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THE “CENTRE” OR POLARIZATION?
Pundits are busy writing the obituary of the Liberal Party, and the party no doubt has a long way to go to get itself back on a road to recovery. But its chances of doing so should not be lightly dismissed.
Two factors underpin Liberal resilience, despite the humbling events of recent times.
One is the determined commitment of significant numbers of Canadians who sincerely self-identify as "liberal", and who will not easily abandon their deeply cherished views. In a country as big, diverse and complicated as Canada, these remarkably stubborn "people of the centre" believe passionately that tolerance, inclusion, accommodation and moderation are better governing principles than polarized ideologies of right or left.
The other factor creating some hope and opportunity for Liberals is the ongoing emergence of issues that lend themselves to pragmatic, centrist approaches rooted in some real experience.
On one front, the Harper government is again flipping its position on the deficit. It’s no longer committed to finding a phantom $11 billion in extra space in its fiscal framework so it can balance its books by 2014.
This was the core Conservative economic promise in this past campaign. But now, it seems jettisoned, just like previous Conservative promises about equalization, income trusts, no recession, avoiding deficits, greater access to information, warplanes coming in on-budget, etc.
And don't expect the new crop of NDPers to fight for fiscal responsibility. There was none evident in their profligate $70 billion platform.
On a second front, the social conservatives who dominate this government's backbenches are busy attending rallies, trying to pry the lid off their favourite causes.
Mr. Harper says he won't bring such issues to the fore, but watch for him to use his majority to advance a social agenda through the back-door -- quickly packing the Supreme Court with fellow travelers on the right to fill at least two immediate vacancies, and supporting a plethora of Conservative Private Members' Bills.
In the Courts and in the Commons, voices from the rational centre are needed to defend the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the vulnerable minorities who depend upon it. Social cohesion hangs in the balance.
Then there's the call from Preston Manning for Alberta and Quebec to get together on a plan to gut the legitimacy of the federal government and push much more extensive decentralization of Canada's federation. What better time than now, with a unfettered Harper regime that has never believed in a strong federal government anyway and an official opposition whose sudden success is linked to nationalist support in Quebec? Who will speak for Canada?
And what of the policy elephant in the room for the immediate future -- the renegotiation of the federal-provincial-territorial health accord that expires in 2014?
Will the shaping of medicare for years to come be best served by a polarized argument between ideologues on the left and right, or by pragmatic centrists who truly believe in a universal, publicly funded system and are willing to innovate to save it?