Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Liberals: Say, "No!" to Duffy narrative and provide a more complex and more compelling one

By John Ibbitson, Globe and Mail, March 21, 2012
Mr. Rae has solid support in caucus, and can point to rising poll numbers as proof of his effectiveness on the job. He may also be the best candidate to execute a strategy penned by John Duffy, a former adviser to Paul Martin, whose recent article in Policy Options magazine has been widely and carefully read by Liberals everywhere.

Mr. Duffy believes Canada is fracturing between the commodity producing West and the industrial East, which is suffering from the high dollar those commodities fetch.
“If the Liberals can convincingly tag the Conservatives as favouring the commodity economies of their political heartland at the expense of the rest,” he wrote, then the Liberals will possess “narrative and demographic and regional bases of support that truly challenge the foundations of Conservative power.”
The Liberals believe that Mr. Rae has more experience and popular support in Quebec than Montreal MP Thomas Mulcair, who is favoured to become Leader of the Official Opposition after Saturday’s leadership vote. (If the NDP chooses a leader from outside Quebec, so much the better for the Liberals.) The path to power for Mr. Rae and the Grits lies in stripping away from the NDP their Quebec gains while appealing to financially stressed voters in suburban ridings outside Toronto and other Ontario cities. Such a coalition would also embrace voters everywhere who can be found on the losing side of the “two Canadas” that Mr. Duffy sees: one prospering and happy with smaller government, the other struggling and in need of help.
To destroy Mr. Rae’s credibility before it becomes too deeply entrenched, the Conservatives are already trying to tar him with his record as Ontario NDP premier in the 1990s. Whether Ontario voters are ready to forgive and forget that unhappy past could determine Mr. Rae’s future. In any case, for the Tories the 2015 election is clearly already underway.
The Conservatives and the NDP would both benefit from seeing the Liberal Party expunged. For the NDP, it would make them the only realistic alternative to the Conservatives. For the Conservatives, a two-party race against social democrats is a race they are confident of winning over and over again.
I believe it was Hugh MacLennan who wrote about "Two Solitudes" in a novel depicting the alienation of the Irish in Quebec, although Athanase Tallard had indeed married an Irish woman, and a similar  alienation for the same man in Ottawa, for not being English. English and French as two solitudes engaged, for decades in what Margaret Atwood called the "dialogue of the deaf."
There is another aspect to the history of 'two Canada's' in our tradition of "have" and "have-not" provinces that, under Prime Minister Mike Pearson, found through "regional economic expansion" some softening of the hard realities of economic prosperity and economic poverty.
It seems that Mr. Duffy is trying to extend the metaphor, only by broadening the definition of "have" (to the west) and "have-not" to the east.
In a culture more characterized by competition and free market capitalism than by co-operative federalism, it seems his metaphor might be a little "out of context" to put it mildly.
For example, on foreign policy, hard neo-cons regardless of their province of either birth or current address, favour more military action (Lybia) as opposed to the more moderate "No" of Jean Chretien to George W. Bush and his horrendous war with Iraq. Also neo-cons from all provinces favour the most recent omnibus crime bill, while "progressives" oppose it utterly and totally.
Progressives favour balancing the economy and the environment, while the Harper gang unidimensionally choose the oil companies and their profits, and it would seem that there are progressives in all provinces and territories, as there are, apparently, neo-cons.
On lowering corporate taxes, of course the Harper gang favours anything that will keep those dollars flowing into their political coffers, so that they can, quite literally, remain in power for decades, supported by those "blue-rinse" dollars. Progressives, on the other hand, prefer a more balanced approach, lowering taxes for middle and lower incomes, while possibly at the same time increasing the taxes on the wealthy, no matter where each group lives.
Mr. Duffy's "profitable west" versus "poor east" does not seem to be either a workable, or a winning electoral theme, from this vantage point, especially given the kind of "superiority-condescension" wave it would generate from the west.
It was, if I remember right, Pierre Trudeau who proposed a National Energy Policy, including the purchase of PetroCanada, so that all Canadians could enjoy some equality and some economy on oil prices, based then on the incredible wealth that was being generated by "western oil" projects. I also recall the howls of protest from the west, howls that will be heard once again, should the Liberal Party fall victim/heir/ to the Duffy portrayal of the current Canadian reality. "You have had a century of wealth from industrial, economic and political power in the east!" they will say, write, pontificate and editorialize."And now it is our turn! So get lost with your characterization of any kind of national government that panders, once again, to the 'poor' east. Rebuild and revive your manufacturing sector; grow your biodiversity and bio-health technologies, if you think you can outdo us in the west. We are not buying into the rich west versus the poor east, and all that nanny state stuff about co-operative federalism, forget it. That was the '60's and the '70's and that is ancient history. This is the 21st century, where capitalism has finally found its legs and we are going to ride them off into the sunset!"So, Liberals, it must be a much more complex equation than that proposed by Mr. Duffy, if the party is going to have any hope of winning power.
The east has to become aware of its innate strengths, gifts and potential for economic improvement in the short medium and long terms. And the west has to become aware that, while the east is not the "captive of Quebec," as they see us, the Canadian culture is and always has been much more than the sum of the bank accounts in any one section. And the party that can rise about mere dollars and profit, for the wealthy, and extend a captivating narrative about the generosity and the compassion and the care and the international leadership that the country has provided and can provide once again will have much more success at the polls, than the party that seeks to ride the "opportunism" of a current economic phase.
If the Duffy narrative is designed to camouflage the potential of a class war, using geography and provincial income as cover, that is no way to "run a railroad" either. Let's be frank about the situation...the poor, the uneducated and the dispossessed, whether born in Canada or "from away" are struggling in all provinces and territories, while the rich are wallowing in their filthy lucre. It is already a division of opportunity and national attention so deep and so wide as to require the efforts of both the NDP and the Liberals to provide the more workable, sustainable and credible narrative to help all Canadian "boats rise" and to design both policies and an enveloping narrative to present to the Canadian voter.
Enlightened voters cannot help but see the canyon that grows daily between the have's and the havenots, and their geographic location is not the primary determinant of that difference. And even if it were, policies that will benefit one region or province must be adaptable to all other provinces, and the Liberal party has a history of being capable of designing both the policies and the campaign rhetoric and advertising that will speak directly to the highest aspirations of all Canadians, and not seek to build a political opportunity by driving another wedge between the east and the west.
Let's reinvigorate the spirit of innovation, and of research and of a culture that celebrates Canadian inventiveness among all provinces and peoples. Let's bring more public attention to the details of foreign affairs, so that we can produce another Lester Pearson candidate for a Nobel Peace Prize. Let's show the world that our health care was not a three-decade flash in a pan, and that we can build both structure and protocols within which all provincial governments can operate without bankrupting the system. Let's assure that more Canadian youth graduate from both undergraduate and graduate schools, including both men and women, to serve their country, including their country's corporations for the next several decades. Let's send an army of youth to the developing world to serve, to educate and to develop infrastructure so that our culture comes to be appreciated and admired once again, as it has been in the not-so-distant past. Let's build bridges between professions and academic disciplines so that more students have a deepened and more comprehensive perspective on their studies and their world, and, without denigrating the specialist orientation of the last half century, provide another balance to the pendulum that has swung too far, in all provinces, territories, towns and cities. And let's provide the foundations for the complete elimination of poverty, not only in Attawapiskat and on the First Nations reserves, but in every community, neighbourhood and rural region in the country.
And let's design a training and job-creation integrated program that will bring our employment  rate, and provide the skilled workers for those sectors facing job shortages. Let's also build an entente cordiale between labour and management, that will see both workers rewarded and corporations confident in the growth of both their bottom line and their individual employees for the next decade.
And let's get over our fear of tackling the gordion knot of global warming and climate change, with both education and policies that both corporate and consumer sectors can and will accept, encourage and sustain.
Of course, these are "grand bargains" as Thomas L. Friedman calls them, and they require statesmanship, diligent in camera deliberations and debates, and less time on "frivolities" on the front pages in the contention of partisanship. There is so much opportunity, hanging like ripe fruit ready for the picking, much of it gifts of the incompetent gang currently in power, and the Liberals are adequately positioned both historically and intellectually to return to power, should they not self-sabotage through their own narcissism, hubris and narrow pursuit of power for its own sake.

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