Monday, April 20, 2009

Chretien's Greatest Legacy?

Sometimes it takes time to truly appreciate the implications of a particular piece of legislation. It is also true that initial intentions can morph into something entirely different in the final manifestation, a new paradigm established which goes beyond the thinking within the impetus. When Chretien reformed the way in which political parties raised money and were subsequently publicly funded, many old guard politicos reacted with scorn, particularly many Liberal "elites". It was thought- and the first years have borne this out- that Chretien had effectively handicapped his own party with these poorly thought out reforms. Given how the Liberal Party was constructed at the time, Chretien's new rules did hurt his party more than any other, for Liberals this was a self-inflicted wound.

Six years after C-24, the Liberals are still struggling to adapt to the new rules, but we are beginning to see how these measures are reforming the party. The necessity of CASH is a powerful motivator, so one can question the sincerity, but equally you can't doubt the implications. Without the reliance on big money and powerful interests, Chretien has forced the Liberals to re-invent themselves. For a party to prosper within this new environment, it MUST have grassroots support, it MUST connect with average Canadians. Further, with the public financing rules, there is a deep incentive to "reach out" to all regions, the math now moves from a simple seat calculation to one of harvesting votes, because they worth beyond election.

Today, I read another article on the Liberal embrace of a 308 riding strategy, wherein money from the party will be equally distributed to each riding, regardless of viability. A terrific progression, but largely a function of the CASH consideration. These reforms come with other measures, vehicles like the Victory Fund, En Famille, OMOV, etc, all part of an emphasis on engaging rank and file Liberals. The Liberal Party is finally realizing the new calculus- you can't survive or prosper without a strong base of ordinary Canadians. Our success or failure will largely be determined by how the party can connect and motivate, expand and attract, quite a different reality from past reliance on the powerful and the elites. Should the Liberals fail to attract ordinary Canadians, it will fail, it's a simple as that.

We are starting to the seeds of C-24 take root, in a way that speaks to democratization. Rather than relying on traditional bases of support, there is a mechanism which sees the merit in universal appeal, and in so doing the national character will benefit, the party will be more representative, more equal in policy consideration.

A cynic can scoff, but in reality Chretien's legacy here, is one that disallows a detached, top heavy, elitist organization, it punishes the inability to connect, while rewarding empowerment of the ordinary. For the first time, I can project to the future and see a different entity, one that is entirely more attractive and accountable. I'm not sure if Chretien was truly motivated in the most genuine way, nor do I have any illusions on what is the chief motivator for the reforms now(CASH), but I'm pretty sure it's a healthy development for our democracy none the less.


WesternGrit said...

Nice write-up. Very insightful.

Anonymous said...

Jean Chretien ended the practice of buying government contracts with political contributions, but the power of single issue lobby groups with effective fundraising arms is greater than ever. Selling government policy is no less corrupt than selling contracts. Strict spending limits on political advertising by non party groups and more, not less pubic funding of parties are needed to break this new dependence.