Theresa Lubowitz on the Death of Substantive Policy
Canada is teetering dangerously close to the death of substantive policy as we know it, with the rise of a populist Conservative Government, a populist NDP Official Opposition, and a struggling Liberal Party so afraid of irrelevancy it has spent the last four years taking the safe road.
Government used to stand for something and had a proud legacy in Canada of improving the lives of its citizens. Some blamed nearly a decade of minority parliament as the culprit yet Pearson arguably put into action more substantive policy than any other Prime Minister in Canadian history despite the political environment he was forced to operate within.
Paul Martin’s minority Liberal government negotiated a $41 billion health care agreement with the provinces, legalized same-sex marriage, introduced the landmark Kelowna Accord, and had negotiated a national childcare program with the provinces before losing power. The Conservative minority government that followed has no record of substance to speak of, other than tearing down major advancements like Kelowna and national childcare.
Over 100 members of the NDP were elected in the May 2011 election, a feat that allowed the Party to take its place as Official Opposition in the House of Commons for the first time in its history. Yet what it was exactly the NDP championed during the election in their platform is murky at best. They successfully road the ‘Jack’ wave of platitudes and props and now find themselves sitting opposite a government that reads from the very same playbook of highly charged populist partisan posturing, delivering little of substance. The Party released a year in review video celebrating the ‘highlights’ of their first year as Official Opposition that was low on substance and heavy on reading from one’s notes.
While the Conservatives have a history of releasing election platforms at the last minute and the NDP have a history of releasing them with little content and even less costing, the Liberal Party provided voters with very little to get excited about in the 2011 election. The Party of balanced budgets, universal health care, pensions, student loans, official bilingualism, multiculturalism, same-sex marriage legalization, and Kelowna to name just a few, offered a platform built around something called the ‘Family Pack’. Reduced to what were at the time shocking levels of support in 2008, Liberals played it safe, turned their backs on a century of bold, innovative, and substantive policy that shaped a nation and created something that sounded like it could be found in the lunch meat section of a grocery store.
With populism on either side of the political spectrum, the Liberal Party cannot continue to play it safe. Canada cannot afford us to. We must again become the party willing to take bold political stands regardless of the political winds. Our most successful political leaders were those who did not apologize for who they were or what they stood for and were rewarded for that authenticity. Living authentically is good practice in everyday life and the same is true in politics. It must be made true again in our public policy.
Joseph Uranowski on the Revival of Substantive Policy
The NDP just released an attack ad that looks like it was written and produced by Stephen Harper’s own attack machine. Like the NDP, it offers no real solutions. With so much vitriol coming from the Harper Conservatives and the Mulcair NDP (how far we’ve come from Nathan Cullen’s calls for cooperation and Niki Ashton’s constant usage of the phrase “New politics”) there is a large space (not necessarily one in the so-called “centre”) for the Liberal Party to become the party of substance.
In the past the Liberal Party brought forward great policy in the form of legislation. However, just saying “trust us, we’re great at governing” is the height of arrogance and is a terrible political strategy. When Bob Rae was an NDP MP he was quoted as saying “the Liberals are a beanbag kind of party that looks like the last person that sat in it.” As we drift through the summer, I have a fear that this might be happening to my party. My solution: the Liberal Party of Canada should start releasing white papers, one every month from now until the 2015 election. When the house is in session we should tie each white paper to a private member’s bill.
Some topics I’d like to see the Liberal Party release policy solutions on:
- Reform of Question Period: Now, the NDP is so petty and ruthless in their desire to deny the Liberal Party a win (like the Republicans down South) that they have actually worked to defend Dean Del Mastro. The Liberal Party needs to do politics differently, if passing good policy gives one of our opponents a win, it is still worth it to pass good policy. In that vein, I believe at the next avaliable opportunity the Liberals should introduce a private member’s bill that is word-for-word Michael Chong’s QP reform bill. We should ask him to co-sponsor and support the bill. He can bring over the dozen other CPC votes we need and we can shame the NDP into doing what is right.
- Electoral Reform: At the 2012 biennial convention convention we passed a AV electoral reform platform. We should flesh it out as soon as possible. Let’s start a real debate.
- Cannabis Legalization and progressive crime policy: We also overwhelming passed a cannabis legalization motion in Ottawa. The crime debate has changed in Canada with legalization going mainstream. This would be a great area to differentiate ourselves from the CPC andNDP. It has recently been reported that private companies are lobbying the Harper government to privatize our prisons. We have a unique opportunity to explain how terrible this policy would be and shift the crime debate once again.
- The Environment: Scientists have literally taken to the streets on this issue. We have Kirsty Duncan (who won a Nobel Prize for her environmental work), Ted Hsu and Marc Garneau. Let’s put forward policies to take by the environment as an issue from the Greens and NDP with a pro-economic growth Liberal twist.
- The Economy: Scott Brison is doing a great job shining a light on youth unemployment. A plurality of the white papers should be economic. If we can’t talk about the economy (every Liberal, not just our leader) we will never be relevant to Canadians.
- Rebuilding the farm safety net: In many ways the Harper government is tryng to balance the budget on the backs of farmers. Income in the agriculture sector has been declining for 30 years. We need policies that will rebuild the farm safety net and focus on sustainability and affordability.
- Some other issues: High speed rail, safe injection sites, free trade, foreign policy, public transit, education, public housing and veterans’ affairs.
Uranowski and Lubowitz on the Verdict
Canada will not be bettered by the lip-service of populist politicians. It will be improved by substantive discourse about intelligent solutions in public policy. The Liberal Party of Canada has the strongest record in Canadian history in this area and is the only party showing any interest in speaking substantively about the issues. We’ve had a substantial heritage in public policy and have a substantive future ahead of us. While the populists blather and take jabs at one another, we should lay out a clear path for a better future for Canada.