National Post columnist Andrew Coyne recently stated that political moderation is often a discussion of tone rather than substantive policy.
Coyne was referring to the NDP, which has been rewarded for striking a moderate tone, despite their largely stagnant policy positions. However, it is clear this concept also works, albeit in reverse, for Stephen Harper’s Conservatives.
A large percentage of Canadians agree with the government’s package of legislative reforms meant to bolster “growth and long-term prosperity,” including the wealth of bilateral trade agreements and aggressive attempts to slay the federal deficit.
As a result, what most people find wrong with the Conservatives is their approach to implementing and articulating these policies. Canadians recoil when faced with corruption, massive omnibus legislation, procedural wrangling and intolerance for dissent.
In short, while Canadians are fixated on economic performance, they also broadly sense that something isn’t quite right on Parliament Hill.
For now, they’ve settled this discomfort by embracing the NDP.
Yet procedural issues and accountability matters do not resonate with the electorate (ask Michael Ignatieff) and Canadians will eventually question the practical nature of long-term NDP policies, as they always have in the past.
This deficit of proper tone on the one hand, and proper policy on the other gives the Liberal Party of Canada a substantial opportunity.
Of all the leadership candidates, Martha Hall Findlay is the best person to take advantage of it.
Hall Findlay, 52, is an executive fellow at the University of Calgary’s School of Public Policy. She is a former Liberal member of Parliament for the Toronto riding of Willowdale, an accomplished Ontario businesswoman, lawyer and mother of three.
Within the typical fratricidal speak of the Liberal Party of Canada, Hall Findlay would undoubtedly be characterized as a Paul Martin Liberal rather than a Pierre Trudeau/Jean Chretien stalwart.
For her, the Liberal Party hinges on the importance of free enterprise; of economic competence coupled with principles of equality of opportunity and social justice.
Within the framework of the Liberals’ leadership personality cult, Hall Findlay falls on the wrong side of history. Yet her activism within the party, and her populist appeal outside it, place her on the moral high ground.
It is precisely because Hall Findlay’s potential victory this year would break the party away from its misguided “tradition” of swapping between male francophone and male anglophone leaders that her candidacy should be seriously considered. It is precisely because she does not attach the surname of a long retired or defeated prime minister to her Liberal moniker that the membership (and the media) should begin paying attention.
And even outside the historical selection of the Liberals’ first female leader, having a woman at the proverbial table with the likes of coarse partisans Stephen Harper and Thomas Mulcair, would certainly help the Liberals strike the right, contrasting tone.
However, as I’ve already argued, it is not enough to take the temporary advantages of a moderate tone away from the New Democrats. The Liberals must take policy back from the Conservatives, and do so boldy.
In the March 2012 issue of Policy Options magazine, Hall Findlay presented her policy vision for the Liberal Party of Canada. The essay, titled “Not right, not left, but forward,” could easily have been re-branded with American Democratic strategist James Carville’s famous expression: “It’s the economy, stupid.”
This overarching emphasis is peppered throughout Hall Findlay’s discussion of everything from health care, immigration, Aboriginal peoples and the environment.
For example, she argues Liberals need to pursue policies (like private property ownership) that will ensure the 400,000 Aboriginal youth eligible to enter the labour market in the next 10 years can do so.
On health care, she argues the demographic challenges of an aging population require the pursuit of feasible options for private delivery within the larger Medicare system.
She defends free trade and more corporate investment in Canada. In discussing the benefits of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) free trade negotiations, she states, “Just because Harper is saying the same thing doesn’t mean it’s a bad idea.”
And, finally, her principled argument around ending the protectionist supply management system in relation to Canada’s dairy and poultry industry is bold, trade-oriented public policy.
In opposition to two federal opponents, one with a deficit of accountability (the Conservatives) and the other with a dearth of realistic policies (the NDP), the Liberal Party of Canada led by Martha Hall Findlay could make deep inroads all over the country.
But will it be enough to stop a Conservative victory or lift the party out its current status doldrums? That remains to be seen.
Ethan Cabel is the news assignment editor at The Uniter and a politics student at the University of Winnipeg.
Published in Volume 67, Number 19 of The Uniter (February 7, 2013)