By Tim Harper, Toronto Star, August 7, 2011
(Bob) Rae is building the (Liberal) party membership, and he received good fundraising news last week.
He believes the Liberals have to become a “hotbed of ideas,’’ vows made by his predecessors, Stephane Dion and Michael Ignatieff, vows that were discarded in the uncertain world of minority governments where the party laboured under the mistaken belief it was one good campaign away from regaining its once-proud status.
Now, the party has four years to rebuild.
“The Prime Minister is making a huge mistake if he thinks this is part of some type of permanent Conservative wave,’’ Rae says.
A "hotbed of ideas" will only grow, take root, and have the potential to come to fruition, in both fertilized soil and an atmosphere conducive to those new ideas. Anyone can buy some seeds, or read some books, and the plant the seeds or copy the ideas from the books, and make a "policy book" (another Little Red Book) for which the Liberal Party is famous (infamous?). However, it takes a changed culture to be receptive to new ideas. And the Liberal Party has been too focused on electoral results to give support to good new ideas.
For example, when Stephane Dion was leader, he championed a "green energy policy" with a carbon tax and a form of cap-and-trade....and with his resignation, the Liberal party seems to have abandoned anything that might look even pale green. There was the Kelowna Accord for First Nations that has become another relic of Liberal "good ideas" gone nowhere.
Innovation is not the signature item of the Liberal Party, or it has not been in the recent past. A "hotbed of ideas" in order to actually come about needs research, and more research, and more research...and then lots of a dissemination of the findings of that research with policy options attached, for the party membership to digest, discuss, reflect upon without media intrusion, and then forumalate into succinct, crisp bright policy planks that Canadians can both grasp and also identify with.
John Ralston Saul, in many of his public lectures, points to our capacity for, and our inability to achieve, the elimination of homelessness in Canada. His diagnosis is that we do not have the political will to acccomplish that worthy political goal.
Hugh Segal of the Conservatives has been touting a "Guaranteed Annual Income" for all Canadians, as a way to make better use of social "dollars" through removal of overlapping jurisdictions and spending.
Seniors need a better income support system that has both health care provisions, including pharmacare and dental care, and long-term sustainability.
University students, especially those from low-income families need tuition and housing assistance that does not swamp them upon graduation.
The military does not need $35 billion in new Fighter Jets and another $30 billion in armed and unarmed new ships.
The country does not need billions spent on new prisons, and new prison hires, without an equally robust treatment and rehab approach for offenders.
Depending on the political heft given to a GAI (Guaranteed Annual Income) the tax code needs overhall, to close loopholes for the rich and for corporations who can afford high-priced tax accountants and attorneys.
The question of the Canadian Senate needs a visionary, workable, achievable Liberal response that can trump the hodge-podge of Harper mis-steps.
We need a clean energy policy that moves to clean our air, water and ground, and we need a stimulus approach for new energy initiatives to create new jobs, in both high-tech and in maintenance.
We need to look at the question of how Canadians select, and approve and fund academic research, given the invasion of that field by self-interested corporations who seek to market their wares, based on the research they paid for, and the researchers they hired to re-write, and to re-write that research.
We need a labour strategy that fosters, encourages and supports the formal association of worker in industries, or economic sectors, without the militant opposition to unions that plagues the workplace in many sectors.
We need a national transportation vision, budget and program that creates a new chapter in rail transport, thrusting us back into the front line of rail development, especially since our design and build companies are selling the most advanced products around the world. This would also need to be designed as a job-creator, in partnership with the private sector.
We need to examine our foreign policy critically, in the light of the last decade, and the darkened chapters written by the Harper governments. This would include our commitment to military alliances like NATO, and our support of the United Nations, as well as our training of diplomats for the foreign service, in areas like conflict resolution, peace negotiations, anti-terrorism strategies and tactics, and the future of our relations with Europe, Latin America, Africa, the Far East...not only for the purpose of increased trade, but also for the building of alliances that agree to formally confront rogue states. The Liberal Party needs to put Foreign Affairs on the front burner, and to make the generation of senior staff a high priority, through the creation of doctoral programs in geo-political collaboration, and the future role of Canadian diplomats in this important and emerging academic and political and economic file.
And while all of these "issues" are being researched, and researched and researched...by hundreds of graduate students partially funded by the federal government, the party also needs to learn how to listen to the body politic in substantive ways that make both political membership and political engagement a badge of good citizenship, not only a way of generating those proverbial cash cows that Harper thinks he has cornered for the next few decades. So campaign financing is another topic for urgent party research and policy generation.
And this list is barely beginning.... what are your ideas for the "hotbed" that Mr Rae is envisioning?