October 28, 2008

Unite the Left – Lloyd Axworthy

By admin

I’m always loathe to quote from Canwest Media, but Lloyd Axworthy posted this op-ed in the Ottawa Citizen that you might be interested in.

I have issue with the notion that the opposition parties have to unite, mainly because their views are too disparate.  As I’ve said before, this is the inevitable ‘long tail’ of politics, where fragmentation of power occurs as a result of fragmentation of different voting ‘blocks’.

What I’d prefer to see the opposition parties pursue is a platform devoted to proportional representation.  Nearly 70% of the population is getting a government that they didn’t vote for and this must end.

Here’s the text of Axworthy’s article:

Lloyd Axworthy . Unite the left

Progressive Canada again has a very conservative government — we need a major political realignment

Lloyd Axworthy, Citizen Special

Published: Tuesday, October 28, 2008

More than 60 per cent of those who cast ballots in the last election did not support the Harper government. If you count in all those who did not participate out of choice or indifference then you likely have a much larger cohort of Canadians who are not in favour of the agenda espoused by this government.

One small piece of evidence to support this assertion comes from a recent BBC poll taken in a variety of countries on preferences in the American election. Sixty-seven per cent of Canadians surveyed support the election of Barack Obama in the U.S. presidential stakes, a candidate who clearly espouses a "progressive agenda."

The problem of course in our recent federal election was that the votes of the majority were split between four other parties. Due to the vagaries of our election system it gave the Conservatives enough seats to return to power, albeit in minority status.

So for another two years or more, Canada will be subject to policies and positions that reflect a point of view out of sync with most Canadians. It also means that if Mr. Obama wins the U.S. election, as it appears he will, Canada will be very offside with our closest neighbour.

What to do?

First, the opposition parties must begin immediately to have direct conversations about the forthcoming parliamentary session. They must discuss how to combine and co-operate to ensure that Stephen Harper does not take advantage of both a split opposition and an imminent Liberal leadership race to force through measures that reflect his particular ideology, which is clearly very conservative. This de facto parliamentary alliance, while troublesome for partisans, is a must and is clearly mandated by their electors who were asked to vote Liberal, New Democrat, Green or Bloc to stop Mr. Harper. To return to the gamesmanship of the last Parliament would be a repudiation of those election vows.

There is an even more fundamental reason for a progressive parliamentary alliance to prevail — the times call for it. We are entering into a perilous period where all the conventional wisdoms about the market, the state and globalization are being ruptured. Yet we have a government that still closely adheres to the old 1980s Thatcher-Reagan view of the world — deregulate, cut taxes and trust entirely in the private sector. The Conservatives have shown a marked disinclination for working in a multilateral, international context and eschew innovative efforts in trade and foreign policy. So they will need help in adapting to a world that will require major reforms, both domestically and globally, that begin to rebuild the notion of a public domain in both spheres.

I am not suggesting that a combined opposition can quickly give birth to a new progressive agenda . This is going to take time and the involvement of a lot more Canadians than just the political parties. But, if one looks at the platforms of the opposition parties from the last election, there was significant convergence on many issues that reflect a different outlook from the Harper government. They should use Parliament to gain a much better, broader and more intelligent discourse than was apparent in the campaign and push for an agenda that stimulates the economy, protects people, jobs, the environment and our human rights, and restores a sense of public stewardship to the federal level.

Standing in the way, of course, will be the eternal quest for power, with each group strategizing toward the next election. However, it should be clear by now that the present mathematics are against any of the individual alternatives attempting to overcome the unified position of the right.

It is the mirror image of the politics of the 1990s when the Reform-PC split gave Liberals a built-in advantage. This is compounded by the shifts going on in the diverse demographics of the country and the advancement of a new generation that does not have the same political loyalties of old. So, as uncomfortable as it may be, there will have to be realignments, along with a serious look at electoral reform.

There is some precedent for this. After the 1980 election, Pierre Trudeau and Ed Broadbent had such discussions, only to be turned down by their respective caucuses. It seems even more imperative today for those who desire a return to progressive governance in Canada to engage in such dialogue.
One major question mark in all this will be the Liberal leadership contest, already under way in sub rosa fashion. Will a leader emerge who is willing to take a chance and be ready to embrace, indeed take a lead in forming, a different kind of political constellation? Or will there be a push by that faction of the party that believes a return to right-of-centre politics will offset the present Conservative advantage.

To this death wish, I am reminded of the comment of Keith Davey, renowned Liberal party organizer, who said that Canadians given a choice will always vote for a real Tory, not a pseudo-Tory in Liberal clothing.

Over the next several months there will be lot at stake in the politics of Canada. Fashioning a credible and unified alternative to Mr. Harper’s government and his committed goal of transforming this country into a conservative state needs serious work, not befogged by the personality-driven politics of the last decade. The present parties that profess to be on the progressive spectrum of politics have tough and far-reaching judgments to make. At the very least, they have to actively explore a basis of partnership of progressive forces and how to translate that into political action. If this can be done, then it may be the most important result arising from the last election.