Friday, September 29, 2006
Can Liberals win with ideas?
As I'm following the race to pick the next Liberal leader, I'm reading various different analyses from various different sources about the quality of the entire endeavour. Much of the talk is about how at least two of the three consensus frontrunners — Ignatieff and Dion, with Rae being the third — are putting forth comprehensive policy plans that attest to the new direction the party is headed.
While putting forth policy is great, it strikes me as a bit strange under these circumstances. Why? Well, because, for the life of me, I can't remember the last time Liberals put forth comprehensive policy positions, especially while in opposition. The effort may be noble in some ways, yet the Liberal party I know, and the Liberal party many Canadians know, has never been about this kind of detail regarding what they're going to do while in government. Heck, usually it's pretty simple, then they do something else when they actually get power.
I raise this point because, while it's easy to believe that policy making like this is a good thing for the party, I'm just not sure if it's something the Liberal party is ready for. They've done things a certain way for so long. To turn around and then behave like a party with policies might be somewhat easier said than done.
Liberals have generally relied on the collapse of Conservative popularity, promise the opposite, then do whatever it takes to hold onto power. An emphasis on policy changes that dynamic, and it might do so in a way Liberals are unaccustomed to.
For example, the Reform party was very good at setting out policy positions and directions while in opposition. Many argue that the fiscal discipline displayed by the Chretien/Martin Liberals was in reaction to the lead Preston Manning had taken on such issues. So, why didn't Preston Manning become prime minister? Well, among other things, Liberals just stood there and stole all the good things he had to say. Easy enough.
This is just one of the perils of being bold with while in opposition. In the end, it doesn't really matter much, and you give the government of the day plenty to cherry pick from in order to convince Canadians a change in government isn't necessary.
This might be one reason why Bob Rae has chosen a pragmatic route "without ideas." Another reason might be that the ideas he had while running Ontario almost sank the province for good.
Yet, Liberals have really never been about policy, especially while in opposition. Changing their tune on short notice may look great, but may be hard to do for a party so used to being about power and power only.
I should also add that both Ignatieff and Dion, who pride themselves on policy, have barely spoken a word about ethics and accountability during this entire race. Yes, the transition from the past isn't going to be that easy, is it?