Last night on the CBC’s “At Issue” panel, the three regular panelists and host Peter Mansbridge worried aloud about the state of democracy in Canada. Is it, in fact, at risk? Well, although each panelist had different reasons for thinking democracy in Canada was, indeed, at risk, the implication was that it was somehow all the fault of the Conservative “minority” government because:
- It had promised to do things differently, but allegedly hadn’t;
- The chickens were coming home to roost, whatever that was supposed to mean; and
- Since the opposition was too weak to bring it down, it somehow was lacking in accountability and transparency.
Reality check! I don’t recall news readers, panelists or anchors at CBC complaining about the state of democracy when the Liberal Party of Canada (LPOC), under Prime Ministers Jean Chretien and Paul Martin, dominated the federal scene for thirteen years — in solid “majority” parliaments where no one could call them to account for anything. Talk about a double standard!
However, all that said, I actually do agree with the “At Issue” panelists, albeit for very different reasons. Democracy is at risk in Canada and has been ever since the federal election of 1993. Because, up to that point, in living memory at least, there were always two political parties that could form a government. Meaning, while one governed, the other was viewed as a government in waiting — a fact that kept the governing party on their toes. That was no longer the case after the 1993 election because the PC party had been decimated, rightly or wrongly, winning only two seats. As a result, from that day forward to 2005, the right was weak in this country. Then, the Progressive Conservatives and Canadian Alliance came together to form the Conservative Party of Canada (CPC).
Now, however, because of the Sponsorship Scandal, which can’t be swept away with Conservative “faux scandals” and distractions, or the claim made that the “In and Out” is of the same severity (which it isn’t), the Liberals are weak. Meaning, they and their media supporters have to stop blaming the Conservatives for everything, including the CPC attack ads. If there was no truth to the ads, no one would be paying attention.
In fact, there is nothing to stop the LPOC from using similar attack ads. All they have to do is raise the money to do so. And, yes, there is the catch 22 situation. If you are not offering anything new or you have simply anointed your leader, then money is going to be hard to raise. Well, it is long past time the Liberals did something other than project their own weaknesses onto the Conservative government and party. The risk of course, if they don’t, is the same thing that happened to the PCs in 1993 will happen to them in the next federal election.
So, it is time the LPOC and the Liberal parliamentary caucus systematically renewed themselves by:
- Showing some real remorse for the Sponsorship Scandal and clearly articulating why it will never happen again;
- Choosing a different leader that Canadians can identify with and one that has gone through a democratic grassroots leadership race;
- Putting forward social and economic policies that average Canadians can relate too — particularly those of us who were progressive conservatives — that don’t put us further into deficit; and last, but not least,
- Not reflecting their desperate “we are entitled to our entitlements” and “we are the natural governing party” attitude in their haste to get back into government.
In other words, Canadian voters know what they are doing. They did not make a mistake in the 2006 and 2008 election campaigns when they elected the Conservatives under Stephen Harper. And, they know, instinctively that two strong federal parties are what Canada needs to make it a strong, competitive and vibrant democracy. However, whether or not that happens, is now up to the Liberals, not the Conservatives.