Now that you have thrown your hat into the Liberal Leadership Arena I feel much the way I assume spectators at a bullfight feel – delighted at the prospect of seeing an up-and-coming matador in action and disturbed at the possibility that he might be gored. And no, in this rather overblown metaphor I don‛t see other potential candidates as a collective bull – they‛ll be more like picadors except that they will be picadoring you. No, no, the bull in the Leadership Arena is the Liberal Party itself.
Of course the Liberal bull is a mere shadow of the Harper monster that will be bellowing at whomever wins the leadership. Paradoxically, your only hope to attack that monster later on is first to anger the Liberal bull and subdue it. I‛ll get back to that eventually, but first —
Full disclosure. As a freelance writer I joined no political party until well into my senior years but I am now a card carrying member of the NDP. If that affiliation disqualifies me from voicing concern for you, then read no further – but please forgive me for carrying on.
Unlike some of your critics, Justin, I have no concern about your age. I have three sons and well before the time each of them had reached the age you now enjoy I had learned to respect and listen to their opinions and advice. Shucks, you‛re old enough to be the father of some of our NDP MPs.
No, my concern is not about age, nor is it about so-called lack of experience. Many people have lots of so-called experience without learning anything from it. Other people learn a great deal simply from observation without necessarily experiencing. I noticed that when you and your brothers were growing up your father tended to take you with him to many places and happenings where youngsters would normally either not have gone or would have been relegated to limbo.
Apropos the above: Once in a private conversation with a former Canadian Ambassador to Russia – he was then dean of the diplomatic corp in Russia, highly educated, spoke numerous languages and held the Governor General‛s Award for poetry – I asked him what he thought of your dad. Being a diplomat, and even though he was speaking to me, a first cousin, he refrained from a character sketch but simply said, “He‛s the best educated prime minister we‛ve ever had.”
It‛s not many of today‛s politicians, Justin, who were raised in such close companionship with “the best educated prime minister we‛ve ever had”. Many things are absorbed by osmosis. Knowledge is one of them.
BUT – yes, you knew there‛d be a “but” – BUT I hope you don‛t think the Liberal Party you may or may not come to lead is the Liberal Party that your dad helped Mike Pearson bring to fruition in the 1960s. That was a party that bestrode the fault lines between corporations and people, individualism and collectivism, wealth and poverty, Provincialism and Federalism, languages and cultures, and did it with considerable dexterity, occasional ruthlessness and, above all, compassion.
Alas, in recent decades your Party, Justin, has drifted into subservience to the Great God Growth and its multi-national (really non-national) masters whom I think of as alien Corporate Creatures. And the Harperites, propelled by the philosophy of the Calgary school of economics and by Republican tutors from the south, are even more in thrall to the same creatures. *
So please, Justin, don‛t make the mistake of thinking you can perform the required veronicas, pases and revoleras, triumph in the leadership ring, and then tame the contemporary Liberal beast. That‛s not the way it works. The beast will go to its knees before you and then, unless you do the same, it will toss you, cape and all, into the stands. In my opinion, there‛s only one thing you can do about it.
Paradoxically, you‛ve got to challenge the beast now, during the opening passes, and run the risk of making it very angry.
Let me explain.
You know and I know that under our current abominable first-past-the-post electoral system it won‛t matter what kind of a genius is leading the Liberal Party in the next election, the centre-to-left vote will be split and the Harperites will continue their destructive reign.
If my memory serves me (and sometimes it doesn‛t) you once upon a time entertained the idea that in the next election the Liberals and the NDP should refrain from opposing each other in the ridings of selected incumbent Conservatives. As you well know, just last year the NDP’s Nathan Cullen made that idea part of his bid for leadership and made an extremely good showing. And right here, in Peterborough, there is an unofficial multi-affiliated group trying to work out a way to co-operate, with or without official Party endorsement. (They made the national news — interesting, eh?)
I urge you to make such targeted co-operation the key part of your campaign for leadership and, if successful, for the next election.
Sure, if you advocate such a thing you‛ll be vilified by many of the Liberal old guard, but that‛s their problem, not yours. And of course I know full well that there are those in the NDP hierarchy (I‛ve talked to a few) who consider the idea heresy or, to use Diefenbaker‛s favourite word, “anathema”. But I‛m sure you‛ve noticed that Nathan hasn‛t been tossed on the ash heap. Besides, the truth is that there are a few million unaffiliated progressive Canadians out there who, quite frankly, don‛t give a sweet damn about the old guard of either the NDP or the Liberals but who do care about Canada.
Problem is, without a strategy of targeted electoral co-operation it won‛t matter who wins your leadership race, so why waste your time, talent, and energy preaching Party salvation to the tiny Liberal choir while an anxious 60% of the Canadian congregation is seeking protection from Harper excommunication? (Okay, so that‛s an ecclesiastical metaphor. This isn‛t literature, it‛s a plea. Although there is a paradox in the fact that while Harper — an acolyte of the alien Corporate Creatures and an evangelist for totalitarianism — is actually practising what he believes, he is simultaneously preparing a special niche for himself in history‛s hell. But I digress.)
Please take note: I’m not talking about coalition, however eminently constitutional and democratic that is. You‛re on the record as opposing actual coalition and that‛s okay. No, no, I‛m simply counselling good old fashioned co-operation in the face of disaster – something that used to be a Canadian hallmark.
There is, of course, a catch.
A second condition must accompany the promise of such electoral co-operation.
It would have to be an unbreakable condition that the first thing to be accomplished by the co-operating Parties, no matter which of them achieves power, is immediately to kick the first-past-the-post system into the parliamentary deepest darkest oubliette and replace it with something fair. I am sure, for example, that Parliament could install the preferential vote system without commissions, drawn out studies, referendums and other prevarications. The preferential vote system would not even change the ballot – it‛s literally as simple as 1,2,3 – but as a first step it would pave the way for all kinds of genuine democratic reform – including electoral. It‛s high time somebody bloody well did something. Canadians can take only so much dithering, discussing, evaluating and procrastinating while the soul of our beloved country is destroyed.
So there you have it, Justin. Underpin your leadership bid with a sturdy two-layered plank (woops, I‛m moving into metaphor No.3 — oh what the hell –) underpin your leadership bid with a sturdy two-layered plank for targeted electoral co-operation followed by reform. Without it, all the other platform planks involving deficits, job creation, taxes, the economy, national security, even the environment, will be no better than the worm eaten wood they‛re made from. Or (to go back to metaphor No.1), bullshit no longer makes the grass grow green – there‛s too much sterile sand and grit in the arena.
The laminated plank may be either be a springboard to leadership success or one that walks you overboard. If the latter, then you‛ll have found up front that Party apparently takes precedence over Country and you can channel your talents back into the classroom where minds are still elastic and hopeful.
If you adopt that plank and it takes you to leadership, then, when the election comes, if the other Opposition Parties don‛t step onto it with you, we‛ll know that they are dedicated to Party before Country – which is something I definitely don‛t believe to be the case.
Respectfully, and hopefully, yours.
* I‛ve gone into this at some length elsewhere. If interested, go to the top of this page, click on BOOKS, scroll down to The Speech I‛ll Never Give …., and click on it. And while pondering my thesis that there is very little difference between today‛s Liberals and Conservatives take note of the fact that Ontario‛s Liberals have just demonstrated their total disdain for parliamentary democracy by giving it an indeterminate sentence in limbo — without a trial.