Friday, October 31, 2008

What the Party (and Liblogs) do and don't need.

My last idea-centric blog post got some positive attention, and maybe got some people thinking of ways we can "re-discover" liberalism and build up again. However, a quick look at Liblogs today shows that we are in danger of falling into bad habits, slandering each other, thinking plots are behind every corner, and acting overly defensive. I don't want to bog myself down in the same things I have just criticized, but I do feel the need to say that as someone who volunteered for Adam Miron for the past several months, I know he is as dedicated and committed to the Liberal Party as anyone who you will ever find, and who has done/did an excellent job both pre and during the election in ensuring that the Young Liberals, and particularly our online vector, were prepared, ready, and active during the writ period.

Now, on to more substantive ideas for renewal and invigoration of the party:

-Don't ghettoize women's issues. I am very proud of the Liberal Party that in the last election we ran the most female candidates of any party, exceeding the quota of 1/3rd that Mr. Dion had set out, and we elected strong female candidates like Bonnie Crombie. However, overall, this election was a failure in terms of reaching out to female voters. As Harper noted (correctly, sadly) during the election, "We no longer have a female problem, the Liberals have a male problem." The Conservatives elected a number of new female candidates, have lots of women in cabinet, and made gains with women despite only running 20% female candidates, attacking women's funding, etc, while the Liberals made great efforts to promote and present female candidates and women's issues, including the Pink Book. These results I think bust a few myths about winning the female vote. One of them was that the centre and centre/left can take the women's vote for granted. I think after we rolled out things like the Pink Book, going over the quota, the gender equity etc, we assumed we would maintain our advantage with female voters. During the election, other then a couple of times when we "highlighted" female candidates, we never really focused on women's issues, and never gave female voters a strong message to vote Liberal other then "Hey, we are running lots of women and have a 2 year old policy document! Vote for us!" Tied into this approach was our attacks on the Conservatives for attacking Status of Women and closing regional offices. Rather then tie it into an overarching theme as to how Conservative ideology damages the advancement of women as individuals, which in turn damages our society and our economy, we tried to turn into into the "scandal of the day" approach, like we did with ever issue we thought we could nail the Conservatives on, which in hindsight broadly failed. The Conservatives, while offering a weak platform, that while not going into specifics, was broad and generally pushed themes like security, while attacking the Liberals as dangerous. While this attempt may not have directly focused on women (although the kitchen ad released near the end of the election was definitely targeted at them) but the gains the Conservatives made over the last weekend of the campaign reflected overall growth across demographic lines. I think this speaks to the need for broad platforming and messaging, particularly as we re-build from the centre. We need to learn how to send a message to Canadians that cuts across demographic lines, rather then tailoring policies or issuing demographic specific documents that speaks to Canadians as individuals. Obviously women do bring different skills and perspectives to the table, and they need to play a big role in crafting party policy, but we cannot ghettoize the important policy inputs and perspectives they have. The exact same thing goes for multicultural groups as well, another important groups of individuals we can no longer take for granted.

-Don't abandon the environment. Many pundits are speculating that the party will move away from environmentalism in order to escape the shadow of Dion's defeat and the Green Shift. This is something we need to avoid. Certainly, we need to re-focus our message into one of individual based, market-driven Green Liberalism, rather then of a redistributionist environmental plan, but the environment and the economy of tomorrow are both pillars the Liberals must continue to tie together. The need to maintain active on this file is demonstrated by the recent moving of Jim Prentice into the Environmental portfolio by the Conservatives. Unlike the climate-change denialist Rona Ambrose, and the hyperpartisan John Baird, Prentice is not a man who is sent in to neutralize an issue, but to develop a moderate, pragmatic solution. If the Liberals back away from the issue, expect Prentice to deliver an actual Conservative plan for the environment, to fill any policy vaccum left by a Liberal retreat. We cannot allow the Conservatives to own any issue.

-Do fight the Conservatives on their own turf. A few months ago, I was talking to a high-profile Liberal who is identified as being on the left of the party, and I asked him/her about any potential danger our new Green Shift could be painted as a tax grab, and that by focusing on the environmental aspects of the plan, the tax cut aspects would be overshadowed, and they answered that we weren't going to really attempt to fight the Conservatives on the tax issue, that we wouldn't do things like match or go beyond tax cuts promised by the Conservatives. As it turned out, that the Conservatives did, in fact attack the Green Shift as a tax grab, and that the tax cutting elements of the plan were, in fact overshadowed, while the Conservatives won an economy focused election. With all due respect to this Liberal, who does bring many good and new ideas to the party, and who was talking about renewal before it was a fad, we must refuse to cede an inch of ground to the Conservatives on issues like tax cuts and the economy, even if these are traditionally seen as conservative friendly issues. If we do not define ourselves as a party which has, and will in the future, be able to deliver balanced budgets, and more money in individuals pockets, then we allow the Conservatives to paint us as just another centre-left party, indistinguishable from the NDP or Greens, and not the effective economic managers we are. In terms of using this to link economic and social policy, I quote Frank McKenna; "The best social program is a job."

No comments: