Wednesday Night #1559

Written by  //  January 18, 2012  //  Herb Bercovitz, Reports  //  No comments

Flow chart for the hijacking of the LPC

The presence of our M.P. – along with several delegates including the new president of the Westmount-Ville-Marie Liberal Association, Anna Gainey –  immediately following the recent Liberal Biennial Convention attracted an SRO crowd and prompted some very lively debate. All who were at the Convention, or who followed the proceedings online, agreed that it was an energizing experience in every respect. Extraordinary (or typically Canadian?) reaction to a convention where much of the debate centered on amendments to the Party’s Constitution. Not only were there over 3,000 delegates, but one-third of them were under 30. No doubt the latter fact contributed to the success of the resolution to legalize marijuana. The determination of delegates to continue to debate policy resolutions well past the proposed end of Saturday evening’s session reflected the intense interest in policy that was underlined in the lobbying for resolutions carried on in private conversations and sessions.

While the healthily contested (many candidates under 25) election of  new faces to the rechristened National Board is a positive sign of change, there is  still a lingering uncertainty amongst members as to what the Liberal Party stands for and the nature of Liberal values and vision; some even wonder whether there is a vision beyond regaining power. Further, a number of concerns have been raised that the LPC has accelerated the number and frequency of  fund-raising appeals. This has resulted in some grumbling that individuals are tired of “being treated like an ATM.”

Mr Garneau responded to these comments with a rarely-seen passion, reminding everyone that being a Liberal is not a free ride and requires commitment. With respect to the values of the party, he suggested starting with his own published manifesto Why I’m a Liberal / Pourquoi je suis libéral. And several people suggested that Don Tapscott’s early-morning talk should inspire both thought and action. Money is a necessity for a political party to be viable and with the present government’s plan to reduce federal funding of political parties, it will become more difficult to raise. Fund raising will always remain a priority, especially  if the attack ads evident in the past election become a permanent feature of the future, but it must not be linked to the contribution of ideas.

Inevitably, there was some hand-wringing as people considered whether the Conservative Party won the 2011 Federal election or was it lost by the Liberals who had dominated the Canadian political scene for over two-thirds of a century? How were the voting preferences of Canadians influenced by Jack Layton’s fatal illness? Why, despite the fact that he was often described as a brilliant leader by his colleagues and staff, did the electorate not warm up to Michael Ignatieff?

With a majority Conservative government, whose brilliant tactical skills have put the Liberals at a further disadvantage, the recent Liberal Party convention resulted in a much-needed overhaul of the Party structure,  redefined and/or refined what they stood for politically,  and outlined plans to regain the confidence of Canadians after becoming the third-place Canadian political party in Parliament, currently well behind the NDP.

Decisions at the Liberal convention appear to have been guided by a desire to return to grass roots as opposed to top-down decision making,, which explains the creation of a new category of  Supporters, offering “a new opportunity for engagement for individuals who do not wish to become full members of the Party, leading to a new, more open and more flexible framework for active engagement as a Liberal partisan.” Supporters will be able to vote in Leadership contests, but not for candidates at the local ;level. Opinions are divided on the wisdom of this move, as some maintain that it devalues membership in the Party and others believe it could offer an opportunity to antagonists to skew voting results. The amendment in favor of preferential balloting passed… one step closer to proportional representation? However, a system of up to six primaries for the selection of future leaders was rejected.

The rebirth of the Liberal Party so eagerly sought by its supporters may prove difficult. Stephen Harper is viewed by most Wednesday Nighters (reflecting accurately public perception)  as a seasoned politician who has gained a majority in Parliament after achieving the leadership of his party in tough battles through the Reform and Progressive Conservative coalition. In some respects he is likened to Liberal leader William Lyon Mackenzie King who spent twenty-two years as Prime Minister of Canada. He understands and has acquired the skill to manipulate the political process and is said to be planning to add thirty parliamentary seats in Western Canada, which is certainly justifiable given that the westward move of Eastern Canadians has increased constantly from the construction of the Lachine Canal in 1825, Canadian Pacific Railway in 1881 and  more recently the development of the Alberta Tar Sands.

The Conservatives have been and will continue to take advantage of the fact that the three opposition parties are leaderless. The N.D.P. will elect a new leader at the end of March – two months away, while the Liberals will wait much longer. [The NDP needs to make a decision given that their interim leader is not strong, whereas the Liberals enjoy a considerable advantage with the dynamic and politically savvy Bob Rae as Interim Leader]. At this stage, the Bloc is not a consideration.

These are the hazards, but the Liberal Party of Canada is certainly not toast. Through recognition of the issues, the desire to represent the will of the people it will rise phoenix-like, a younger, stronger and more responsive choice for the electorate. While never ignoring its eastern base including Québec, policies will be designed be inclusive, favouring the west as well. Quality of life will possibly be an important issue, as will be population growth in the framework of the anticipated lifespan of earth-based human population. Our relationship with the United States and the degree to which we should mirror their policies is one of the likely issues to come up for debate.

Rebirth is not a synonym for defeat. Both the Liberal and Conservative Parties have suffered defeats of the order of the current situation of the Liberal Party. However there are so many issues that can be brought to the fore, such as our close mirroring of U.S. policies, and the calibre of candidates who have the ability to again burnish the image of the once favoured Liberal Party of Canada.  Whatever the outcome of the next election, a large part of the population will feel dissatisfied with the results. That is the strength as well as the chagrin of a democracy

In this U.S. election year, the Keystone pipeline project is of special interest to Canada. The announcement that President Obama has rejected the current proposal (for political reasons) has generated much interest in both the Keystone and the Northern Gateway projects. Mr. Garneau reiterated the position he took earlier today in a television appearance with NDP MP Megan Leslie, suggesting that there are important considerations for the economy and while it is likely that the Keystone project will eventually go through, there are many more issues to be resolved for the Northern Gateway. In both cases, it is unfortunate that the pipeline will transport bitumen rather than oil, thus precluding important job creation and value-added elements. We appear to be more prepared to sell our patrimony than to enjoy its fruits, very likely to the detriment and despair of our descendents.

The Prologue
In the wake of the successful conclusion of the biennial convention of the Liberal Party, the topic heads the agenda for Wednesday Night.
Despite what you may read in the sneering coverage by the National Post, it was an important event for the Party and for the country, with over 3,000 delegates – nearly 1/3 of whom were under 30 -, some 30,000 additional observers/participants on line and several ground-breaking decisions including the election of future Leaders by preferential ballot. For those of us who were following developments on line, it was sometimes highly confusing, but generally riveting; Randy Boissonnault did an amazing job as host, and all in all, the on-line coverage was great. We have one complaint – we would like to be able to access videos and texts of keynote speeches, especially the Don Tapscott address. [Update: thanks to Kyle Matthews, we now have the link]
There was plenty of passion and debate in what must have been a refreshingly civil tone for former Speaker Milliken. The introduction of Supporters as a new tier of Liberal militants was certainly one of the most controversial issues, but we believe will be a good thing. We are looking forward to having Pascal Zamprelli, a keen advocate, speak to this topic. Of course the proposed legalization of marijuana caused a stir; happily good sense prevailed and the resolution passed with 77% of the vote. Meanwhile, in the other half of what the National Post dubs “Cannabis and the Crown”, some 67% of the over 1200 voting delegates opposed the idea of severing ties with the Monarchy. CBC reports that Marc Garneau spoke in favour of the motion, while one Young Liberal called it a ‘fringe issue’. We look forward to hearing why Marc supported it, particularly given the cogent argument against presented by his colleague aboriginal affairs critic Carolyn Bennett, who cautioned delegates that Aboriginal treaties are with the Crown.
Of course, there is no guarantee that all (or even any) of the policy resolutions will become part of the Party platform, as the Leader retains the right of veto over policy.
Because there were so many resolutions on the table, we seem to have missed the outcome regarding some on the environment and energy:  although we are pleased that Accelerated Development of Clean, Renewable, and of conservation and energy efficiency in Canada has passed. The topic of environment and energy is of particular relevance in light of the recently opened hearings on The Northern Gateway; it looks like 18 months of charges, counter charges, general nastiness, and dare we say, prevarication? Already, we are dismayed by the charges levied by the PM and his henchman, Joe Oliver (Oliver’s comments roil Northern Gateway environmental hearings) and in counterpoint, we might ask whether Mr. Harper’s forthcoming visit to China has anything to do with Chinese interests in the Tar Sands.
On a somewhat related topic, what about the story of Daniel Turp Former MP taking Ottawa to court over Kyoto withdrawal aided and abetted by Julius Grey?
As Mr. Rae said in his closing remarks, “Canadians are rightly concerned about the economy. We live in a time of very serious challenge. We have had to learn the hard lesson that we can’t take our prosperity for granted, and that a recovery for all is going to take an unprecedented commitment to innovation, investment, and education. This is not a small problem, and it is going to take more than conservative tinkering.” Therefore, we would be remiss in failing to take advantage of Marc Garneau’s presence – and that of several other influential Liberals – to address the multiple problems of the world economy in the company of some members of the “WN Economists Caucus” who will be with us. We would call to your attention a few items of concern starting with the gloomy outlook from the World Economic Forum Economic and Social Turmoil Risk Reversing the Gains of Globalization, Report Warns and some related articles that you will find here
Please also take note that Peter Berezin will be publishing a BCA report on the euro on February 24th and looks forward to discussing it at WN Feb. 1st.
The run-up to the U.S. 2012 elections is with us and we cannot afford to blink as the situation will change. We attempt to keep up with the more important developments We are sorry that Jon Huntsman is retiring from the field. We guess it was inevitable – his was a too sophisticated a view of international relations. He will endorse Romney.
Hungary
is of concern, and not only to Hungarian/Canadians, as repercussions will inevitably affect the EU and beyond.
We must also worry about Syria, where Mr. Assad’s declaration of amnesty must be making a lot of people very nervous; Iran ; and Israel (for starters); then there is (perennial) Pakistan
All of which reminds us that while the LPC Convention was an important political development for Canada, world events offer many greater challenges than we face at home. By the same token, let us remember to never take the advantages and blessings that we enjoy for granted.
We wish we could accommodate all who would like to be present this week, but as that is impossible, we have a waiting list of people who are eager to take a vacant spot.  We hope you will prepare questions for delegates to the Convention, while we expect that they in turn will have questions for you. Although Marc has not specified any topics, we are sure that youth and grassroots engagement are high on his list, along with combating poverty in our riding and across the country, and ensuring equitable healthcare funding. On the last point,

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