Monday, September 12, 2011

The National Demise of the Liberal Party

The National Demise of the Liberal Party
The Liberal Party is in trouble across Canada.  We’ve already seen the decimation of the party at the national level, entirely due to an unpopular leader, unpopular policies, and generally failing to connect with constituents.  But with Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Newfoundland, Prince Edward Island, The Northwest Territories, and Nunavut all heading to the polls before the year is out, could the Liberal Party’s defeat be indicative of a larger movement?  I think so.

Nationally, the provincial governments are held as such (yellow is used for the Northwest Territories and Nunavut as they’re currently non-partisan):

 

The Liberal Party is already on thin ice.  Holding just three of 14 governments, the once “natural governing party” holds only one government more than the NDP.  By comparison, Conservatives hold seven, including the federal government.

How did this party fall from its self-prescribed historic status?  Canadians are largely shifting to the right or left, and abandoning the middle ground once jealously guarded by the Liberals.  Knowing this, how could the upcoming elections push the Liberal Party into oblivion?

Starting with the recent Canadian election, the federal Liberal Party is the poster child of how NOT to run a campaign.  Michael Ignatieff led the Liberal Party to a monumental defeat.  Previously the Official Opposition with 77 seats, Ignatieff caused a freefall loss of 34 seats and seven percent of their vote.  He was even defeated in his own riding by a Conservative running for the first time.  The Liberal platform was simply out of touch with what Canadians needed and wanted from their federal government.  While the Conservatives campaigned on their impeccable record of leading Canada through the worst recession since the depression (among other accomplishments and promises), and the NDP stuck to their usual campaign of “Canadians deserve better,” the Liberals faltered on every message possible.  First, they thought Canadians would care that the Opposition declared that the government was “in contempt.” (They didn’t.)

Then, they tried to jump on the Conservatives for kicking a partisan out from one of their rallies, but the issue never materialized as the Prime Minister apologized and everyone else moved on.  They stuck on this message for a while though, as if it was Conservative policy to oppress people and crowd out dissent at their rallies.  That prompted Ignatieff to demand that Canadians “rise up,” a phrase that could easily be construed as inciting treason or violence.  It also encouraged Ignatieff to partake in unscripted messages where he just rambled about their policies and how horrible Harper was.

Finally, there was the platform.  Ignatieff famously branded his platform as the alternative to the Conservatives’ “jets, jails, and corporate tax cuts,” but that too failed to resonate with Canadians.  The Liberal priorities of a “learning passport” and allowing families to take time off work to care for sick loved ones, while sounding caring, were not the priorities Canadians felt the federal government should be pursuing.  We know what happened on May 2, and we’re still waiting to see when and if the party can rebuild itself.

Ontario has also launched its campaign, with the incumbent Liberal government already on the ropes for raising several taxes on Ontarians, despite Premier Dalton McGuinty promising in their campaign platform and in writing that he would not do so.  Both the NDP and the Progressive Conservatives have labelled Dalton McGuinty’s government a failure for failing to keep their promises or act on important issues.

McGuinty is also having troubles getting sitting MPP’s to run again under his Liberal Party, with 13 MPP’s refusing to run in this election – an issue that the Toronto Star’s Robert Benzie called “an exodus of experience.”

Further, leaked platform discussions reveal that not even senior Liberals are truly behind their platform (http://www.ctv.ca/CTVNews/Canada/20110904/mcguinty-campaign-promises-110904/).  The issues for this government are monumental, and we’ve barely begun the campaign.

And, to top it off, the CBC’s Kady O’Malley said that the Liberal’s platform promise to give $10,000 to businesses that hire immigrants “could become the religious schools of this election.” (In 2007, the PC’s were widely believed to take office until they released a controversial platform promise to fund religious schools in the same way that Catholic schools are funded.)

We should also remember that the Conservatives were the natural governing party of Ontario for a vast majority of the 20th century.  They led a dynasty totalling 69 years, including a continuous 44 years in office.

Unsurprisingly, strategic political site Three Hundred Eight predicts a narrow Tory minority, based on the NDP and Green Party losing ground and the Liberals basically stagnating while the Tories take office (http://www.threehundredeight.blogspot.com/).

Judging by just two of the seven governments set to hold elections this year, centrist policies are just not what Canadians want to see anymore.  And, compounded by ineffective leadership and poor planning, they’re certainly not going to get any more popular.

Opponents usually decry Canada for becoming “more like the U.S.,” where there are only two major parties.  In this case, how would that be a bad thing?

The future of the Liberal Party, if there is one, has to be based on a strong policy that goes one way or the other.  The Liberals need to make a vital decision: will they rebuild by shifting right, or will they rebuild by shifting left?