I've been wanting to write this post for along time. How to say it? When to say it? The time seems right now. In 2011 I left the PC party as the government it represents was so corrupt I could no longer bare associating myself with it. Others will say it was poor sportsmanship. Some have suggested political opportunism, as if leaving a Party at 75% in the polls for a Party at 14% in the polls was opportunism. No, the real reason was as stated - principle. Then the poor old Liberals looked like a rag tag band of warriors at best. Fighting the good fight, but hopelessly outgunned by a PC machine flooded with corporate donations, and generally ridiculed by the provincial media. That was then and this is now.
Three years later, and five leaders later, the PC Party twists in its death throws as it desperately avoids the fate of all tyrants. Now, the Liberals are the top guns and the media ridicules the PC's. So is the circle of life I suppose. But, what does the Liberal Party hold for the citizens of Newfoundland and Labrador when the inevitable election day comes next year?
My father was a life-long Liberal - to be sure. He campaigned to Liberal prime minister Louis St. Laurent for a unique Canadian flag. He submitted his own design for the same under Liberal Lester Pearson. He loved Pierre Trudeau. My family was a truly Liberal family. However, I've often wondered what he would make of the "modern" Liberals.
Gone are the days of the "Just Society", or important constitutional matters and nationhood. Gone is the focus on individual rights and freedoms. Missing in action is Canada as the friendly broker between combatants. Hopelessly ignored are the right of the Aboriginal peoples. All these things that once defined being Liberal have been discarded for "being a better Tory than the Tories". There is no word of a just society, or respect of the individual. There is primarily one focus - out doing the Tories as "managers of government". ie: who can spend the least. In an onslaught of extreme right wing ideology, the Liberal Party is now suffering an identity crisis. It is no longer what makes the Party Liberal. It's now about what makes the Party not Conservative. It has allowed its own identity to be dictated by its foe.
The provincial Liberal Party appears to be no different. Three years since 2011, and three leaders later, the Liberal Party's identity here is hardly distinguishable from that of the ruling PCs. Gone are the days of just three years ago when the Liberals stood in their place to fight Muskrat Falls tooth an nail. Gone is the determination to stop the project, and protect the average person from the impending financial assault the project necessarily would bring. Now it is simply a matter of managing the assault apparently. Barely visible among the Liberal candidates are the determined group that fought so hard to bring real change for the people. Real change being a definitive change to the corrupt political culture in the province, and the resulting responsible government that would bring. Instead, we have Nalcor bred candidates like Cathy Bennett (who has been promoted to Finance critic), and Grand Falls-Windsor Mayor Al Hawkins who the Tories appointed to Nalcor's Board only a short while ago. We have perennial establishment hangers on like Siobhan Coady ( big promoter of Alderon), formerly rabid PC and anti-Liberal Paul Lane, and so on and so on.
Instead of being the Party to transform Newfoundland and Labrador, the Liberal Party is looking much like the one it aims to replace. That may seem unduly harsh, and it may in fact be too harsh as the days are early, but the signs are not promising. It reminds me of the last election when, as a Liberal candidate, I found myself face to face with a salt of the earth man in the lower ends of Random Island. His main question to me: "Are you blue or red?". At the time I remember thinking surely their must be more on this man's mind than what colour my party is. Surely he must be concerned about the difference beyond the colour of our flags, but he wasn't. Perhaps therein was a pearl of wisdom.
With a now closing window before the next election, and by-election win tallies replacing serious vision, the question is are the Liberals to be any different than the Conservatives? Is it to be "Liberal Tory, same old story?" I don't know is the honest answer. My heart says no, but my brain is leaning yes. And, that really angers me. At a time in our history when we need a principled and visionary approach, the same old "pragmatism" appears to be reinventing itself. Where are the declarations on democratic reform by the Liberal Party? Where is the policy to eliminate the practice of corporate and union political donations that corrupt our democratic process? Where is the policy to determine how to halt Muskrat Falls until all the legalities are dealt with, not the least of which include: the Water Management Agreement; the Hydro-Quebec lawsuit; the Nunatsiavut lawsuits; and the Nunatukavut lawsuit. Where is the very real question of provincial debt and structural deficits? Where is the duty to our fishers. Where is a coherent, and humane approach to the fastest aging population in the western world - ours?
It's the silence that disturbs me. The silence and the familiarity of the actors entering the stage. Not many would expect the provincial Liberal Party to be "Trudeauesque". The federal Party isn't managing that yet. However, their should by now be a very clear vision toward the critical issues. The prevailing thought should not be: "silence is golden". The prevailing visual should not be a party consumed with winning, but rather a Party confident in winning based on its vision and principles - not on winning by default. Not winning, because we are not them. Not winning simply to replace one set of actors with another. The greatest betrayal of all is the Party that purports to be change, but simply carries on in the same manner - ie: Obama.
My hope and prayer is the Liberal Party defines itself, and commits itself, to being the agent of change that fundamentally improves the lives of its people - both politically and economically. Perhaps it is just that - a hope and a prayer.
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