How the Liberal elites lost touch with Canadians
NationalPost.com – Full Comment
July 7, 2010. Lorne Gunter
I used to be a Liberal — big time.
There, I’ve admitted it.
I handed out campaign pamphlets on a street corner in my hometown when I was 10, was a member of the party’s national youth council while in university and chief of staff to a minister in the last Trudeau cabinet.
Then I smartened up.Part way through my time on Parliament Hill in the early 1980s, it dawned on me the Liberal party I was working for was not the Liberal party I had joined. And although it sounds clichéd, I was convinced the party had left me, rather than the other way around.
Sometime during the Trudeau years, the Liberals ceased to be the party of the individual and became the voice of special interests, the face of elitism.
The transformation began under Lester Pearson, when the Liberals launched huge new social programs — universal medicare and pensions — that were uncharacteristically collectivist for the party. Their central characteristic was the suspension of personal responsibility. Canadians were to be guaranteed health care and retirement income regardless of whether they had made plans and sacrifices during their healthy working years for the time when they became sick or old. They were have-your-cake-and-eat-it-too programs.
Pearson set the Liberals on the road to socialism, but it was the technocrat Pierre Trudeau who turned the party into the elitist family compact it remains to this day.
Trudeau convinced the party that bureaucrats knew better than the public what should be watched on television and listened to on the radio, and so gave the CRTC more power to regulate Canadian content. Trudeau was convinced that politicians could tell, better than businessmen and consumers, which investors were good for our economy (i.e., not foreign ones), and that experts oblivious to market forces could decide the “fair” price of oil. Government could (and should) use massive transfers and equalization payments to manipulate where Canadians live and work. Multiculturalism and mass immigration could help the world and reshape Canada. And public services should reflect the country’s two-language history.
Trudeau completed the transformation of the Liberals, begun by Pearson, from a party that believed in equality of opportunity (classic liberalism) to one that sought equality of outcome (socialism).
In short, the Liberals have become “elitist” — because they no longer trust ordinary people to make the right choices for themselves.
And so it is fascinating for me to read a surprisingly candid series on the future of the Liberal Party of Canada on the blog (glenpearson.ca) of the party’s London North Centre MP, Glen Pearson.
“The essential meaning of liberalism today would be found in the empowerment of the individual,” writes Mr. Pearson, a retired fire captain. “Yet following a history as Canada’s ‘natural governing party,’ today’s Liberal party spends an inordinate amount of time talking about institutional politics and policy as opposed to the key role of the citizen as an agent of progress. One of our key weaknesses as a national party at present is our distance — physical, emotional, empathetic — from the average lives of citizens.”
Unfortunately, he barks up the wrong tree when it comes to putting this observation into practice; he thinks the Liberals need to attract more unionists, social workers, environmentalists, anti-poverty activists and, maybe, small business leaders. Frankly, such advocates for special interests are typically as far removed from ordinary Canadians’ lives as the Liberals themselves. Joining forces with them would only reinforce the Liberals’ aloofness.
What the Liberals need are more supporters such as farmers, entrepreneurs, duck hunters and self-employed tradesmen.
Symptomatic of the Liberals’ remoteness is their demand for universal, government-regulated daycare versus the Conservatives’ policy of giving every family with children under six a tax credit they can use for whatever kind of child care they choose. That’s individual empowerment versus the Liberals’ faith in a big government solution.
It is unlikely the Liberals will ever break with the powerful and fashionable interest groups that control their caucus and drive their policy. But, as Mr. Pearson concludes, unless they somehow can reinvent themselves as the party of the individual, they are doomed “to recurring years in the wilderness.”