Friday, February 04, 2011

The Decline and Fall of the Liberal Empire

Just got done reading a book about the fall of the Roman Empire and watching an old movie called The Fall of the Roman Empire.

So naturally that got me to thinking about the fall of Canada’s Political Empire, AKA the Liberal Party of Canada.

Like Rome, the Liberal Party once seemed invincible and all powerful, but again like Rome it had inherent hidden weaknesses that inevitably led to decline and fall.

So why is the Liberal Party in decline?

Well after exhaustive research that took about 25 seconds, I have come up with 10 reasons the Liberals are in trouble.

Here they are:

  1. They Keep Picking Bad Leaders
    Why do the Liberals keep picking stiffs? And I am talking about all the way back to John Turner. Remember him? Hard to imagine a leader more stiff and awkward than Turner. Even Jean Chretien – essentially just a small town politician --was no great shakes. Yes, I know he won three majorities in a row, but he benefited from the disastrous inability of the Opposition to mount any kind of effective challenge. Even then Chretien’s success resulted from basically winning every seat in Ontario. Outside Ontario the Liberals were weak and Chretien did nothing to improve that situation. Since Chretien, of course, things have only gotten progressively worse. Paul Martin, whom the media had acclaimed as Canada’s next Liberal Caesar, was a bust. Weak and inarticulate when speaking off the cuff, Martin seemingly had no other goal than simply being Prime Minister. After that, he had nothing. His successor, Stephan Dion was quite possibly the worst Liberal leader of all time. Enough said. And now there’s Michael Ignatieff, a charisma-free academic with all the political instincts of a seasick turtle. And the fact that the Liberals acclaimed Ingatieff as their leader speaks volumes.

  2. Bad Issues
    One of my theories of politics is you shouldn’t talk too much about specific issues. As soon as a party takes a specific stand, it immediately drives away support. The Liberals don’t seem to get this. They keep coming up with some dopey idea guaranteed to hurt them in the polls. Remember the National Day Care Plan? Or worse, Dion’s infamous “Green Tax.”  Sure these ideas sounded great when they bounced them off Liberal donors at the wine and cheese parties in Toronto, but in the real world they just fall flat.

  3. Changes in Quebec
    Once upon a time the Liberals won elections basically because they won a ton of seats in Quebec. That’s because for a long time the Liberals were really the only option. Tories were about as rare in Quebec as Hollywood celebrities at a Ricky Gervais fan club meeting. But after the Adscam scandal Conservatives started making inroads in Quebec. Even more damaging for the Liberals, however, was the emergence of the Bloc Quebecois. Suddenly the Liberals faced opponents on two-fronts and they have never been the same since

  4. Changes in Quebec 2
    The problem the Liberals face in Quebec is not just tactical, it’s also ideological. Simply put, the old Liberal notion of centralizing power in Ottawa – popular in Ontario – just doesn’t sell anymore in Quebec. For Quebeckers the political rallying cry is now “Quebec first, Canada second.”  The Tories with their “decentralizing bent” can co-exist with that mentality and the Bloc, of course, embodies it. For the Liberals, on the other hand it’s a dead end.

  5. The City Syndrome
    The Liberals are most comfortable in big urban areas – Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver. But take them out of that environment and they become more uncomfortable than Don Cherry at a poetry-reading seminar. They just can’t relate to rural Canadians, whom they equate with bible-thumping, gun-toting, redneck barbarians. The Liberal strategy, I guess, is to hope the CBC can bring some semblance of "civilization" to these hinterlands.

  6. Money
    Money is the lifeblood of politics, and the Liberals desperately need a transfusion. New political donation laws which limit what donors can contribute to political parties has severely crippled the Liberal ability to raise money. Before these limits were imposed the Liberal Party relied on donations from wealthy corporations, which gave the Liberals the ability to denounce wealthy corporations. Now they are forced to rely more on grassroots support. That's hardly a Liberal strength. If you ask a Liberal about the grassroots and he will probably refer you to his landscaper. Oh and when the public political subsidy is scrapped the Liberals might be raising money at garage sales. Anybody want to buy Pierre Trudeau’s panama hat?
  7. Out of Power, Out of Luck
    The Liberals were never big on ideology, unless you count grasping for power at all costs as an ideology. They did what it took to win power. If that meant channeling Hugo Chavez and socialism, that was fine. And it that meant running to the right of the Reform Party, well that was OK too. Whatever worked. The problem is that approach attracted “Power People”. These were people who would be loyal to the Liberals so long as their were perks to be awarded or advertising contracts to clutch. When the Liberals lost power, they lost a lot of their friends.

  8. A new Sheriff in Town
    The Romans faced off against Germanic Barbarians and Huns. The Liberals have a bigger problem. They must face Stephen Harper. In all their history, the Liberals have never had to face an opponent like Prime Minister Stephen Harper. He is intelligent, ruthless and calculating. And right now Harper is using all his power and all his skills to exploit to the fullest every Liberal weakness.  He wants the Liberals to fall down and not get up.

  9. The Future is Dim
    One characteristic of the Liberal dynasty in its heyday was its bench strength. You could always look at the Liberal party and identify three or four high caliber individuals who you could picture being Prime Minister. Not anymore. Who among the current batch of Liberals is Prime Minister material? Bob – “I nearly ruined Ontario’s economy” --Rae? Mark Holland, otherwise known as Mark Who? And, of course, there’s Justin Trudeau. Trudeau, of course, has the magic name. Too bad he can’t use that magic to make his kooky ideas disappear.

  10. Disappearing Brand Loyalty
    At one time Liberal loyalists were born not made. If you were a Catholic you voted Liberal. If you were an immigrant or the child of immigrants you voted Liberal. If you were French-Canadian or Italian or Jewish you voted Liberal. But those days are changing. Voters are getting savvier, more sophisticated and choosier about their options. In other words, the Liberals now have to work for their votes. And for the Liberals that’s a new experience. 

    So there you have my Edward Gibbon-style analysis of the Liberal downfall. Of course,unlike the Romans, the Liberals might turn things around. But let's face it, that doesn't seemly likely. More likely is that one day all that will be left of the once mighty Liberals are political ruins.


potato said...

Liberals might be gone but their Trudeaupian legacy will live on in our dysfunctional Charter and HRCs.

Anonymous said...

Bravo on your "The Decline and Fall of the Liberal Empire" piece!

Can't happen quick enough for Canada and ALL Canadians best interests.

Hoarfrost said...

In support of your thesis I shall add my long held humble opinion.

The old style Ontario Liberal was rarely a left leaning politician. They were more a middle of the road party than they are now.

I suspect that all changed with the influx of Quebec style Liberals from the Anglophone diaspora that became a rout in the 1970's.

The Liberals forgot that they were merely an alliance for power between rural Ontario Grits and Quebec social Liberals.

It seems socialist policies have become too strong within the Liberal party changing its character utterly.

The modern Conservative Party has morphed somewhat closer to what the old Liberal party once was.

Allen Small said...

Nice piece, imagine if you had done 30 seconds of research!

wilson said...

7. Out of Power, Out of Luck

When Libs were in power,
Dippers depended on Libs making them relevent by stealing their ideas.

Now Dippers don't like their ideas being snapped up by the Libs,
illustrated by the NDPers calling the unelected Lib leader
"Iggy come lately"

If Jack could get rid of the kooks and moderate their message.....

Anonymous said...

"The Romans faced off against Germanic Barbarians and Huns. The Liberals have a bigger problem. They must face Stephen Harper."

LOL loved that line - better get it trade marked. I'm very happy that Harper - the big meanie - is 'intelligent, ruthless and calculating..' I hope he's around for a long time. He's only around 50 - if he stays like this i hope he's around for another 15 years as PM.

Agent Smith

Hugh MacIntyre said...

Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire is one of my favourite pre-mediaeval history books. A great read and very approachable.

(oh and the Liberals are screwed)

Whisky the Cat said...

The Liberals Keep Picking Bad Leaders.

Frank McKenna, John Manley or Brian Tobin didn't run for leader after Paul Martin stood down. All three would have made a plausable leader.

Their decision not to run speaks volumes.

Nicol D said...

Well done. More complex than I have read in the media and many of these are also why Ford got Toronto. And they do not see that.

I was raised an Italian/French Catholic and voting Liberal was what my family did. Biggest argument my family had growing up was when my brother rebelled and voted for Mulroney in the 80's.

After I went to university in the early 90's and saw how much anti-Catholic bigotry there was in the new younger Liberal ranks I never voted for them again and convinced my mom to do the same.

Seems it is finally catching up to them as they finally lost this demo to the Consevatives in the last election.

The Conservatives are flawed, but that the Libs do not want to see why they have lost so many demographics show they are not ready to do true soul searching yet.

Good post!

Anonymous said...

A good post, but as one Liberal Party falls another rises under the leadership of Harper. The flaw in you article is the mischaracterization of Harper as some political genius. He has repeatedly demonstrated that he is not.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps not a genius..but a damn good Prime Minister!

Anonymous said...

No he isn't. He's done more than any other to expand government. He's a great PM-for the left.

Doug said...

1) Stephen Harper's not stiff himself? Since when? Talking about bad leaders - care to be reminded about Stockwell Day? Insulting liberals because of small-town politicians - hello Prestion Manning.

2) Hmm, what were the issues in the conservative election victory? GST cuts, child tax benefit of $100/month and whistleblower protection were all in the 2006 PC platform and two out of three were implemented. Were these not harped upon along with "accountability" during the entire election period?

3) The tories have been working hard lately to alienate Quebec voters but yes, you are correct on this point.

4) Hmm, social program spending (like child care) is popular in Quebec and with opt-out clauses for provinces that want to deliver the programs there's not much to object to. In fact, Harper's expansion of the federal government on prison building, rehabilitation-cutting (bye bye successful prison farm in Kingston that taught useful skills and fed inmates), and the military is quite unpopular in Quebec.

5) Aside from the swipe at the CBC (really, come on?) I'd have to agree that the Liberal party does much better in the big city and connects better with urban voters (not limited to the cities you mentioned) than to rural dwellers though not with the gun and bible prejudice (of course some Liberals think like this just as some conservatives hate gays and blacks - doesn't make it right or mainstream in either party).

6) The subsidy isn't going to be scrapped anytime soon but if it is it will be a good issue - Harper gets enough support from wealthy Canadians that he feels he can cut off other parties funding for political gain (which it will look like - and likely be - unless he gets a consensus). Liberal grassroots support is strong when there is a rallying cry - the Jean C-Paul M wars brought out droves of people (I remember party meetings where we barely used to get quarum overflowing with hundreds during the regrettable infighting in my party) - we just need a clear message.

7) Pot meet Kettle - How many Reform policies disappeared when in power? How many Senate appointments were made when the promise was to make none? Can you say there aren't power-hungry people in the Cons. ranks? Of course not. So what's your point?

8) Current generation? Some past PCs (John A McDonald comes to mind) were brilliant. Willing to go as far as Harper - nope - dislike Brian M as much as you want (or Lady Thatcher) but he (and she) respected constitutional conventions.

9) Just because Mark Holland isn't well known doesn't mean he's not strong. Who is to say some of the Liberals you mentioned won't come back in if there's another leadership race.

10) Liberals should have to work for their votes (as should members of all parties). I'd rather religious and racial group members voted as individuals rather than as blocks (which means all parties need to practice respect).