The following is a list of what Ontario Liberals have done for me and other students since 2003:
They created a permanent 30% off tuition grant for students in a university or college degree program saving $1,600 per student annually and $730 annually for students in college diploma and certificate programs. The grant is calculated off the average Ontario tuition and will keep pace with any increased future costs, meaning it will always be 30% off the price of tuition. In 2012, 300,000 students are eligible and those already on OSAP will receive the grant automatically without ever having to apply.
They have tripled the number of grants available to students compared to before taking office with 1 in 4 students enrolled in post-secondary now receiving financial support they will never have to pay back. In 2003, 44 cents of every dollar spent on post-secondary education went to grants. Under Ontario Liberals, this amount has increased to 61 cents for every dollar. Thanks to Ontario Liberals, nearly 2/3rds of post-secondary funding from the province goes directly to financial support for students who need it most without ever asking them to pay it back.
They created the Ontario Student Opportunities fund, ensuring the amount of student loans students repay is capped at $7300 annually. Any loan above this amount is covered by the government, not students.
They increased the amount of financial support students coming from low and middle-income families can receive, increasing it from $9,400 in 2003 to up to $12,900 today.
They created a new 6-month interest-free grace period for OSAP loans, and extended it to 12 months for grads starting their careers by doing important work at non-profits.
They created the Repayment Assistance Plan to help recent graduates looking for work reduce the cost of student loan payments, sometimes cut to zero if necessary. And they made sure no graduate will ever have to pay more than 20% of their income towards loan payments.
They even ensured that student loans are forgiven after 15 years no matter what, so no Ontario student will ever again weigh a quality education versus a lifetime of debt.
They have supported students so strongly that the Ontario Student Loan default rate has dropped from 23.5% in 1997 to 8% by 2009, the lowest in the province’s history.
They have been consistent in their dedication to students and quality education. They have supported those students who most need it more than any other government in Ontario’s history. They have made education more affordable now and in the long-term, replacing debt with grants, and obstacles with opportunity.
The Ontario Liberal Party’s commitment to affordability, accessibility, quality and mobility in post-secondary education is simply unmatched. I feel truly privileged to have received a quality and affordable Ontario education.
Last weekend I had some fun with some images of Liberal Prime Ministers that listed their impressive accomplishments in office, adding a sarcastic hashtag of ‘#nbd’ or ‘no big deal’ to each of them. The hashtag worked on two levels. The first was the obvious level which was that these accomplishments by these Prime Ministers had in fact been a big deal. But the second level, the level that the following writing is about, was the deeper level that suggested that those accomplishments are in fact ‘no big deal’ if we do not continue the steady progress of creating a continually better Canada. In the words of the West Wing’s President Bartlet, “I’m ready to move on to other things” and so should the Liberal Party of Canada.
There are those that will say that while the accomplishments achieved by past Liberal Prime Ministers are impressive, they also no longer matter and we should put our focus entirely on the future. There are also those that would prefer to forever bask in the ‘glory days’ and hope that one bad step by the opposition will swiftly return the Liberal Party to power on nostalgia for our ‘brand’. I believe in a third option. Rather than reinvent the wheel we should invest in new tires in order to regain traction with Canadians. When the impact of your legacy on everyday Canadians begins to wear out, you have to find new answers that better suit the modern reality of our country.
Worn Treads in Healthcare
On March 25, 1957, Louis St. Laurent’s Health Minister, Paul Martin, introduced the Hospital Insurance and Diagnostic Services Act which required the provinces to “establish a hospitals planning division; . . . license, inspect and supervise hospitals; . . . approve hospital budgets; . . . collect the prescribed statistics and submit the required reports; and . . . make insured services available to all on uniform terms and conditions”. The legislation was the first in Canada acknowledging a federal role in healthcare and created national standards by which specific healthcare costs would be covered through tax-supported insurance plans. This legislation was largely born out of efforts by the St. Laurent government and its counterparts in the Frost administration in Ontario.
Government supported healthcare spread to other provinces until it returned to the federal scene under the Premiership of Lester Pearson. St. Laurent’s government forever changed healthcare funding in Canada but is overshadowed by Pearson’s achievement of universal healthcare as delivered by the Medical Care Act of 1966. Paul Martin Jr., Prime Minister and son of the health minister who ushered in hospital insurance, led the last Liberal government and delivered the most recent piece of the Liberal healthcare record. Under Martin’s leadership, a 10-year, $41 billion healthcare agreement was reached with the provinces to expand and improve healthcare services across the country.
Each of these achievements are impressive and greatly improved the lives of Canadians but Liberals cannot coast on past glories. Hospital insurance, universal healthcare, and a 10-year health accord all have one thing in common: they built off substantial achievements from the past to launch Canada into a better future. The policies of the past can serve two purposes in the present. They can act as a solid foundation on which to build the framework of the next great leap in our nation’s well-being. And they can act as inspiration for the idea behind that leap, reminding us that Canada is a country of bold ideas that shape and improve the lives of Canadians in dramatic and lasting ways.
The Next Big Deal (#NBD) for #MyLPC
Above all else, politics should be about delivering a better society for us all to share in. The Liberal Party of Canada, as a political party, must therefore endeavour to dream of a bright future and use all of the talent of its members to put together a tangible plan for a better Canada than the one we know today. The Party must return to the boldness of its past by putting forward truly transformational ideas for the future to create the next big deal. And it must start today.
As demonstrated above, the Liberal Party clearly has a strong record on healthcare in this country but there is still a great deal more work to be done. One area of service delivery still relatively ignored by government in the healthcare sector is mental health services. The Party that brought in healthcare insurance, universal access to healthcare, and finally a substantial decade-long funding deal should naturally get behind a robust national mental health strategy. Interim leader Bob Rae once gave a powerful interview (below) on his past depression and Liberals have championed the issue in small ways while in opposition. The Party should take a strong position on the issue by creating a much-needed strategy for tackling a serious healthcare problem that arguably impacts every Canadian in some way.
Research and Development
St. Laurent’s government also began the rollout of the Avro Arrow, a move that put Canada at the forefront of aviation innovation. The Arrow was famously scrapped by the Diefenbaker government that had campaigned on reducing ‘wasteful’ Liberal spending. During Trudeau’s administration, Canada found itself punching above its weight through the development of the CanadaArm. In 1999, during the administration of Jean Chretien, the rollout of the Blackberry smartphone occurred which revolutionized communication technology around the world. Canada has a long history of strong technological development, particularly when encouraged strongly by government. The Liberal Party of Canada should develop a comprehensive plan to encourage research and development in Canada, making our country not only home to innovation but also the highly-skilled, high-paying jobs of the future.
Reforming the Tax Code
Over the years Liberals have done a great deal to make our tax system fairer and less of a burden on our finances. Paul Martin’s eight consecutive balanced budgets helped reduce the burden of the national debt by eliminating the deficit and as Prime Minister Jean Chretien reduced taxes by $100 billion over five years. However reducing taxes in general, as has largely been done for the bulk of our history, is very different than reforming the system so that the quickly disappearing middle-income block of Canadians is stabilized and so low-income Canadians get a break. Liberals should champion a taxation plan that serves those worst off and helps to ensure a livable financial reality for all Canadians.
While we currently have ample access to oil within our own borders as a country, two facts still remain. Oil is becoming increasingly more scarce, causing the price of this resource to soar. In a time where individualized travel options are expensive and our growing population is becoming increasingly easier to transport en mass, many are choosing public transportation and our services must expand to meet demand. That’s why I believe the Liberal Party should consult with municipal, regional and provincial leaders to construct a blueprint for a national transportation strategy that recognizes the unique needs of Canada’s diverse communities and commits substantial funding to an infrastructure plan that will move Canadians. This plan must take into account the service needs of not just Canada’s cities but also its smaller communities were transit use might be lighter but still strongly needed. This plan should also look into bringing high-speed rail to Canada, across Canada, and by doing so catch us up to the many nations all over the world who have already taken a step forward on transit with these trains of the future.
During the 2008 election, the item in the Liberal Party platform that was focused on the most was the Green Shift. But one major policy plank that was not only substantial but also desperately needed was the 30-50 plan to reduce poverty in Canada. The plan would have seen programs instituted with the aim of reducing poverty by 30% and child poverty by 50% in Canada over five years. It would have provided greater access to affordable housing and child care amongst other things. The Liberal Party more or less fell silent on the poverty file in the 2011 platform and poverty reduction was not a major focus of the last two Liberal administrations, other than the introduction of the child tax benefit. The party that created pensions and unemployment insurance must have a strategy for reducing poverty in all segments of Canadian society, but especially in children. There has been little improvement in child poverty rates in the last two decades and the Liberal Party should present a substantial plan for giving a hand up to our most vulnerable fellow citizens.
An Undiscovered Country
The Canada of the future is largely unimagined and that is because we currently have a Conservative government with little interest in creating a bolder, brighter Canada. It is time for the Liberal Party to fill this vision void and create the roadmap for an inspiring path forward for our country. It is time we begin focusing on the next big deal, think about what our Liberal Party of the future might propose and in turn what Canada might look like if those proposals were to come to fruition. These are just some of the areas I would like to see the Liberal Party focus on. I think it’s time we begin having a serious discussion about what exactly we want our next big deal to be.
For much of the history of forest management, it was thought that the devastating impact of a forest fire must be avoided at all cost. Whether man-made or naturally caused, forest fires destroyed years of growth that would take decades to replace, if at all. More recently, forest fires have been looked on more favourably and are now seen as an essential part of the life-cycle of forests.
The extreme heat of a forest fire causes, for example, the cones of conifer trees to open and drop seeds on the forest floor. After countless seeds fall, some germinate and within weeks of a destructive fire, new growth begins to appear. Within only a few short decades, the new growth forest will be comprised of trees that tower over all who walk through and easily disguise the fact that a fire ever tore through that forest.
Without fire, forests fail to regenerate along a natural timeline and new growth is hindered. When fires are delayed, the impact is much more devastating and can actually reach a scale that makes regrowth extremely difficult. Forest fires help to regularly reset the cycle of forest growth and help continue the sustainability of that growth.
In May 2011, the Liberal Party of Canada was dealt a devastating blow. The Party was razed, winning just 34 seats and losing both senior and long-serving members in the blaze. Now sitting in third place in the House of Commons, many have written off the Party for good, suggesting that this was a special kind of defeat that the Party cannot come back from.
I hold a different view. I believe occasionally it is good and even necessary for an organization to be torn down so it can build again. The Liberal Party of Canada has a long history of decisive and prolonged losses that actually made the Party better and stronger afterwards. That is because the largest losses instil a deeper commitment to doing things differently, to bringing in new faces, and for calling on new, previously unheard voices.
Some of our longest droughts have been followed by some of our lengthiest periods in government. And that is because the losses made the Party re-evaluate and led to recognizing new talent, new voices, and new ways of thinking.
Wilfrid Laurier entered federal politics at 33 barely in time to serve in the Cabinet of Alexander Mackenzie. It would be eighteen long years in opposition before Laurier would lead the Liberals to victory in 1896. He then governed Canada for fifteen years straight. This despite entering federal politics through a Liberal government in its dying days.
Mackenzie King, born the same year Laurier became a federal politician, would himself enter federal politics at 34 and become the first ever Minister of Labour in Laurier’s government. His term was short lived as the Laurier Liberals soon lost power to Borden’s Union government. King did not sit on the government benches again until he became Prime Minister a decade later. Over the course of several stints at the helm of government, King would govern for 22 years, the longest in Canadian history. This too despite entering politics through a Liberal government in its dying days.
In 1962 a 33 year old John Turner joined the House of Commons and in 1963, a 29 year old Jean Chretien entered politics. Both joined the Liberal government that formed after six years in the wilderness and would play substantial roles in the governments of Pearson and Trudeau before each becoming Prime Minister. Turner’s term came after nearly 21 years of uninterrupted Liberal governance and was he turfed as a result. Chretien, however, would come to power after nine years out of power and led the country for the majority of the next 13 years of Liberal governance.
Pearson’s rebuilding in the 1960s played a major role in putting Liberals in office during the four decades that followed his time as Prime Minister. This despite the fact that his introduction as Liberal leader was being walloped by Diefenbaker in the 1958 election that placed Pearson, as Leader of the Official Opposition, squarely across the aisle from the largest majority government in Canadian history.
Death and Rebirth of the Liberal Party of Canada
Liberals found themselves in the wilderness from:
1867 to 1873 (6 years)
1878 to 1896 (18 years)
1911 to 1921 (10 years)
1930 to 1935 (5 years)
1957 to 1963 (6 years)
1984 to 1993 (9 years)
2006 to 2015 at minimum (9 years)
Liberals followed these periods with governing records spanning from:
1873 to 1878 (5 years)
1896 to 1911 (15 years)
1921 to 1930* (9 years – brief interruption of Meighen government)
1935 to 1957 (22 years)
1963 to 1984* (21 years – brief interruption of Clark government)
1993 to 2006 (13 years)
The Liberal Party of Canada has a long history of starting over again as far back as Confederation and coming out the other side stronger for that effort. We can either see this period as a challenge we might not be able to overcome or an opportunity to improve. I have full faith that if we remain focused, patient, and hard working we will see new and lasting growth take root.
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.
Follow Joseph on twitter at @Uranowski and visit his renowned website for more commentary here.
My sister and I like to jokingly say the letters ‘NBD’ to one another when we are sarcastically saying something is ‘no big deal’ when in reality it is. It occurred to me that the Liberal record of achievement in improving Canada is lengthy, even when broken down by specific Prime Ministers. It also occurred to me that it might make for some light-hearted fun to lists off the accomplishments of Liberal Prime Ministers in the first person and have the list end with ‘#nbd’ as one would humble-brag on Twitter. I made several images doing just this and they quickly spread around Twitter and Facebook. I thought it might make sense to create versions that Liberals could proudly display on their Facebook pages and below are the resulting Facebook cover photo versions of the images. Download and share at will!
(Click on the images to view and download them at their full size)
Very recently I had a conversation with some thoughtful members of the Liberal Party of Canada about the concept of rebuilding and how we could know as a Party we had been rebuilt, that a destination had been arrived at after this long process of renewal. I suggested that rebuilding, though possible to measure, was a continual process and not a destination. It became clear to me from this discussion that rather than call efforts we make to improve and revamp the Liberal Party ‘rebuilding’ we should simply call it ‘building’. That rather than simply act in a way that prepares us for the immediate next election, we should continually strive for a stronger, improved Liberal Party that can deliver the kind of Canada we want now and in the future.
Building the Liberal Party
What do we mean when we say we want to build the Liberal Party? It is both a practical and philosophical question, one that needs to be answered before any tangible progress can be measured against it. In a practical sense we want to build a Liberal Party that can compete in and win elections, beginning in 2015 and in each election that follows. In a philosophical sense, we want to win in 2015 and beyond because we hope to create and implement policies as a government that improve the lives of Canadians across the country. But this is less a re-building exercise than a building exercise because we are not content with some sort of relative or temporal benchmark of success. Achievements delivered by a certain date indicate progress in the building process but are not ends in themselves. What is required in building the Liberal Party, to borrow a slogan from the Ontario Liberal Party, is that we always be relentless. The moment we give in to self-satisfaction for the status quo we have created is the moment we lose ground. After years of great self-satisfaction, we have lost a great deal of ground. Our aim must be to create a sustainable Liberal Party always on an upward climb towards improvement beyond where we find ourselves at any given time.
The Importance of Sustainable Infrastructure
The Liberal Party of Canada must have two goals in what should be a never-ending cycle of building. One should be what the Party wants to achieve for Canadians. The other must be how the Party can organizationally get to the point where it is in a position to deliver those things and to maintain that position of influence. This seems like a no brainer and the obvious point to a political Party yet there are those whose focus instead rests on a specific election as an end in itself or the creation of specific political products like attack ads as being where our focus should be. It is time to end the tunnel vision and start seeing the broader picture.
What we must aim for is a robust national infrastructure that a strong national campaign can be launched from in order to compete for and win government. I personally don’t think that’s a system that can be built in four years. When? I’m not sure. That depends on what we continue to put in instead of putting off. And two things we have long put off are the periods before and after a writ period. We haven’t been interested in doing important leg work until just before a campaign and quickly lose interest right after one. Volunteers and voters recognize our attention deficit and resent us for only calling on them when it matters to us, during elections when it is most advantageous for us to connect with them. We have the same relationship with our work as a Party as we do the people we are trying to connect with: we only come out when the stakes are highest and ignore the fact that there is a long and visible tide behind the wave of activity during a writ period, and it is that tide that determines the force of the wave.
For a long time we have shrunk the amount of Canada we actually care about, instead saying as long as we have such and such we will win and be content so long as we win. When we lost the West we said to ourselves that we could win with Central and Eastern Canada. When we lost Quebec we shrugged and focused on Ontario with support from Eastern Canada. And when we lost Ontario we suddenly marvelled at how we found ourselves here after reducing the scope of our interest and outreach for decades to the point where we only listened and focused on ourselves.
The most important aspect of building a Party on the foundation of sustainable infrastructure is building it nationally, in 308 ridings. We must operate from a standpoint that no riding is too safe or too hopeless for Liberals. We must aim to build functioning executives and riding associations in all of our ridings because the best way to convince Canadians that our Party is not dead is to show off active, living and breathing Liberals in their communities. We need to feel shared responsibility for our efforts as a Party and help out EDAs around us, working together to strengthen our Party in our regions and communities. We need to stop thinking of levels or hierarchies in our Party but see our work locally as important as the work of the National Board and recognize that we can lead the transformational changes that will improve our Party from the ground up.
The Importance of Recognition
Sustainable infrastructure requires a cycle of outreach, recognition, consultation, recognition, encouragement, recognition, collaboration, and recognition. You probably noticed that recognition appeared four times in that eight point cycle and that is with good reason. There is no greater tool when engaging others than recognizing them for their participation, interest, and concern. When we reach out to Canadians who are living liberal lives but not Liberal lives, we must recognize them for allowing us the opportunity to engage with them. When they have come aboard and share their thoughts with us, we need to recognize that they are contributing in a valuable way to our common narrative. When we encourage them to get further involved we must recognize them for setting aside their time to participate in our Party. When they begin to make a tangible impact on our local efforts in our EDAs or even the Party at large we need to recognize their commitment to our common cause. While we are all involved because we believe collectively we might be able to construct the Canada we dream of, it is important every now and then to recognize those who are standing with us in good times and bad.
In more concrete terms this means creating a real plan for engaging Canadians in and beyond the membership of our Party. It means that while micro-targetting identified and likely Liberals is important in the numbers game of GOTV strategies, we have to remember that our pool of supporters does not increase when we limit those we engage with. The period between writs is exactly when we should be engaging the community at local events, in local media, and on the doorstep.
The old saying about strangers and friendship can easily be applied to our Party. If we treat unidentified voters as Liberals we just haven’t had the opportunity to engage with yet we might actually expand our ranks. That work used to begin belatedly on day 1 of an election before we began to focus on just getting out our vote. Even then, I believe it should have begun on the day after an election so that by the time of the nextelection we would have more voters to get out to the polls. Something I’ve always heard at the door is many voters will vote for whoever had the decency to actual show up and engage with them. Liberals need to be the Party that gives a damn about voters as individuals and not just as voting blocks.
In my own job I have spent a great deal of time studying the concept and value of membership in an organizations here and around the world. The biggest theme regardless of the type of organization or where it is located is that once one becomes a member, the special attention received during the outreach period often diminishes or ends. As Liberals we have to recognize Canadians even once they become members (or supporters) of our Party. We cannot take their support for granted as we have for years. When someone comes to our Party, our first order of business should be to heartily thank them for doing so. Only after should we let them know how they can get involved. And asking for financial contributions should be taboo until we’ve proven what they mean to us, not vice-versa.
Avoiding a Liberal Languish
Ultimately our Party needs to remember the golden rule of successful social interaction: a sustainable relationship requires regular checking in. As members we need to check in with how we are doing with achieving our local goals. As a Party we need to check in on how our members are feeling about what we’re achieving together and how Canadians feel about what we have to offer. If we maintain our relationships, internal and external to the Party, we will have a much better idea of how we’re doing. If we have an accurate sense of where we are, not just in the checkbox lists of activities we’ve carried out, we will have a much better sense of where we are going and how to successfully navigate there.
A year ago from next Monday, the Liberal Party of Canada embarked on a period of renewal and grassroots engagement beginning with a well-attended telephone town hall called the ‘Extraordinary Convention’. This meeting of Liberals from across the country by telephone was the first major event the Party held after a crushing defeat in May 2011. The conversation focused on establishing a time period for calling the Party’s next leadership convention, thereby charting the path forward in the rebuilding process. It also led to determinations about how an interim leader would be selected and when the next Party Biennial Convention would be held.
On that call, Liberals from all over Canada voiced their opinions about how the Party would move forward and the best manner in which to do so. We heard the voices of such respected members as Stephane Dion and even our own friends from our own EDAs. The Party had an honest conversation about where we stood and came together to make an important decision about our collective future. At the time, it was probably the most ‘grassroots’ thing the Party had ever done. Coming so soon after the May election, it was a very positive sign of life from a political group the media and much of the public were already writing off.
Biennial Convention – Grassroots Take Hold
Just over six months after the Extraordinary Convention, Liberals from across the country convened in Ottawa at the brand new Ottawa Convention Centre to select a new National Board, including a new President for the Party. By the close of the race, it was largely thought, at least in the media, that it was a race between two candidates. One was Sheila Copps, former Deputy Prime Minister, who had decided to run even before the May defeat. The other was Mike Crawley, former President of the Liberal Party of Canada (Ontario), who entered the race the previous fall. The race was long seen as Copps’ to win but on January 15, 2012, the final tally came back with Mike Crawley 26 votes ahead. What began from a single editorial piece in a newspaper became a campaign that dominated online and eventually real world discussion. At a convention of 3,300 strong, Liberals held a competitive race filled with substantive discussion and ultimately selected a President from the ground up.
The National Board and Interim Leader Bob Rae
Today marked an announcement from the National Board that the next leader of the Liberal Party of Canada will be elected in April 2013. However it is less likely that this day will be remembered for this as it will for being the day that Bob Rae announced clearly that he would not be a candidate for that leadership. Rae was long expected to run and was thought to be announcing his decision to run soon after the Board declared the parameters for the leadership race. Instead, Rae told Caucus and the public he would remain on as interim leader, as pledged a year ago upon taking up the role.
I believe Rae has done a tremendous job as interim leader and would at the same time make a strong leader and capable Prime Minister. However, politics is as much about talent, skill and suitability for a role as it is being in the right place at the right time. For Rae, that could have been 2006, but several obstacles prevented him from winning then and his chances have only slid since. As Jean Chretien outlined in his autobiography, Bob Rae had not officially joined the Liberal fold early enough to win in 2006, despite Chretien personally asking him to do so. Rae was also cursed with having governed as Premier of Ontario and doing so during difficult economic times. No Canadian has ever gone from the Premier’s chair to the Prime Minister’s and Rae is no different (Charles Tupper was Premier before becoming Prime Minister but governed provincially in pre-Confederation times). Even if Rae had governed during relatively good times, Canadians do not seem to care for politicians with long records to reflect on. And Party members hoping to see renewal and change are likely to feel much the same way.
None of those facts prevented Rae from briefly attempting to take the leadership after Stephane Dion stepped down in late 2008. Rae might have won then if not for Ignatieff strategists expertly navigating their man into the ‘interim’ leadership position (something Rae would later do as well), or if Rae had not taken the publicly popular position of talks of merging with the NDP that was less popular with Caucus.
Even despite these two false starts, Rae was expected to trot to victory this time around so long as Justin Trudeau stayed out of the race. But with increased pressure on Trudeau to enter, and personal polling numbers for Rae hovering around where they were in 2006, a clear shot at victory seemed less possible in recent weeks. But this was still not the clincher that caused Rae’s announcement this afternoon. That was caused by the most unlikely thing: social media and the public discussions of Party members.
As late as Sunday, Rae was thought to be running for sure. It was said that he had a team in place and was personally ready to go. But after a story broke on CBC News last Thursday confirming that the National Board would approve Rae’s candidacy (despite the fact that the Board did not meet until today), enormous backlash erupted across various social media platforms. A Rae candidacy had always sparked almost as much negative feedback as positive even as far back as 2006, but this was something different. This was Party members speaking up loudly about how they wanted to see the Party proceed with its leadership selection process. Sometime between Thursday and today, the membership came in loud and clear.
The continued stewardship of the Party on an interim basis by Bob Rae is very positive for the Party. Rae is an able parliamentarian and will provide a steady hand during what could be a very interesting leadership race. During his press conference today, Rae seemed more relaxed than I’ve ever seen him. Despite many beginning to ponder when he will retire from politics, I instead think this talented man has greatness left to give, especially as a transitional leader for the Party. Ted Kennedy’s best work came after the burden of running for the Presidency was lifted off his shoulders. I suspect Bob Rae will do the same, unburdened by the need to be too careful and able to unleash his full parliamentary genius on our opposition.
Leadership Convention – Fertile Ground
Though Trudeau may still enter, the Party currently faces a leadership situation with no clear frontrunner(s) for the first time in our history. King had fashioned himself as the right-hand man of a dying Laurier long before the 1919 leadership race. St. Laurent was the hand-picked choice of King on his own retirement, and Pearson the choice of St. Laurent. While the race was crowded in 1968 with a number of extremely talented individuals including several cabinet ministers, Pierre Trudeau entered the convention hall in Ottawa as the clear favourite. 1984 was a clear battle between Turner and Chretien just as 1990 was between Chretien and Martin. 2003 was always Paul Martin’s to win and Ignatieff was touted as the next Prime Minister of Canada and Liberal leader long before he even returned to Canada to run for leader in 2006. Though Dion and to a lesser extent Pierre Trudeau may have been surprise choices at the time, those races were never thought to be anyone’s game where pundits and Party members alike watched the race unfold with no clue how it might turn out. I can’t think of anything more exciting for a political Party and if Bob Rae’s greatest gift is strong leadership through a difficult period of rebuilding, then perhaps an truly open contest for Party leader is his second greatest gift.
The membership, by being so vocal in the last week, demanded the kind of race they wish to have. Over the past year, the on-the-ground membership have decided a great deal. After this past week and the influence the membership has wielded, it seems to me that the Party has never prepared more fertile ground for the grassroots to flourish.
I have long believed, and perhaps naively, that the best way to grow a political party is to constantly go out and engage the electorate. I know the value in voter identification and pulling the vote, but at some point that strategy will only yield a smaller and smaller group to call upon. When voters are treated as mere numbers, they often remove themselves from the equation altogether. As political parties increasingly target and micro-target their vote, they will capture a greater number of their supporters and get them to the polls, but there will be less of those same supporters to draw from. As the margin of victory decreases, so too does the chance of a repeat.
There was a time in Canada when conservatives were the Party of big business and wall street and the Liberals captured the rural vote. There was also a time when Liberals could count on the support of those less financially well off. Yet business, the ‘rural vote’ and low-income Canadians have increasingly moved on to other political parties and Liberals have slumped to a record low level of support. Why? The Liberal Party of Canada, over the course of the last decade, abandoned the principle of equality of opportunity it spent decades securing to our national fabric, and did so in favour of insulating the few based on solely on feel-good reasoning.
The Family Pack aka Treating Voters Like Purchasers
I do not believe for one second that one policy, one person, or one decision led to the results of the 2011 election for the Liberal Party of Canada. I do believe that straight out of the gate the Liberal Party treated policy like a commodity and the electorate like purchasers. It could be argued that all election platforms come across this way but I believe that in order to inspire you need to provide inspiration. The 2011 Liberal platform was remarkably indistinguishable from the Conservative platform, right down to lacking any grand vision for this beautiful country we call Canada.
What it lacked in particular was any dedication to equality of opportunity, the heart of the Liberal tradition in Canada, and the legacy of Pearson in particular. Equality of opportunity means resetting the starting point but putting no limit, no ceiling on one’s potential once started. It is not equality of result but an equal shot at that result in a world otherwise determined by uncontrolled circumstance. It is the belief that the only barriers to the success of an individual is themselves.
It does not always work out that way and equality of opportunity is better viewed as a philosophy to strive for than a reality easily achieved. Still, the point remains that it must be strived for.
Rather than take up this challenge, the Liberal Party merely listed off the sins of their opposition and replied with the Family Pack.
The details of this plan can still be found here but the ultimate take away was truly beneficial programs for any family that wanted them (more or less). My issue was never with what was being offered, which were all worthwhile programs. My problem was the same as it always is with governance policies that treat everyone the same regardless of their circumstances: not everyone has the same needs, at the same level, or even in the same way. Just because you’re a family doesn’t mean you have the same needs as other families. Families are as unique as individuals. And spreading funding and/or programming equally across families or individuals regardless of their circumstances or needs is poor policy making. It results in an inefficient governance system that ultimately under serves those in the most need to satisfy specific groups of targeted voters.
The clear target of the Liberal Party was middle-income Canadians, specifically those in the sandwich generation, some of which who could really use support from their government. But simply falling into a policy demographic, caring for elderly parents and having children still in school, does not in itself mean someone requires support from the government. The individual circumstances of Canadians in this group and all others varies greatly from person to person. Policy that does not recognize that fact over serves some at the expense of others. Equal treatment of unequal people is not equality.
The Learning Passport was a great example of a decent idea that missed the point. Yes, education costs are rising and yes, bursaries rather than increased loan ceilings are definitely the way to go. Freezing tuition only means larger increases later as the cost of education, like everything else, will continue to rise. The Learning Passport checked all of these boxes. But what at first seems like a fair deal for all students (and their families), would have taken funding that could have been allocated to those students who needed greater financial support to attend post-secondary, and instead allocated it to other students regardless of their ability to pay. Michael Ignatieff repeatedly stated during the campaign that if ‘you get the grades, you get to go’ to a post-secondary institution. But this is a promise easier kept if funding is secured for those in actual need of the support, rather than anyone with an interest in attending. The opportunity of some would-be students should never come second to the privilege of others. Equality of opportunity demands that a truly Liberal post-secondary education policy close the gap in the opportunity of our nation’s students, not continue a disadvantage beyond their control.
Widening Our Scope
The so-called middle class does not have it easy and is increasingly less comfortable in Canada today. The sandwich generation, a subset of this group and a group which most political policy decisions appear to revolve around, have great challenges facing them in today’s society. But they are not the only people in Canada. In order to widen the scope of the Party again, I believe there are three broad voting blocks (if they can be generalized so grossly as to be called that) the Liberal Party needs to reach out and engage with in order to earn governance once more. I believe we have a natural affinity with each of these groups and should engage rather than continue to overlook this fact in favour of a narrow focus on a specific group of Canadians.
Business Canada – Our Competitive Advantage
It was not that long ago that Liberals dominated the economic debate in this country yet we have completely ceded ground to a governing party whose record on this file fails to inspire any kind of confidence unless compared to economies crashing around the world. And even then, it is the sound foundation that the Liberal Party built that has largely seen us through the same dark financial times. Strong economic policy and a healthy business environment can once again be the hallmark of the Liberal Party.
This may seem like an odd choice for spreading the philosophy of equality of opportunity across Canada but there is an argument to be made here. Business has long been attracted to Canada because of competitive tax rates and generous social services that put less onus on business to provide those things for their employees since the government already provides them to its citizens. But since the Conservative government took office we have seen corporate tax rates plummet to levels that aren’t required to keep Canada competitive to new business. Our corporate taxes are low simply for the sake of being low rather than having proven connection to increased business.
We have also seen a lack of vision in the future of our healthcare system which provides greater risk to businesses. They have previously been able to rely on doing business in a country with a strong social safety net. Corporate tax reductions added billions to Canada’s deficit and inhibits our ability to secure the fiscal future of our healthcare system. Deficits, unecessarily low taxes, and a declining social safety net are all negatives for business expansion in Canada.
There is probably no business out there that doesn’t want a competitive advantage but in Canada that advantage has always been our people and how we support them as a country. I can’t imagine a business wishing to be put at a disadvantage and the disastrous economic policies of Flaherty and Harper are increasingly doing just that.
I recently attended a pub night featuring a discussion on democratic reform led by Stephane Dion. After the discussion, I spoke with Gerard Kennedy about the importance of rural ridings and how Liberal values are not diametrically opposed to those of Canadians living in rural communities across this country. I came away believing more and more that this was true, that rural Canadians (and all Canadians for that matter), just want a fair shot at a good life that they can be proud to live. A life where the disadvantages they might begin with have no bearing on where they might end up in life. I have come to increasingly believe that the same values of community togetherness and individual freedom so alive in the Liberal Party are on full display everyday in rural communities across Canada. Close-knit communities that understand the importance of looking out for one another while still having the freedom and responsibility to make of life what one can. I cannot think of values that are more Liberal and it is time the Party recognized this in rural Canadians rather than writing them off before the writ has even dropped.
While much political discussion is focused on the increasingly squeezed middle class, low-income Canadians have been more or less forgotten by the current Conservative government. In 2008 the Liberal Party made a bold campaign promise about substantially reducing child poverty in Canada. This fell off the radar in 2011 when a simple affordable child care promise was recycled from Liberal platforms from the 1990s. I may be mistaken but I can’t recall much else in the platform geared to those struggling the most to make ends meet or for who programs like affordable child care would help most. At the same time, I don’t recall this promise being geared to those most in need but merely those in need of spaces in general.
The town I grew up in has gone back and forth between Liberals and Conservatives over the last few decades but has been blue for the last two elections. The NDP, even with a slight surge in 2011, has never been in a factor in the riding and it has always been a two-horse race. However, there is one interesting poll in the entire riding that echoes a strange split that occurs across the country. That poll splits into thirds with more or less equal support between all three major parties. However, this is the only poll where Liberals come in third. This is also a poll in one of the lowest-income areas of the town and from my time at the door I have come to notice that voters in that poll support the Conservatives and the NDP for (confusingly) similar reasons. They support Conservatives because they believe that party will allow them to keep more of their hard earned money and not tax it away from them. Others support the NDP because they believe that through taxes that party will ensure a safety net and fill the holes their income just can’t.
It is in this divide that I believe the Liberal Party can step into and clearly be the best choice for those struggling the most in our society. Conservatives tend to believe in circumstance as fairness and the NDP believes in equality of result regardless of personal actions. The Liberal Party instead believes in the kind of equality of opportunity that offers a hand up when necessary and keeps hands off where involvement would create barriers to the greater well-being of Canadians.
I believe the Liberal Party can do more for low-income Canadians by removing circumstantial barriers to their financial success and providing them with the tools to succeed in ways they might have never imagined.
The Liberal Way: Equality of Opportunity
Canadians are already living the values we have traditionally shared as a Party: caring for one another while simultaneously endeavouring to live up to our own individual potential. We live in a country where we believe the circumstances of one’s birth should have no bearing on what that person will achieve in life. It is what Canadians – Indigenous peoples, landed-immigrants, and descendent of immigrants – have been doing on our soil for hundreds of years. Ours is the story of a collective belief in progress and working together to be the best version of ourselves as individuals and as a country. The Liberal Party did not bring this philosophy to Canada, Canadians brought it to the Liberal Party. And those same Canadians still espouse it today. If we as a Party return to those values, Canadians will return to us.
Lawrence Martin is perhaps this country’s most important political writer in the last 25 years. Martin’s work in newspapers and books spans decades and shows no bias to any political stance beyond pursuit of the truth. Martin has written about presidents and the Prime Ministers of Canada, including a two-volume series on John Chretien and most recently, a detailed and damning book on Stephen Harper that remains altogether fair in its condemnation of his premiership.
That book, Harperland, won wide-spread acclaim and was listed as one of the best books on Canadian politics in the last 25 years in a recent poll.
I have yet to read a column by Martin in the Globe and Mail, where he has long worked, that I have not found fair and balanced. Many have been scathing but all have been accurate. Martin is a rare journalist who holds everyone to account for their conduct and is unrelenting in his criticism of those who abandon principle for their own gain.
‘Character is Fate’
For holding our politicians and ourselves as voters to account for the decisions we make, Lawrence Martin is a Champion of Democracy. His contributions to our national political discourse regularly improves the fabric of our collective narrative. With each new column or book comes a reminder that all hope is not lost in politics so long as there remain guardians of the truth – people like Lawrence Martin.
“Before this prime minister, many leaders paid a steep price for exceeding their bounds of authority. They would have done well to recall the adage of the philosopher Heraclitus: ‘Character is fate.’”
After a devastating loss at the federal level, local Liberal youth in Barrie, Ontario formed a brand new Young Liberal club in their city. I came to notice this group during the lead up to the Liberal Party of Canada’s 2012 Biennial Convention because of the stellar work this group did in vetting the candidates nominated for election to the National Executive Board. This newly formed youth group was able to get all candidates for National Policy Chair to visit their town and discuss their platforms with the local Young Liberal club. BYL (Barrie Young Liberals) achieved this through the sheer force of their own hunger for information in order to ensure they’d be informed delegates at the Biennial convention. Essentially, they acted as I wish every voter in this country would – they got engaged, they got involved, and they got informed. They did not wait to be noticed or to be encouraged to participate. They acted and through their fearlessness they achieved a great deal.
But they did not just inform themselves. They went a step further and filmed these valuable meetings so that they could share their experience with other delegates. They did not stop at the bare minimum or even the exceptional. They continued their outreach until they had achieved something extraordinary. This is also how I wish every voter in Canada acted – not just as engaged citizens but as engaging citizens, reaching out to those around them and encouraging others to do the same.
BYL Gives Back
What BYL has done for the internal democracy of the Liberal Party of Canada is substantial but only the beginning of why the Barrie Young Liberals are what I would consider true Champions of Democracy. They have gone beyond participating in important events dedicated to the discussion of important issues in society or volunteering on campaigns beyond their riding borders, as they did recently in Toronto-Danforth. They have done those things too, but also so much more. In the short time the club has existed, they have also participated in countless community events and supported numerous charitable causes. They have volunteered together at the Salvation Army Bayside Mission in Barrie and will soon be participating in the MS Society’s MS Walk to end multiple sclerosis. Despite being a political club, their service is to their community and it is individuals like the members of this club that give me great hope for the future of politics in this country.
The True Expression of Our Aims
The club’s relentless focus on bettering their community and by extension our society is to be commended. But just as impressive as the work the club is doing is the fact that these are young adults dedicating their free time to the causes and beliefs that led them to get involved in politics to begin with. Too often those in politics begin with good intentions and get lost along the way, distracted by other, less meaningful concerns. It is my hope that the Barrie Young Liberals are celebrated by their peers at the upcoming Ontario Young Liberal Annual General Meeting in May for the exceptional work they have done and the inspiring blueprint they have laid out for other Young Liberal clubs. They have demonstrated clearly that politics can be a fruitful, rewarding, and meaningful pursuit when your purpose is genuine and your actions are the true expression of your aims.