Dreary future

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The Article

Even Liberals admit party must change if it wants to win

Canada’s federal Liberals are a party without principles, so it’s refreshing to see their lack of principles have finally caught up with them.

Everywhere you see Prime Minister Stephen Harper on the front pages or headlining television newscasts in dynamic events, whether it’s at the controls of a military transport plane, his daunting trip to the battlegrounds of Afghanistan, or dressed in heavy-duty firefighters garb with flames flaring behind him.

He’s the man of the moment. The man with momentum.

Moving relentlessly ahead as he puts his policies into place and dares the three opposition parties to bring him down.

But for all their snivelling and sniping, neither the Liberals, Jack Layton’s New Democrats or Gilles Duceppe’s Bloc Quebecois dare take a chance on an election right now.

They fear a Conservative majority in the offing.

Layton’s New Democrats might pretty much remain where they are in seats if a new election is held—the 29 they won last Jan. 23. Or they may lose half-a-dozen. No gains, for sure.

Duceppe’s Bloc could expect to lose at least 10 of the 51 seats it won.

Perhaps more.

All to the Conservatives.

What of the Liberals and their 103 seats?

Well, the party’s in a mess.

Their leadership campaign isn’t sparking much interest, the race is now between self-styled academic Michael Ignatieff, who might well split the party in two if he wins; former Ontario premier Bob Rae, who ran his province just about into bankruptcy and certainly into labour chaos; and former environment minister Stephane Dion ,who has virtually no following outside of Quebec.

Hardly an optimistic picture.

That’s one reason all the candidates, even the above mentioned frontrunners, are having difficulty raising money.

Party rules say they can spend up to $3.4 million on their campaigns, but with barely three months to go, not one of them has raised even a quarter of that.

Add to that, fundraising by the party in general is in the dumps.

In the first quarter of this year, the party raised $1.3 million compared to $5.6 million for the Conservatives.

Another telling figure, Liberal party donors totalled only 6,500 compared to 37,000 Conservative donors.

The Conservatives have a huge and widespread donor base—last year well over 100,000 individual donors—while the Grits have relied on large donations from big business.

So Harper’s legislation banning all corporate and union donations and limiting personal contributions to $1,000 from each donor will hit the Liberals even harder.

The ban on union donations will hit the New Democrats, too, but they also have a wide range of individual donors who can be counted on to give constantly, if in small amounts.

Just last week an internal Liberal assessment paper painted a dreary future for the party, even though it was optimistically titled A Party Built to Win.

It actually centred in on the new federal financing rules of Bill C-2, which puts a limit of $1,000 on individual donations, saying “This is a blatant attack, aimed squarely at our party’s political jugular.”

The assessment covered much more, most of it negative.

Aside from fundraising needing overhauling, it noted the party had an outdated organization structure, built mainly on provincial parties with a lack of central control, and even concluded in its present form the party apparatus is “not sustainable.”

How’s this for a damning indictment: “We steadfastly believe the choice in front of us is relatively simple—change or become unable to win.”

Yet can the party change?

Recall this is a party governed from the top down.

From Pierre Trudeau to Jean Chretien to Paul Martin, MPs toed the line or were ostracized. Not only cabinet ministers, but backbench MPs were not allowed to vote their conscience.

Compare that to the Conservatives—or its predecessors, Reform and the Canadian Alliance—in which everyone got to have a say.

Isn’t that what democracy is all about?

And isn’t that what the federal Liberals are not at all about?

The bottom line, the foundation is rotten.


Paul Jackson
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