a, Opinion

State of the Liberal leadership race

Now that the American election is finally over, we can once again set our sights closer to home, where an interesting leadership battle is brewing in the Liberal caucus between Martha Hall-Findlay, Justin Trudeau, and more recently, Marc Garneau—who is expected to declare his candidacy very soon.

As things stand now, the Conservatives and New Democrats are playing it politically safe, each trusting that a cautious approach will lead them to victory in the next election. In contrast, the reduction to third party status has forced the Liberals to break this tedious pattern. They have attempted to distinguish themselves from the other parties by putting forward some innovative ideas with yet-to-be-determined results. The Liberals hope that these pioneering ideas will draw immediate attention to their upcoming leadership convention—attention which will later be parlayed into further electoral gains.

Sketch by Ben Ko
Sketch by Ben Ko

Justin Trudeau made a big splash this week by declaring himself unabashedly in favour of a Chinese petroleum company’s attempt to buy Nexen, a Calgary-based oil company. Meanwhile, the Conservatives have been hemming and hawing about the proposed deal, stating that they need to consider Canada’s economic interest, in defiance of the party’s supposed pro free market principles. Unsurprisingly, the New Democratic Party (NDP) has come out against the bill, arguing that it is selling Canada’s sovereignty, apparently unaware that this practice is common in all developed economies. Trudeau has also given tentative support to marijuana’s potential decriminalization in the future, a position that will likely prove popular amongst wide swathes of the population.

Martha Hall-Findlay has also swung to the right on some economic positions, declaring that the policy of supply management in the dairy and poultry sectors is an antiquated relic from Canada’s past. Marc Garneau has similarly been critical of the Tories’ economic stewardship, and he will likely run his campaign promising increased fiscal leadership.

All of the above seem to be incredibly tactical moves on the Liberals’ part. The Liberal Party of the ’90s is best remembered for its sensible economic policies that reversed Canada’s economic decline. While Canada has handled the recession better than most other Western countries, the Conservatives’ promise to balance the budget continues to be pushed back, and growth has been less than stellar these past few quarters. The Liberals seem to be positioning themselves as responsible fiscal conservatives with more liberal social policies—a ploy that they calculate is a winning formula.

However, there is still a lot more fine-tuning that the Liberals need to do if they expect to regain their position as Canada’s default ruling power. The Liberals must take the attitude that winning the next election would be an unexpected bonus, and that it is more important to broadly position the party for the future. The fiscally conservative message will go some ways in rehabilitating the Party’s Western support, although recent derogatory comments about the West continue to plague their efforts. The Grits must also find a way to win back traditional Liberal seats in Quebec. Having a native son such as Trudeau or Garneau at the helm would certainly help there.

What all Canadians can hope for is that a rejuvenated Liberal party will not only be a boon for Liberal supporters, but that their cohesive message will force the Conservatives and New Democrats to step up their game as well. The cautious approach taken by both the Conservatives and the NDP robs Canada of potentially impactful legislative accomplishments, and is not to the country’s benefit. So far, the Liberal leadership campaign has broken historical taboos around foreign takeovers, and criticized outdated economic practices that have not been challenged in a long time. A more open-ended and innovative political culture is desperately needed in these times, and the Liberal campaign is a great step on the path of redeeming our stodgy and monotonous election cycles.

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One Comment

  1. Great sketch!

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