Thursday, June 30, 2011

The Strange Death of Liberal Canada

Jordan Michael Smith has written an article for the US-based Dissent magazine looking at the remarkable collapse of the Liberals at the recent Canadian general election. He suggests that it is not enough to blame it all on the leadership of Michael Ignatieff - former arts broadcaster on British TV ("the thinking woman's crumpet") and distant kinsman of our own Nick Clegg.

Instead, Smith sees the party as a victim of its own success: "the success of programs initiated and implemented by the Liberals has been the very factor responsible for their downfall".

He points to Pierre Trudeau's 1982 Constitution Act, which was designed to placate the separatists in Quebec. The result was that the province no longer returns Liberals but now votes Bloc Quebecois. As Smith puts it:
In pursuing his greatest achievement—the uniting of a fractious, diverse land—Trudeau lost a majority of Quebecers for his party.
Similarly, in 2003 Liberal Prime Minister Jean Chretien introduced campaign finance laws that capped corporate contributions $1000 and individual donations at $5000. Highly commendable, but as Smith points out:
As the leading party in the twentieth century, however, the Liberals had amassed an unbeatable combination of corporate and wealthy-individual donors; corporate contributions made up 60 percent of the funds gathered by the party in the 2000 federal election campaign. Chretien’s law clearly destroyed that advantage, handing the fundraising edge to the Conservatives, who maintained a stronger grassroots pool. 
Not for nothing did the then-Liberal Party President Stephen LeDrew memorably call Chretien’s bill “dumber than a bag of hammers” when it was proposed. In 2008, the Conservatives brought in more than $21 million (CAN) from over 112,000 contributors. The Liberals, meanwhile, took in less than $6 million from only about 30,000 contributors.
Fascinating stuff, though the parallel with the Liberals and Quebec is surely Labour's introduction of devolution and the rise of the SNP.

1 comment:

Ken said...

The argument about the Bloc Quebecois would work a bit better if the BQ hadn't lost official party status in 2011, and the votes went instead to the Conservatives and the NDP...