And all of the problems and solutions are, ultimately, connected. All that’s lacking is the direction, organization and persuasion necessary to achieve power and implement any of it. Over to you, Mr. Ignatieff.

3:36pm. Panellists keep referring variously to the “elephant in the room.” I’m not sure there are any elephants in the room. I think they’ve all been readily identified and agonized over.

3:42pm. Finally, a plea for the electric car. On that note, I’m going to excuse myself and skip out on the day’s last session. My interest in a mature and nuanced discussion of public policy apparently has its limits. This evening there’s a dinner for reporters at a local bistro of some sort. There we will be told with which adjectives we are to describe this weekend’s proceedings.


Searching for the Liberal Party. Day 2.

  1. Is Paul Wells attending, as well?

  2. HELLO! ello-ello-ello-ello… ECHO! echo echo echo.

    Guess everyone's still asleep…

    Wish there were a video feed of this somewhere… (Or does the Liberal site have it, and my browser just needs new plug-ins?(I get audio-only.))

    • What on earth makes you think that this conference has anything to do with where Grit policy is heading?

      Moreover, who says that the party will adopt any of the policy prescriptions, especially when they are contradictory. For example, how does one be fiscally responsible and introduce national baby-care and pharmacare all at the same time?

      • Know thy adversary. Can't beat them like a drum if you don't know what they think and dream of…

        As for how they do that? Raise taxes. Sky-high! And kill the military again.

  3. "How confident are we that we won't go similarly bonkers whenever we get round to having this conversation?"

    With our Americanized media that will search high and low for the most outrageous statements and weirdest interpretations to promote out of the interests of "fairness" and "balance?"

    Not very. I'm sure Ken Whyte is salivating right now over the prospect of having Canadian versions of "death panel" discussions.

  4. An online participant wonders whether it's time to consider greater privatization of the health care system.

    It's unfortunate that the Liberals didn't allot any time to such discussions. I guess it's just too controversial.

    • I thinks it's because "privatization" means "for-profit" for most people, which opens up the whole can of worms of whether health care delivery is properly a free enterprise activity, or essentially a public service, like the police and the fire department.

      That's the consensus we don't have and likely never will. The fact remains, however, that our health care delivery is overwhelmingly a private sector activity now.

  5. "Guess everyone's still asleep… ", or

    on the outside looking in.

    When Conservatives and the NDP organize disussions to discuss policy, positions are passionately debated by the grassroots.

    The Liberal Party of Canada doesn't actually do policy, they leave it to the experts and the eggheads, and passively sit there taking notes.

    Once that exercise is over, the backroom braintrust discusses with the leader or, as happened last time, with the Green Shift/Carbon Tax, the leader decides policy on his own and the rest of the party hopes for the best.

    Considering how the Liberals do things, it makes perfect sense that they chose their leader the way they did, and also perfect sense that they chose the leader that they did choose, Michael Ignatieff.

    • Jarrid, I'd like to invite you to Waterloo Region tomorrow. There, us grassroots Liberals, and heck anybody (just like you!) who wants to come, will be discussing policy and big questions like this with a panel of experts and advocates. There will be time for questions and if we the attendees choose to, we can continue the discussion on further days. It will include an environmental policy proposal that was worked on very hard by the Policy committee of Kitchener Centre, and as a Kitchener-Waterloo Liberal who provided feedback on same, I can tell you they'd be mighty surprised to hear they don't do policy.

      Or, you can say stuff like you know what you're talking about, and not take the time to actually find out about it.

      • Jenn, glad to be shown wrong on the absence of policy discussion, and thank you for the gracious invite but I'm many miles west of the Kitchener and Waterloo.

        I continue to beleive, however, that the Liberals are a top-down political party unlike both the Conservatives and the NDP. There are a few reasons for this, one of the main ones, I think, is because it has been in power for so long, the party is run by elite establishment interests who call the shots. Also, those elite establishment interests don't always have their ear to the ground politically, which has resulted in some pretty major poliical miscalculations which continue to keep the Liberals mired in the high 20% range in national polls.

        If there really is a Liberal grassroots, as you say there is, the Party would do well to listen to it.

        • Thanks, Jarrid. I think you have been right and that this conference is one way they (the Liberal Elite-types) are trying to change it. They are making an effort to listen, I believe and certainly hope, because I agree that has been a problem.

          I am new at this game so perhaps my perception is as off as yours was, but I shall still be looking for genuine effort from the top, and bottom-up results.

          • There is an old phrase that applies to this type of Liberal conference…nothing more than a 'circle jerk.'

          • Maybe you're right, I don't know. Why not come out and find out? Better yet, why not come out and use your voice to make it meaningful? I know it's a lot more work than just complaining, but it would be a lot more interesting, too.

      • Well,

        a) What Liberals consider grassroots policy-making and what most other parties do might be something different. I dunno.

        b) Whatever it is, my guess is that it won't make the slightest difference, just like this egghead conference. Just liberals making themselves feel smarter than the people they want to rule over.

    • Jarrid – it's a "thinkers'" conference, not a party convention.

  6. I wonder what bold proposals we can expect from the Liberal Party of Canada on the environmental front? I don't think they intend to bring back their carbon tax proposal. I expect the usual hot air that we've learned to expect from them.

    Speaking of carbon taxes, France has abandonned its own plan to introduce one after the governing party took a drubbing at the polls. Sound familiar? Meanwhile, The New York Times had proclaimed Cap and Trade dead in the U.S.

    • The carbon tax is working fine here in BC. It's not popular, but it's not doing any harm; the HST is far more hated.

      • Not doing any harm is nowhere near the same as working fine.

      • The carbon tax is working fine in BC! Really? So, what's happening? it getting colder already? I left that dough-head province thirty years ago! Sure don't miss it!

    • So again it comes down to taxing the West for the betterment of social programs in Quebec and Ontario.
      Any wonder the Liberals aren't a factor in Western Canada.

  7. "The lighting is now green and the subject is Energy. Which is perhaps a way of saying environment without actually using the word."

    Good lines Wherry, good lines indeed.

  8. Just to be correct, Sheila Watt-Cloutier and others are referring to "The Honourable Michael Ignatieff". Prime Minister Harper has yet to include Mr. Ignatieff in the Privy Council. Hence he has yet to receive the "Honourable" title. Correct titles would include Mr, Dr., Professor, and Count.

    • Isn't EVERY MP entitled to "the Honourable"?

      • Nah, it's an honorific for being a member of the Queen's Privy Council for Canada. ("Right Honourable" is for being a member of the Privy Council for the UK — Canadian PMs are styled as "Right Honourable" because, until Pearson, they were all sworn in as members of the 'imperial', i.e., UK, privy council.)

        • Ben, try this exercise. Think of any MP. Not one who has been a PM or a cabinet minister. Any MP. Google "The Honourable [firstname] [lastname]" for your choice. Then repeat a few times until you are satisfied that any MP gets "The Honourable" title.

          • In parliament, each MP is referred to as "the honourable member from….", but this isn't an honorific. It is confusing.

          • Huh. I learned something today. Thanks.


            CANADA: Members of the Canadian House of Commons and of provincial legislatures refer to each other as "honourable members" (or l'honorable député) but are not entitled to have The Honourable as a prefix in front of their name.

            So why do all these MPs get (give themselves) this undeserved title in common usage?

          • In this day and age, with the way Question Period rolls, it is important to convince the public that there is a minute something "honourable" about these people…

          • "The honourable member from Constituency X" is still proper usage in the House, isn't it? — the same way "my lord" or "my lady" was proper usage in appellate courts. (Think that got tossed recently for the Supreme Court, b/c the Chief Justice thought it was silly.)

          • I was thinking it was more like the way the eldest son of an earl is styled as a viscount, even though the viscount title actually belongs to his father, who isn't using it as he's an earl. So the son is Lord Somebody, Viscount Somewhere. But he is never Lord Somebody, Viscount OF Somewhere.

            But then, the assumption is that Lord Somebody will one day become an earl when his father passes so its sort of a title in training. While many MPs can hope to become Privy Councillors, I don't think it is quite such an expectation. And if it is, it shouldn't be.

  9. UH OH! every time I start hear that liberals are mixing a new batch off kool aid and want to start THINKING I start feel my wallet SHRINKING!

    • Insert waka-waka regarding other things of yours that are shrinking… ;)

    • Insert waka-waka regarding other things of yours that are shrinking… ;)

  10. I'd actually support a federal carbon-tax, either one set up to be revenue-neutral or one that was nearly so with the remainder invested in public transit. Combine that with a phasing-out of oil and gas subsidies, and non-fossil fuel based methods of producing energy would actually be able to compete. The current problem isn't that there isn't any affordable green tech – there is – but it can't compete with the massively subsidized fossil fuel industry.

    • Katherine,
      I think you are blowing smoke. While I try to respect everyone's opinion, I do have a problem with people who knowingly or unknowingly make false claims.
      The oil and gas industry is probably the most taxed industry in Canada already. Think provincial crown royalties (10 to 50% of gross revenues), municipal taxes on tangible equipment and pipelines, along with provincial and federal income taxes.

      • Subsidies:
        – $1.5 billion in subsidies to the oil sands (… from 2002-2008; oil sands have been subsidized since 1970 (
        – Globally, ~$300 billion/yr is spent to subsidize fuel prices, making them artificially low (

        The links also show that the G-20 has agreed to slowly phase out these subsidies. Most of them are in the form of tax breaks and direct government spending on R&D in the fossil fuel industry.

        I know, the policies are contradictory.

        • "But what does it mean to end subsidies to the fossil-fuel industry? The ramifications could be significant–namely in the cost to the consumer. The majority of our energy still comes from this sector, environmentally hazardous as it is. To simply end the subsidies could place an increasingly heavy burden on those who pay for energy–a burden many are not capable of shouldering at this time."
          Katherine you forgot to read the last paragraph re EnergyBoom
          How much did General Motors get last year? $10,000,000,000
          Alberta, BC, SASK ,Manitoba, NFLD, and NS Governments got how many billion?
          Perhaps you should read some economic impacts rather than enviro propaganda.

    • Cant handle the heat get out of the country. Find some small tropical island to move to. Try googling "climategate".

  11. Here's the headline from the Globe and Mail's John Ibbitson after today's proceedings:

    "Spectre of the carbon tax kills Liberals' big-thinking buzz "

    That would be a buzz-killer, and an election-sinker of an idea as well.

    I know the last election is now a year and half ago so maybe people have forgotten. Sarkozy found out how much his carbon tax was a political millstone around his neck in french regional elections a few days ago. He's since dropped the carbon tax idea.

    The Liberals are still thinking about it? What's there to think about? It's a political stinker of an idea.

    • So what should we do? Place our faith in the free market and let it ride?

    • Ibbitson? lol

  12. 8:45am. This conference was apparently the most tweeted subject in Canada yesterday. The Liberals are immensely proud of this.

    Would be interesting to know where that stat came from. Even so, it amazes me what makes Liberals proud these days. Political victories of any kind don't seem to make the list, for one. Tweeting does.

    • It is all those elite Liberals.


      I found this website, showing the most tweeted URLs, but not sure how it works… If I understand it, about a dozen people have tweeted about the event. This doesn't seem right…

  13. Dear old Jarrid. I wonder why he wasn't invited to Montreal.
    Aaron – remains to be seen whether your prophecy will come true…
    "2:46pm. An entirely worthwhile discussion of carbon taxation, the relative righteousness of such a policy and the need for political courage. All tape of this discussion is going to be immediately destroyed."…
    However, on the outside – looking in this morning actually – was Floor Crosser David Emerson – now Energy Czar for – Ed Stelmack – Premier of Tar Sands – proposing in a Globe guest column – NEP II – I kid you not!
    I guess Jarrid didn't get the updated talking points yet!

  14. (cont.)
    Fundamental realities mean that a Canadian approach to energy policy must build from the ground up. The Constitution of Canada gives provinces full jurisdiction for energy supply as well as ownership and control of energy resources such as oil, gas and hydroelectric power. And, while the uneven geographic distribution of these resources has led to east-west tensions over the past four decades, circumstances have evolved in ways that open the potential for a true national approach. Carbon fuels, once largely confined to Alberta, are being found and developed in Eastern Canada, the north and British Columbia. Renewable energy sources are even more diversified throughout the country.

    • Thanks for bringing this up. Emerson's write-up is definitely worth reading. The observation that changes must come from the bottom up and that changes occuring must also be seen within a much wider construct, are good observations if we want to get anywhere near lasting results.

  15. Oops – wrong attribution – it appeared in the Edmonton Journal –

    "Make national energy strategy a priority;
    Transition to a clean-energy society linked to an economic renewal Edmonton Journal Sat Mar 27 2010
    Byline: David Emerson
    Source: Freelance

    Driven by domestic and international forces and the changing role of energy in our daily lives, the Canadian energy industry is undergoing rapid and massive transformation. Yet, we continue to be a country without a national approach to the twin issues of energy and environmental stewardship. We believe Canadians are ready to coalesce around good science and sound economics, and the international community clearly recognizes the imperative to tackle what is now a critical global challenge.

  16. Ah yes, what would a radical left-wing party get together be without it dissolving into how much taxes can we raise to punish people who produce.

    Hey, how a bout a carbon tax based on the now exposed BIG LIE.

    Note to his Royal Count, that dog don`t hunt no more, the jig is up, the CRU emails and data have proven the BIG LLIE as just that. They`ve even admitted NO STATISTICAL WARMING for the past 15 years. That blows the BIG LIE theory of exponential CO2 out of the water, that being the more CO2 the hotter it would get.

    Hey, how about we raise taxes to pay for totalitarian deathcare that `s going bankrupt !

    How about admit govt. run deathcare is already tiered where the political elite flee Canada for REAL care in the USA . Can you say hypocrite Danny Williams kiddies? Yeahh, I knew you all could.
    Yes already tiered , those on workers comp have their own doctors, those in prison can jump the line, the military and of course the political elite.

    Sitting around in an intellectual circle jerk and taking the cowards way out of stating we`ll just steal more from the sufrs is a sure fire way for his Royal Count to be sent packing back to Haawwvurrd where he once stated he was an American too.

    The extreme left-wing liberal party is devoid of ideas and innovation, it`s simply tax tax tax, spend spend spend.

  17. I have not followed the Liberal's "Think" convention in detail.

    But what is thinking?

    Within theory, everything is possible. Within practice it becomes a possibility. Huge didfference between the two.

    Since Mr.Igantieff's background is mostly academic, I would like to know what he thinks of this:

    "Mike and Ellen (ficticious names but stereotytpical) are the idealistic, demonstrating, book-burning, sometimes violent spear-carriers of social trends and ideas that shape all periods, occasionally for the better, usually for the worse. Many are educated beyond their intellectual means; all concern themselves with matters beyond their maturity. They're the collateral damage of higher education" George Jonas (

    How well does Mr.Igantieff and the LPC understand this practical side of things?

  18. "2:40pm. An attendee suggests the Liberals didn't lose in 2008 because Canadians didn't want a carbon tax, but rather because Canadians didn't particularly perceive the Liberals to be competent. Awkward."

    Awkward? Interesting!! In fact, most Canadians read the Green Shift as being incompetent, hence the Liberals having tought of it expresses their incompetence from within.

    Not understanding this, leads them to the following thus:
    "3:36pm. Panellists keep referring variously to the “elephant in the room.”

    Now, had the panelists and participants thought of bringing a mirror to the convention floor, they could've been succesfull in catching the darn white thing all together. Don't they know that a piece of highly reflective material can speak volumes most anywhere?

  19. 2:40pm. An attendee suggests the Liberals didn't lose in 2008 because Canadians didn't want a carbon tax, but rather because Canadians didn't particularly perceive the Liberals to be competent. Awkward.

    This is EXACTLY what Ignatieff wants to lay out, no? I doubt it was that awkward at all to the Party Leader.

    • Remember, the carbon tax was Ignatieff's idea, from his first leadership run. Dion was originally for cap-and-trade.

      If it's a bum idea in Canada, it's his fault for bringing it up.

      (As it happens, it's a far better policy than cap-and-trade. But better still is slow-walking it until the issue develops further — Climategate, etc.)

      • Slow walking it as in we'll try it in 2500. Liberals are so stupid!

  20. "All tape of this discussion is going to be immediately destroyed." Seriously ROFLMAO! Funniest line I have read in weeks given the context. The Liberal party reminds me of the black knight at the river crossing in the MP "Search for the Holy Grail". Only they are cutting their own limbs off. Very funny!

  21. Wow. There is a fiscal crisis looming, and a demographic time bomb ticking, and politicians had better wake up about these realities.

    I hereby apologetically retract my "snoozefest" harrumphing about this thinkers' conference. If there is a party that wants to actually PAY ATTENTION to these problems and actually propose sensible courses of action to address them, I am so in.

    Now we have to get to the tricky parts: pay attention, address them…