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Sunday, April 15, 2012

Bob Rae's next moves will determine whether Canada's Liberal Party sinks or swims

On of the interesting facets of the distortions of reality put forward out of political partisanship is that the politicians who speak them seem to have no idea how badly they can backfire.

Liberal leader Bob Rae's recent claim that the New Democratic Party's new supremo Thomas Mulcair is a "mini-Harper" could be just one of those watershed indicators of just how much trouble Canada's "natural governing party" is in these days.

Canada's federal Liberals used to be the New York Yankees of politics. They were in government more than any other political party in a democracy during the 20th Century. They managed that through a combination of factors, including the good luck to face weak and divided opposition parties for many years. But the one thing that spelled success for them most was their positioning themselves as centrists.

That has changed in the last few years since the defeat of Paul Martin's government in 2006 by current Prime Minister Stephen Harper. If centrism was their defining characteristics, then power was their defining motivation. It worked to the Liberals' advantage that while their opponents of the left and right were hampered by guiding ideologies and principles that prevented them from being too flexible in what they could promise voters.

The Liberals felt no such constraints and would tell audiences whatever they wanted to hear, often contradicting themselves from message to message. The justification being that they were the most capable and sensible party, therefore if the public had to be misled in order for them to be sensibly governed, so be it. That was the thought process behind outright campaign lies, like Pierre Trudeau's promise not to impose wage and price controls when he ran against Bob Stanfield, (and broke that promise within weeks of being elected)  or his forcing an election to supposedly fight Joe Clark's proposal for an excise tax on gasoline, and then, once elected,  rapidly impose a higher one than Clark had proposed. And who could forget Jean Chretien's infamous campaign lie that he would abolish the GST?

These are tough days for the Liberals. After Martin's palace coup against Chretien, they have struggled to find that centrist voice and abandoned the territory to a shrewd Conservative leadership. Somehow, the leadership of the Liberal Party has deluded itself into thinking that most Canadians despise the Harper Conservatives as much as they do. That comes across in just about everything they say, and as part of their fantasy that Harper represents the "far right wing," the Liberals have positioned themselves out of the centre into a leftist stance that has alienated them from their natural voting base.

The two Liberal leaders before Rae proved the folly of that approach, and he seems to have learned little or nothing from their failures. Stephane Dion's "Green" policies and his own "not up to the job" image led to a major defeat for the party. It wasn't just Michael Ignatieff's inability to connect with voters, but his show of taking the Liberals further to the left that resulted in their worst defeat ever, putting them for the first time in 3rd party status.

Now, by calling Mulcair a "mini-Harper," Mr. Rae seems to be flailing about positioning the Liberals to even the left of the socialist New Democrats.

So how can the Liberals correct the disastrous course on which they are currently headed?

They obviously, and with good reason, fear that Mulcair has the image of an intelligent leader who is going to move the NDP to a more centrist and for voters, more palatable position.

That may be true for Mulcair, but Bob Rae needs only to draw upon his experience as the first NDP Premier of Ontario to know that Canada's socialist party has no bench strength beyond the leadership, and that their ineptitude and radicalism are fertile grounds for attack.

Mulcair has surrounded himself with incompetents like Libby Davies, who embraces 9-11 conspiracy theorists, violent radicals, and anti-Semitic forces out to destroy Israel. He has Joe Comartin, who associates with Khomeinist hatemongers like Zafar Bangash and George Galloway. Add to the mix, Peggy Nash who shows no capacity for economic management and a host of other embarrassments, and that is what the real NDP has to offer. And this represents the top of the party. One doesn't have to go much further down the list until you get to the NDP's inept Miss Las Vegas.

If Bob Rae and the Liberal Party want to reposition themselves for Canadian voters, he needs to turn off the left turn signal and realize that he is not going to successfully rebuild the Liberals and  differentiate himself from Stephen Harper by leading a party that is more radical than that of Libby Davies.

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