Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Liberal Party of Canada Values – A Comparison

Liberals will meet in Ottawa in January to debate the values underpinning the Party. So far, there are two documents which Liberal attendees can review to decide this question: the Preamble of the Constitution, and the section The Liberal Mission Today, from the Background Paper drafted by the National President Alfred Apps.

The Primary Debates – Values and Policies:

It is useful to compare these two documents. Although policy discussions and formation have been punted until past the election of the next leader (to the 2014 convention – go figure!), all candidates for the post of leader will be exposed to multiple debates if the primary method is decided upon.

During those primary debates, it is inevitable that candidates for leader will have to address values and policies.

They will have to tell voters in clear language what values drive them, what values they think underlie the Liberal Party of Canada, what policies they believe the party should adopt in 2014 and table as the election platform in 2015, and how their policies differ from established Liberal policies adopted in past conventions.

Of course, all candidates will have to address other strategic issues during the debates, such as:

  1. what steps (if any) they as Leader would take before the 2015 election to strike an electoral ceasefire with the NDP and perhaps the Green Party so as to ensure that Harper does not win another majority government by default;
  2. what steps they would take (if any) before the next election to negotiate the terms of a coalition government after the election if the Tories fail to win a majority of seats;
  3. what steps they would take to bring Canada into the forefront of democratic nations, such as:
  • their attitudes towards the LPC adopting and insisting upon implementing a different system of voting in federal elections than the first past the post system;
  • freeing MPs so that more votes can be taken without whipping;
  • allowing citizens to use citizen initiatives like the European Citizens' Initiative to participate more fully and more directly in the political decisions in their parliament; 
  • and other substantial electoral and political reforms.

Values drive Policies:

Policies should spring from values, and so the debate on values in Ottawa is important. To date there has been no discussion of this aspect of the Ottawa convention, and so delegates will go without any public airing of this topic before they arrive.

This post might help delegates to Ottawa and other Liberals who are not attending, to focus on the issue of values.

Values in the Preamble of the LPC Constitution:

This is taken from the Preamble itself:

The Liberal Party of Canada is committed to the view that the dignity of each individual man and woman is the cardinal principle of democratic society and the primary purpose of all political organization and activity in such a society.

The Liberal Party of Canada is dedicated to the principles that have historically sustained the Party: individual freedom, responsibility and human dignity in the framework of a just society, and political freedom in the framework of meaningful participation by all persons. The Liberal
Party is bound by the constitution of Canada and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and is committed to the pursuit of equality of opportunity for all persons, to the enhancement of our unique and diverse cultural community, to the recognition that English and French are the
official languages of Canada, and to the preservation of the Canadian identity in a global society.

In accordance with this philosophy, the Liberal Party of Canada subscribes to the fundamental rights and freedoms of persons under the rule of law and commits itself to the protection of these essential values and their constant adaptation to the changing needs of modern Canadian society.

The Liberal Party of Canada recognizes that human dignity in a democratic system requires that all citizens have access to full information concerning the policies and leadership of the Party; the opportunity to participate in open and public assessment of such means, and such modifications of policies and leadership as they deem desirable to promote the political,economic, social, cultural and general well-being of Canadians.

Values in the Background Paper:

Section 2.2 of the Paper sets out a very interesting and detailed analysis of the foundation of Canadian liberalism. The Paper points out the the ideas driving our variant of liberalism are far more extensive than those set out in the Preamble to the Constitution.

It is worth reading the four page discussion very carefully (pages 5 – 9 of the Paper).

The following is a summary of the values in the Paper (I've taken sentences from the Paper – each sentence is discussed in some detail in the Paper itself):

1. First, we believe not only in the dignity and worth of the individual, but in the absolute primacy and autonomy of individuals.

2. We stand first and foremost for freedom. We believe that wealth is created and social progress is achieved when we unleash the full capacity of individuals to think and act.

3. We believe in the human spirit and its unlimited potential - that every citizen is entitled to live in the conditions of personal security and opportunity that will enable him or her to optimize his or her potential to the fullest, regardless of age, sex, creed, race, sexual orientation or any other accident or incident of birth, culture or country of origin.

4. We are not merely accepting of diversity. We believe that diversity is our strength, that immigration should be open, that social and cultural differences should be embraced and that tolerance and accommodation are the essential virtues of liberal society.

5. We endorse pluralism over secularism because we believe both in freedom of religion and freedom from religion.

6. We are capitalists, not socialists. We believe in the profit motive... We do not see labour and capital as inevitably opposed in interest.

7. We believe in equality – quality before the law and equality of opportunity. Beyond property, civil and legal rights, we believe that the enhancement of the economic, social and cultural freedom of all Canadians is critical to ensuring a fair and equal chance for every citizen.

8. Liberals believe in democracy and that its privilege imposes some duties on the citizen ... We believe that Canadians should be given ever wider rights to participate in the political process, including through political parties, and that democratic institutions and processes need to be continually modernized and strengthened.

9. We believe in the ‘servant state’, not the ‘nanny state’ of the left or the ‘watchman state’ of the right. We believe that the sovereignty of the state – its permissible scope of action - is dependent entirely upon the will of the people and circumscribed always by the rights of individuals. We believe that, while the state is precluded from interfering with the basic freedoms of its citizens without their consent, its proper role extends well beyond merely protecting its people from internal and external threats.

10. The liberal way is the balanced middle road. We believe in the power of government to do good but that citizens must be vigilant to constrain and define the power of government by expanding the rights of individuals and promoting the strength of markets. As distinct from classical liberals, we do not believe that the government that governs best governs least.

11. We are also the party of nation builders – the party of a strong national government.

12. Liberals believe in free and fair markets.

13. Liberals believe that public investment in the potential of its citizens is required because markets sometimes fail to deliver the goods necessary to optimizing their own performance... We understand that strategic public investment is what a mixed market economy is all about. We understand that Canadian competitiveness will be best assured best by having the most able (i.e. healthy, educated) workforce operating from the most efficient (i.e. energy, transportation and communications) platform.

14. Liberals are also resolutely internationalist and multilateralist, committed to the continued progress of global civilization and to the enhancement of the human condition generally.

15. At the core of everything, liberals are children of the enlightenment. We believe in the power of reason.

16. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, liberals believe that inter-generational stewardship matters as a fundamental question of public morality.

There we have it.

A reasonably bold outline of what being a Liberal who believes in liberalism is all about.


  1. If you change the word 'Liberal' to 'Conserative', Harper will believe that this is his belief. What I need to have confidence and vote Liberal is a sound plan to change the way government works, I am totally tired of the self serving and ineffective way our governments have been operating for too long.
    I do not to listen to what the Liberals stand for but I want to listen to what they will do.

  2. Good point, Malcolm. The proof of the pudding is in the eating thereof.

    Values on their own are not enough; a commitment to remedying the democractic deficits within the LPC and within our political system is essential for voters to believe in the Liberal Party again.

    The views of Liberal leadership candidates on what they will do if they win, to give Canadians a modern democracy, will be critical. And these views will need to be translated into policies to achieve this, before enough voters will opt for the LPC again.


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