The results of the 2011 election were in many ways a continuation of a trend: a steady rapping of the Liberal knuckles by dissatisfied voters over the course of 3 elections.
Hope versus reality
And yet after each election loss, Liberals repreated the same errors, preferring to rely on hope rather than to practise politics the way that the brutal Westminster style parliamentary system, with its periodic elections and party system, requires.
And then came May 2, 2011 – the Liberal götterdämmerung. Having seen the Liberal Party ignore all warnings from voters, the voters decided to shock the Liberals out of their nostalgia-retreat and sense of entitlement by taking the broom to the party's MPs. Now not one single Liberal MP can bask in the protection of incumbency and ignore the reality of our country and our party.
Voters held their noses and walked over to the Conservatives; others decided to give another non-Tory party a chance and voted for Layton's promise to fix the broken Parliament; while others did what they had done before and stayed home, ignoring Liberal pleas for them to take a few minutes out of their comfortable routine to cast their votes.
|Seats lost and gained - 2011|
The Bright Side
But it's an ill wind that blows nobody any good, and so there is a bright side to the May 2 slaughter of Liberal MPs. With the loss of more than half of the Liberal seats went the ability of the sitting Liberal ranks to bask in the protection of incumbency and to ignore the warnings of the voters.
The Big Tent fallacy
Now Liberals can no longer assume that parrotting nonsense about the party being the 'big tent' of Canadian politics is enough.
Voters have said they want to know that what is inside the tent makes a difference to their lives and their country.
Voters clearly told Liberals that political parties are not abodes: they are vehicles for devising policies to help voters, and for gaining power – through participation in a government in one form or another – to implement such policies.
The Tory smörgåsbord
So when in 2011 and the elections before that the Liberal Party offered to voters a tent, the Conservatives offered a hidden agenda and trinkets – hundreds of little goods, aimed at hundreds of micro-markets, along with the promise of as much inaction by a Conservative government as they could get away with.
|Harper's Tory Party|
Instead of an empty tent, the Conservatives successfully offered a smaller state, along with a smörgåsbord – a buffet-style feast of multiple dishes of various foods on a table. Come, eat, and relax: we will diminish the federal government over years through our starve the beast strategy, taking in tax monies and handing them out to corporations, spending them on the armed forces and on jails, and giving them back to voters in small slices.
The Hope for Meaning
Jack Layton stumbled into the yearning by the voters for something different. For a decade and a half Canadians had watched in bemusement as MPs from all the parties reduced their Parliament to a barterhouse and a wholesale distribution warehouse.
The states in Europe showed amazing progress in knuckling down and changing the way their societies worked, paying attention to the needs of segments of the citizens, and moulding a new kind of society, which took the good parts from the old systems and welded them together in a slow, steady process of trial and error, into a new form of government, designed for a new age.
And while Europe marched into the future, Canadian MPs and parties lingered in the past, lining up around the carcass of the state and slicing and dicing, cutting off little bits for this group of stakeholders, little bits for that group, diminishing rather than enhancing the commonweal.
Nobody really paid attention to building the country: our cities were crowded, we had too many cars and not enough homes and jobs for the disadvantaged, our schools fell behind, our factories were gutted and closed as we allowed our businesses to move work elsewhere, the people on the periphery of the land were ignored, and our commitment to play a part as citizens of the world waned and was replaced by the pandering to gluttony (something the Harper Tories still do).
But our people wanted more.
They wanted greatness for Canada, a role in the world as a leader in the moral and political development and progression of human society.
They yearned for an extension, deepening and enrichment of our democracy – for changes from the crassness they saw each Question Period, from the debasement of political honour shown by party after party that made promises and failed to deliver them.
They wanted more than gridlock in our House of Commons, and the continued conversion of our Senate into a retirement home for party flacks.
This sense that Europe was passing us by, that our politicians offered us trinkets but not hope, was rising with each inconclusive election, and Jack tapped into it, almost inadvertently. He did it with one magic phrase: Our Parliament is broken, and I can fix it – join me.
Will Liberals learn?
Voters wanted change, wanted modernizing of our democracy, wanted a society which worked together rather than warred together, wanted a country which once more could be a shining city upon a hill.
Now they have broken the mould, punished the Big Tent believers, and are holding their breath that something will change.
Will the Liberal Party MPs, Senators and members understand that we need to offer challenges, not tents; progress, not nostalgia; honour, not trinkets?
I believe it is possible.
But it will not happen with the type of nonsense that Apps and the Board are foisting upon the party.
It will happen with the selection of a leader with his or her heart in the right place, who can inspire not by offering words but offering hope and challenge.
It will happen with real reform of our policies and the way we do business, with real reform of the way our party works, with real electoral and political reform as part of our promise to voters, and with a lot of hard work, from the ground up, not from the top down.
There is hope. Are we ready to grasp it?