Tuesday, 4 November 2008

Liberal leadership prospects narrow

John Manley announced today that he will not be a candidate for the Liberal leadership, surprising many pundits. The non-candidacies of Manley and former New Brunswick Premier Frank McKenna means that the support of the powerful Business Liberal faction of the Liberal Party will coalesce behind Michael Ignatieff. This sets the scene for a showdown with Bob Rae at next year's leadership convention with Rae arguing that the Liberals should lead a "unite the left" movement and Ignatieff calling for the Liberals to move "back" to the centre. Both these arguments are deeply flawed.

Bob Rae sees himself as a Canadian Obama but he's really the Great White North's answer to Joe Lieberman. He is, with good cause, viewed by New Democrats as a traitor for obvious reasons and a fraud who squandered the miraculous opportunity given the Ontario NDP in 1990 to permanently reshape politics in that province and the country thanks to his abandonment of public auto insurance and his betrayal of labour through the social contract. Rae can no more "unite the left" under his banner than Sarah Palin can unite feminists under hers. While Rae's ego and arrogance leads him to believe that NDP and Green voters would flock to him because of the force of his personality he is, in fact, not only loathed by NDP activists who would balk at any formal co-operation between the NDP and Rae's Liberals but he is deeply mistrusted by progressives, unionists and conscientious working class voters even if they are not NDP partisans. For the Liberals "uniting the left" may make sense as a strategy (though it makes no sense for the left to put their faith in the Liberals), Rae is just about the last person who can bring that concept to fruition.

Meanwhile, Ignatieff and other Business Liberals have argued since October 14th that the reason the Liberal Party lost the election is that they have strayed too far from the "centre" (meaning the centre-right). This is a fallacious argument based on the false premise that the Liberals moved to the left under Dion. In fact, Dion's prescriptions for the country were very much in the centre-right tradition of the Chretien-Martin years. The "carbon tax" which would have shifted taxation from progressive income and corporate taxes to a regressive consumption tax is an eco-capitalist, centre-right, prescription to the environmental crisis that sees the market mechanisms as the solution to global warming and has been embraced by centre right leaders such as BC's Gordon Campbell. Carbon tax aside, Dion has argued that the Harper government has not gone far enough to implement corporate tax cuts saying “A low corporate tax rate is not a right-wing policy or a left-wing policy. It is a sound policy” and, at least before the global economic crisis, he opposed any expansion of government's role in the economy and was open to the idea of private-public partnerships and other incursions by the private sector into public services. The Dion led Liberals showed no interest in tax fairness, in combatting corporate globalization, reversing cuts to EI or any other widespread restoration of social programs to their pre-Chretien state.

The Liberal Party's electoral success has always been based on running from the left - or more accurately fooling Canadians into thinking that a Liberal government would govern from the left while privately assuring corporate interests that promises such as the Chretien era pledges to scrap the GST, scrap NAFTA, implement a national housing strategy or child care would not be implemented in the end. "Campaign from the left and govern from the right" is the formula that has allowed the Liberals to win support from working class and lower and middle income stratas as well as from a healthy section of the business community. The proposition by business Liberals that the party lost the election because they were too left wing is based not on facts but is simply an attempt to rally opposition within the party against the more progressive wing of the party.
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2 comments:

Anonymous said...

When has Rae ever said his goal is to unite the left? You are making this up.

And since when did Ignatieff, a political scientist, academic, deep thinker become a business liberal? You're making that up too. You've been spun on both counts

Firebrand said...

In an election night interview on CTV, a split screen joint interview with both men Rae argued that the Liberals could join with the other opposition parties to defeat the government in the House echoing something he'd said in his acceptance speech , Ignatieff dismissed this as "political science fiction" and said that the Liberal Party has to move "back to the centre". Since then a number of Business Liberals in interviews have echoed this view.

I'm quite happy to bet you that in the upcoming leadership race Rae will continue to argue, as he did last time, that he can attract votes from NDPers and others on the left and bring the Liberals back to power with a majority while Ignatieff will argue, as he did on election night, that the party needs to move back to the centre and win back centrist voters from the Tories.

Next time, it might be a good idea for you to wait until your questions are answered before deciding that anything's been made up.