What happened to the Liberal party?

by Aaron Wherry

In a speech to a Liberal riding association in Halifax, Stephane Dion considers the history and future of the Liberal party.

In 2008, as Liberal Leader, I did talk about the economy.  I truly believed that the main focus of my campaign was the economy.  The Green Shift’s subtitle was: “Building a Canadian Economy for the 21st Century.”  But because I was promoting sustainable economy, which I strongly believe must be the economy of the 21st century, I was perceived as a one-issue candidate, exclusively preoccupied by the environment.  I failed to convince Canadians of the link that exists between economy and environment.  And we paid the price.

In 2011, I am sure Mr. Ignatieff talked about the economy in his speeches.  But the voters did not hear him, and neither did the Liberal candidates who were so busy campaigning in their ridings.  Most of our communications plan was about helping families: housing, daycare, home renovations, family caregivers, tuition fees, etc.  In the midst of global economic turmoil, we appeared to abandon the themes of employment and economic security to Stephen Harper’s Conservatives.  It seemed that we were trying too much to look like the NDP.  Unfortunately, the natural NDP voters chose the original over the copy and many Liberal supporters who were worried about the economy went over to the Conservatives.




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What happened to the Liberal party?

  1. Cons are just people who know how to speak ‘bumper-sticker’ or ‘tweet’.

    Unfortunately their ‘total’ understanding of a subject is limited to that 140 characters or less.

    • Thanks to OriginalEmily1 for showing us she is much better and smarter than any Conservative supporter could possibly be by providing a comment that is not only off-topic, but also ironically, about 140 characters.

      *Golf clap*

      • It’s right on topic actually, and deliberately written as ‘short’ so Cons could cope with it.

        Maybe it was the words with more than one syllable that confused you.

        • Three different people took the trouble to “like” this asinine, juvenile, obnoxious retort by Emily. There really is no accounting for taste but you people really need to take your part of the blame for what’s happened to this comments section.

          • Yeah, really. I wake up every day and ask myself, “What is the Maclean’s comments section coming to?”

  2. Pretty accurate observations by Dion. 

    • It has some pretty glaring omissions.  For instance, no mention of the Coalition at all!  

      He also says: “I failed to convince Canadians of the link that exists between economy and environment.  And we paid the price”, without acknowledging any of the Green Shift’s flaws.

      • I don’t think the coalition had as much weight as the CPC war room and Blogging Tories would have you believe. While unpopular at the time, by the next election the only ones still going on about it were those who would never vote anything but Conservative.

        As for the flaws of the Green Shift, they were never discussed. Any attempt to do so was met with a very loud “Permenant tax on everything! Not a leader! Support the troops!”

        The Liberals had plenty of problems, but the flaws of the green shift and the coalition in and of itself were far from important ones.

      • I don’t think there was any room for subtlety in that debate.

        All we know from that experience is that a carbon tax:

        a) is mind-blowingly complicated. Stephen Hawking stuggles with it,
        b) would immediately shut down our economy. Never mind that gasoline is already taxed at the rate of ~$40 per tonne of CO2 equivalent. Post-apocalyptic hellscape.

        I’ll admit that the Green Shift was not quite my ideal vision of a tax shift away from economically damaging taxation to a Pigou tax on carbon, but it was definitely close enough for jazz. I wasn’t going to let the perfect be the enemy of the good.

        • Gas was off the table in the green shift.

    • Yeah Coyne pretty well called that one. If the libs were tacking left while leaving open the possibility that they would vote down the throne speech and cooperate with dippers in removing Harper, why would dippers need to choose between the two parties cuz they feared conservatives?[ traditonal liberal message in federal elections]. Whoever thought up that strategy should be taken out behind the barn and…well, they sorta did do that to Ignatieff. OTOH could be they just like Jack better – basically bad luck and timing for the libs…luck and timing used to be their forte.

  3. As usual, Tony and Original Emily are the first commenters, and neither one gives any indication that they actually bothered to read Dion’s speech.  Tony at least seems to have read the title of the blog post before launching into a frothy anti-Liberal/anti-Trudeau rant; Emily offers us a total non sequitur about how Cons suck.

    • That’s funny because the only thing I can tell that you read are Wells’ tweets. 

      I actually read quite a bit of Dion’s myopic speech but I felt will to live slowly seeping out of me so I stopped reading. Libs have won ideological war – Canada is a Liberal country as created by Trudeau.

      The problem with the Libs is that they have no reason to exist as currently configured – you are either for government involvement in personal affairs or you aren’t. Libs seem to think they can be goldilocks and claim Cons too hot, NDP too cold but it isn’t working for Libs, nor is it likely to in future because electorate doesn’t respond well to wafflers or vacuousness. Libs claim nuance but all electorate hears is yeah but, no but, yeah ….

      NDP has mom role, and Cons represent dad, in our nanny state so I wonder what is point of Libs if they aren’t campaigning for Canadians to be treated as adults who don’t actually need a third parent. 

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zExc6SK4kpA

      • Your manic anti-Trudeau rant seems to have disappeared.

      • I do believe the longer we suffer this incompetent Con government and see the well meaning, but just not practical solutions the NDP offer, it will be obvious that a third way is necessary.  I could care less if it’s called the Liberal party, or any Liberals are a part of it, but there is going to be a need for another party.

    • Macleans really should ban them both (or limit them to perhaps 5 posts per day). They’re just trolls. Maybe if they only had a limited number of posts, they’d have to reflect on how to cause maximum mayhem with each submission.

      • +1000

        • On the bright side we seem to have seen the last of Kody/Biff/Chet.

          • I had a brief conversation on the phone a couple of weeks back with Jack Mitchell. It was nice.

          • Hey that’s great. Hope he got married and everthing is going fine with him. Give him my best. Tell him he should never have let those two libertarian clowns drive him out.

        • Why is it no one on here even knows what a troll is, but suddenly claims to have spotted one whenever Cons are disagreed with?  LOL

          Could you folks discuss the topics here, instead of the constant effort to put down all dissent?  The election is over you know, and it’s quite legal to criticize Harper in any case.

          • Could you folks discuss the topics here

            Oh for the love of…

            You’ve made 4 posts on this thread.

            # of Emily-bot posts criticizing conservatives regardless of the topic: 2
            # of condescending posts asking people to stay on topic: 2
            # of posts commenting on or pointing out ANYTHING in Dion’s speech: 0

            You’re as tiresome as the Occupy protesters. I have no idea why Maclean’s allows you to remain here and destroy the signal to noise ratio of these boards with your spam, but destroy them you have.

          • My nation doesn`t include an Emily.

            And really, I don`t care if you dislike Cons—I would not spend any time here if this was strictly a Con-friendly board. Dissent is great—makes things interesting.

            But you are the problem here and if you choose to continue as you have in the past then MacLeans may want to take some action if they wish to continue with this format.

          • You forgot to point out the # of times Emily uses LOL in her posts..if Aaron Wherry can suggest that Stephen Harper’s repetitive use of certain terms somehow suggests a lack of intelligence…….

          • @4a64130278c80432e4d05477e5ee5a66:disqus 

            I can always tell when Cons are in trouble.  They start bashing Wherry, or even me. As though that would help.

            If you like dissent, then start discussing the topic,  and stop fretting about either Wherry or I.

  4. Dion also notes:

    Unfortunately, the natural NDP voters chose the original over the copy and many Liberal supporters who were worried about the economy went over to the Conservatives.

    • I think he’s right about that.  The Liberals were trying to outflank the NDP with their family pack and anti-corporate tax cut rhetoric, but left-leaning voters weren’t persuaded.

      The old Liberal maxim “campaign from the left, govern from the right” totally failed in this case.  Left-leaning voters didn’t seem to see Ignatieff as the genuine article.

      With regards to Liberal supporters who were worried about the economy going over to the Conservatives, I think fears of an NDP-led coalition may have also played a role, given the NDP surge in late April.

      • …I think fears of an NDP-led coalition may have also played a role, given the NDP surge in late April.

        Absolutely!

        I sort of read that into Dion’s comment about “concerned about the economy”, although I obviously don’t know if that is how he intended that comment.

  5. What happened to the Liberal party?

    They got crowded out at the centre. When there is little to differentiate the main parties in terms of policy and economic wiggle room, imaging and advertising weigh heavy, and perceptions of who is the better “leader” figure more prominently.

    The Liberals were out marketed – from both sides (attack ads from Conservatives, good old boy images from the NDP).

    -Dot

    • Yeah that’s a very astute observation. One wonders what might have happened if the libs had chosen someone likeable and savvy like Rae and not ceded the economy to Harper given differences between the parties are really so small? They may not have needed a saviour but could have chosen more wisely. It shouldn’t be forgotten that incumbency during hard times is a big big advantage.

  6. Wilfrid Laurier’s figure evokes a period of fifteen years of inspired governance which launched Canada into the 20th century.  But read any one of his biographies and you will understand how difficult but formative, for him and the Liberals of the time, were those long years in opposition and those repeated defeats at the hands of John A. Macdonald’s Conservatives.

    Just as the repeated defeats of the party at the hands of SH will have to teach libs similar lessons. The libs have simply been an awful opposition party. It was a good historical overview if necessarily a tad self serving but, a good rally the troops speech nevertheless.
    What concerns me, and makes me a little less sanguine then Mr Dion is the fact that the public make have come to realize that they no longer have to vote liberal to be sure of getting a centrist party. While that would be bad news for the LPC, i take it as a sign of an astonishing level of success really on the part of the party; they may simply have become a victim of their own success.
    However i wont hold my breath yet. Harper has a were wolf side that is just longing to get out and bite someone – will his discipline hold? As for the dippers – they might well turn out to be the new enablers of sovereignty association well after the fact.[ how many damn times do we have to kill Meech?]
    Don’t get out the rocking chair and put away that jug of screech liberal party – your country might yet have need of you!

  7. Harper can only hug the centre for so long before the pent-up frustration of the Wildrose Alliance wing demands him not to be Conservative In Name Only. And now with a majority, he has an obligation to fulfill the promises he has made over the last several elections but could plausibly blame the opposition for blocking (only if you weren’t paying attention–Harper defeated more of his own legislation than the whole opposition combined). They will need to develop a new slate of hobby horses to rally the base around, and I suspect they will either be less compelling or more alienating to moderates.

    • Indeed. After the housekeeping it should get interesting. The acid test; does Harper actually have any new ideas or even the semblance of a vision for the country? My bet is he can’t keep the lid on forever, unless he really is a transfrmative PM in the image of Pet; somehow i doubt it…more like WLMK – god help us!   

      • Oh come on, that’s unfair. It took them nearly a generation to come up with 5 priorities the first time. You expect him to have another already?

        • They’re gonna need at least a decade or more on the opposition benches again in order to grow a another chip on their shoulder large enough to come up with another five.  

          • If were going on how the modern CPC came up with its campaign points its not the politicans who are going to need to grow new angst but the west, and as a western I’d rather not have to go through another “No one pays attention to us! Let’s seperate! Nay let’s reform!” stage. So just to keep things upbeat I’m hoping the Conservatives aren’t booted out too soon

    • “Harper can only hug the centre for so long before the pent-up frustration of the Wildrose Alliance wing demands him not to be Conservative In Name Only. ”

      I have been wondering about this myself for long time now. Where are the Reform types and why aren’t they displeased with Harper et al.? 

      I am in southern ont so I don’t know Western politics all that well but where have all the classic liberals, libertarians gone and would they please return soon. 

    • Yeah, well, I’ve been predicting this for the last two-three elections.  I’ve been wrong every time. Before it was the “minority government” he used as an excuse, even though he pretty much governed as though he had a majority anyway. This time around you can already see it’s going to be the “fragile economy” that will be used.

      I’ve come to the conclusion that the missing piece of understanding here is fear.  Yeah, they’ll grouse and complain that he’s not doing what they want, but at the end of the day, when the campaign starts he’s going to run his campaign on the simple strategy: “Look, if you don’t vote for me, you’re going to get them.”  

      And the palpable fear of the NEP demon/Socialist scourge will rouse them from their chairs and get them to the ballot boxes.  

      With the left vote split three or four ways across the country, that’s all it takes.

  8. I was just reading a thread over at Small Dead Animals and I can report that at least some portions of the Conservative “base” are starting to let their frustration show. About time, I’d say.

  9. I agree with the posters who have said that there is, or should be, room for a(nother) centrist party.  The only variable that might affect that is what happens to the NDP.  If the NDP truly ditched socialism AND severed its official, institutional relationship with organized labour then it could fill that role, but I suspect that’s not going to happen.  There are too many true believers in the NDP caucus and rank-and-file and the NDP and organized labour have a symbiotic relationship.  Big labour loves having a political arm and mouthpiece, and the NDP is addicted to the fundraising capacity and ground troops that big labour provides to it.

    Dion’s speech had its flaws and oversights for sure, but I give him credit for at least going 50% of the way there.  At least he’s attempting something in the way of a critical self-examination, rather than the knee-jerk Con-bashing that most Liberals seem to prefer to do (and which accomplishes squat in terms of actually rebuilding the LPC).  I think Dion is particularly correct in noting that the Liberals essentially abandoned the “sound economic management” mantle in the last couple of campaigns.  To me, that bordered on the tragic — after all that goodwill that the LPC had built up on that issue under Chretien/Martin.  I think it was Dan Gardiner who wrote a good article about this a few months ago.

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