Sunday, February 18, 2007

Divided Liberals

The latest installment of the "divided Liberals" theme centers around the anti-terror law. The other parties just love to hear the following:
Toronto MP Roy Cullen said he is trying to persuade 30 colleagues to break ranks and side with the government to extend the measures - investigative hearings and preventive arrests

The National Post calls it a "mutiny", I call it "healthy". Once again, the only place where there appears to be any debate is within the Liberal Party. This circumstance has happened before, and is always exploited by others as weakness. Layton loves the "Liberals are divided" argument, Harper uses any example as proof the Liberals don't know what they believe. However, it would seem to me that the Liberal Party simply manifests the tension on complicated issues.

The Afghanistan vote is another example that was pounced on. But, really, weren't the Liberals simply mirroring the population as a whole. Canadians are debating the merits of our mission, weighing the pros and cons, why is it wrong to have a party that reflects differing opinions? Increasingly, the days of rigid ideology are incompatible with societal complexity, and that is why the rise of pragmatism is better suited to balancing competing interests.

The Liberal Party, at present, seems to be the only home for pragmatism. While the NDP and Conservatives take great pride in their unanimous positioning, which apparently corresponds to conviction, the Liberals "waffle". I would argue that this condition allows Liberals to take each issue on merit, rather than pre-disposed posturing. Whether to extend certain anti-terror measures is a complicated question, so I don't see the horror in having different MP's take different positions. That debate helps us better understand the issue, as opposed to black and white propositions. Amending a previous opinion isn't necessarily a "flip-flop", if it based on sound reasoning, in fact it shows an ability to react beyond dogma and stubborn singularity.

Another SMALL point, I have posted a few less that glowing assessments of the current Liberal condition. This "critical" opinion has been seized on by Conservatives as a sign of Liberal division and weakness in the ranks. I guess that is one interpretation, but to be truthful, there is nothing more boring in my mind than the goosestep that stifles internal debate and paints pretty pictures for eternity. I like the fact the Liberal Party is a messy affair, and while it may have some tactical disadvantages, it engages in an openness that is objectively healthy.

Other parties have debates, no question, but the Liberals seem to continually fail on the "party discipline" front. The term implies a subservient posture to the rigid hierarchy, hardly flattering. I don't view elected MP's as minions that tow the line prescribed by head office. Why is it the Liberals are vilified everytime they express a basic tenet of democracy? Different people, with differing views, who can freely express that view, majority wins. In my world, bragging about constant "unity" on every issue under the sun is a sign of narrowness, a sign of top-down structure that isn't attractive at all. Instructing MP's on what they can say, pinpointing people who could "pose problems" is actually scary when you think about, I much prefer my democracy untidy and slightly conflicting. Divide away, question the leader, it's all good from here.


Anonymous said...

Thank you!

You have posted something that needs to be said.

I actually felt bad, yet justified (an awkward emotion) at expressing my anger on a blog with blatantly negative views about where things were at, even as the Liberals - and Dion - were in the midst of advancing positive positions for the party this week. I was angry because I could clearly see the press was on one of their "is their dissention in the ranks?" chase-each-other's-tails games (G&M has their article, so the Star runs their article, and the SUN network just keeps pouding at it). And I knew that bloggers following their lead or expressing their own opinions on the subject just keeps the speculation flowing EVEN if there isn't a real story.

I am proud that the Liberal party is willing to debate among themselves, and has MPs who think for themselves. Group-think rarely leads to a good solution, just an easy solution. And it feels right until you careen over the cliff of the given direction you were hell-bent to follow.

"United in Belief, but Individuals in Thought" should be the heart of any nation. And therefore it is the center space the Liberal Party should strive to inhabit.

Thanks for expressing that sentiment so clearly. I believe the party - and each MP - should make that clear in every interview where a reporter is clearly working to play up the "disagreement" angle.

Scotian said...

Steve V:

Good post. Indeed, one of the reasons why the Liberals today are the one party I can support in my aim to rid us of Harper and his strain of conservativism is precisely because there is that willingness for internal debate and recognition that not everyone while agree all the time, not even those of the same political persuasion. It shows a recognition of the various elements/strains that go into any political party, and the willingness to have such open debate and disagreement shows is a great respect for the opinions of the individual MP and not only the Leader (as we see in Harper's case and to a lesser extent in Layton's case).

For me there is never any political party that I agree with on everything, never has been and I doubt ever will be. So how much any given party is willing to have internal debates and allow for the various component voices within that party to be heard is a significant indicator for me as to how well that party will respect diversity of thought and speech once in power. The CPC is run far too much like a one man band, Harper the omnipresent, than like a government where Cabinet Ministers are given actual responsibility/authority for coming up with policy for the government instead of simply taking what Harper says and shaping everything in the department around it.

The idea that this is a Liberal party with the same kinds of divisions that haunted it throughout the Turner-Chrétien-Martin years is patently absurd. I watched the Conventions past and saw how those splits happened; indeed the last convention one of my relatives was a delegate to was where the factional fighting between Turner and Chrétien really got its grounding and which transferred to the Martin crew once Chrétien beat out Turner. What I see happening now in the Liberal party is nothing like that, and the political reporters should be able to tell this as well, so either they were and are not paying that much attention, are under pressure from editors/producers to whip up a conflict storyline because they sell better, or they simply have their own agenda against the Libs for some reason. There is no good excuse for this being treated as more of the same old factionalism since there isn't the evidence of that in what has been presented to date IMHO. Now, if such evidence does start showing up them my view changes but for now this seems to be much ado about nothing of substance/reality.

JimBobby said...

Whooee! Well Liberal fellers an' gals, yer doin' a great job o' pattin' yerselves on the back. I ain't any HarpoonTosser an' I ain't sayin' the Conmen don't try t' capitalize on dissent within the Grits.

But, dang it all, dissent within the Grits when the Martinets purged the Chretienites is the main reason yer party ain't in power right now. A united Liberal Party would o' beat the damage done by AdScam an' at least got a minority. Martin screwed you when he kept on with the rivalry an' nastiness after he'd already won. Stoopid, sez I, really stoopid.

I wanna take issue with sum o' yer LPC cheerleadin'.

"The Liberal Party, at present, seems to be the only home for pragmatism."

If yer main definition o' pragmatism is being able t' flip-flop (like yer sayin'), Harpoon's gotcha beat with income trusts, anthropogenic climate change an' kissin' Mahar Arar's behind. He's an ideologue, no two ways, but he's been eatin' sum crow on a few bigass issues.

I don't reckon pragmatism is all 'bout flip-floppin', though. I always call myeslf a pragmatist an' when I say that, I mean that I'm a feller who wants t' tackle troublems head-on with practical, effective solutions. That means comin' to a decision an' not ditherin' with too many superfluous discussions an' endless studies, reports an' consensus buildin' horsepuckey.

The Liberals ain't exactly that kinda pragmatists, sez I. I ain't gonna trot out that dumbass "13 years of ... blah blah blah..." but I am gonna say there was way too much head-scratchin' an' redundant studyin' done under the Grits. A lotta talk without a lotta action.

Kyoto come in 5 years ago - not 13, like sum numbnutses wanna say -- but the grits knew it was comin' an if they believed in the dangers o' Climate Change as defined in Kyoto in 1998-99, they should o' done a whole lot more'n what they did. Leastwise, if they was pragmatic, they woulda. Shoulda, coulda, woulda don't cut it fer this voter.

You fellers an' gals can pat yerselves on the back fer bein' open-minded an' welcomin' different POV's in yer ranks but, dang it all, ol' Mother Earth ain't got time fer yer all talk, no action party.

You want pragmatism, take a look at the Greenies.

Believe it or not, I could go on a lot longer but we already got two longwinded fellers here with me an' ol' Scotian[ ;) ] so I'm cuttin' it short right here.


wilson said...

Seems to me, perpetual division is a consequence of the 'big tent' ideology.

Lure rightwinger Garth Turner one day, attempt to poach sitting NDPers the next, and you expect to put them all in the same room and have only minor 'healthy' debate?

Anonymous said...

interesting comparison is Bush and his admin do WHATEVER and say WHATEVER Bush wants.

Bill Clinton's administration and staff were loaded with people who had different views. He liked it that way. He felt differences of opinion, debate and discussion were healthy and produced the best solutions.

Now I ask you - which one was the better president?

Steve V said...

I'm not talking about the Martin/Chretien division, because that was just powerlust to be frank. Division of opinion is another matter entirely.

A "big tent" is exactly what a party should strive for, if it claims to represent a large percentage of Canadians. I am much more comfortable with that scenario, then a party run by a select few, narrow ideologues, like our present government. You really should be concerned when a party dictates language, censors potential "damaging" rhetoric and demands everyone fall in line. None of those points has any co-relation to my idea of democracy- it's not neat and tidy.

jim bobby, you make my head hurt :)

Red Tory said...

Whooee! What’s up with that idiomatic crap? It’s painful to read. And get this, he's got a blog. Yikes!

I'm jest a simple feller tryin' t' figger out this whole boogeysphere thingy. I got me 1 wifemate an' 6 younguns an' 1 coalie dog an' 1 grey cat. I used t' have 3 pitbulls but Ginty made'm against the law. I ain't got a minnyvan but I sure do want one.

What a prat.

JimBobby said...

Ad Hominem attacks don't cut much shit with me, Red, an' they make you look a little small-minded.


Gayle said...

I have to say that even though JB's posts are difficult to read sometimes, and I often disagree with him, he seems to know what he is talking about. He is not one for the drive by smear.

JB, for what it is worth (and that may not be much), I think you have much to add to the political blogsphere but you are losing the message in the way you write. I know I could just ignore you, but I would rather not.

JimBobby said...

Thankee, Gayle. If I was lookin' fer thousands o' readers, I'd put myself in that sorta box where I'd write jest like all the other boogers.

I don't like t' drag down sumbuddy's comments inta a gabfest on my way o' writin' so I posted me a boog story a coupla years ago so serious-minded commenters like Red don't hafta see the comments go all off-topic.

So, if yer interested in my favourite topic, me, come on over t' my boog. If yer interested in Divided Liberals an' you got a 'pinion t' share, this here Far and Wide boog is where t' say it. That's what I done an' I ain't sorry.


Monkey Loves to Fight said...

I fully concur here as well. In fact in Britain which uses our parliamentary system, it is quite rare for parties to vote unanimously accept on bills of confidence. In the United States crossing party lines is also very common and in fact it could be argued if all votes were whipped the Democrats would be relegated to an urban coastal party and wouldn't be winning seats in Middle America and likewise the Republicans wouldn't be able to win in the Northeast or West Coast.

I don't agree with the Liberals on every issue and I would rather be in a party that accepts differences of opinion and allows individuals to express them openly rather than one that tells you to shut up about. Off course on confidence matters we have to vote in unison, but other than that I think having some dissenters is fine. What matters is the majority of caucus sides with the position of the party, not necessarily every member.

Scotian said...


Got to go with Gayle on this one, while JB's style is one I find difficult at times to wade through and I don't agree with him on several issues and perceptions he does tend to be a serious commentator in my view, if one with a fairly idiosyncratic format to go with it.

Karen said...

Frankly, JB's style of writing and comments, speak directly to the thrust of your post. Either we tolerate another way of thinking and expression or we don't.

I think debate within the party is healthy. It is not the old "devisive" power hungry stuff that is going on. It's a party with a new leader, new caucus members and they are sorting it out.

Harper is doing his best to suggest the same debate that goes on south of us. "Where do they stand?", "They flip-flop", "The Leader of the opposition doesn't have the power to push the Senate", etc. Again, these are all republican talking points, but has anyone looked south lately? Not going so well for the old, tight, aligned, GOP is it?

To me, the difference between the Lib's and the Con's, you are allowed to think if you're a Liberal and it's stifled if you're a Conservative.

You need some cohesion of course, but if you stifle debate, you limit possibilities. You also supress the natural impulse of people IMO. That is, we all want to count and have a say. Push that natural impulse down for too long and people will react.

Steve V said...

"You need some cohesion of course, but if you stifle debate, you limit possibilities. You also supress the natural impulse of people IMO."

Knb, good points all around. I think the media has too evolve, and allow open debate without attaching all the negatives. The trouble, it's juicy to report about divisions, even though everyone knows it's natural. Do you want to force the debates behind closed doors, or isn't it better to create an environment where parties air the laundry?

Anonymous said...

It's really hard to take a guy who calls himself "southern American" name and puts on the backwoods talk seriously at all.

I guess he thinks it's clever - ppor guy.

Bring back the Liberal literacy programmes please, this guy needs help.

JimBobby said...

Whooee! Yeah, let's take blusterin' bull dogs like Johnny Baird seriously. Or mebbe we should take man-walked-with-dinosaurs Stockwell Day seriously. Or "so-called greenhouse gas" Harper. How about we take Bed-hoppin' Belinda, the poor little rich girl seriously? Rona Ambrose and her Fossil of the Year Award is serious business, too. Maybe we need to take Charlie Farquarson, Red Green and the Trailer Park Boys seriously. The Smothers Brothers, Tom Paxton, Pete Seeger, Woody Guthrie, Bob Snider an' the 22 Minutes gang have a few good unserious things to say to the unprejudiced, open-minded listener.

Mebbe them literacy programmes'll teach a few illiterate numnutses 'bout dialect as a literary device.

I sed above that I didn't want to drag F&W's comments off topic. To prevent that from happening, I posted a link to my blog where I blather on 'bout my way o' writin'. Sorry, Steve V., apparently, the anonymous commenter can't read.