Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Shaking Off The Timidity

Plenty of talk about where the Liberals need to move, left or right, the center, when really it should be about standing for things we believe in and letting the spectrum take care of itself. Truth is, people don't fit into neat little boxes, part of the success of the Conservatives is using certain policies to connect with people that wouldn't be top of mind targets, it's how you build a winning coalition of voters.

One word epitomizes the Liberals in recent years, "timid". Liberals always seem to first consider who they might offend with a particular position, which often times leads to watered down policies or just avoiding issues all together. Anytime a "bold" position is articulated, it's met with "oh, but" and the idea is torn apart, in the name of trying to be everything to everyone. Always trying to accommodate, forever afraid of controversial views, this mentality has contributed to the rot of the Liberal brand. I've experienced examples of this mentality on this blog, when I've demanded "bold" and offered examples, it's often met with "that's reckless", or "we don't want to touch that", or visceral reactions that scare people. In reality, any real position will offend, alienate, but the power of conviction is also appealing and attractive.

With the above in mind, when I think of liberalism, I see the issue of euthanasia as one of the next great debates that we need to have in this country. I've mention prior some of the EXACT wording that comes from this CBC piece on the topic, the notion that the public is well ahead of politicians:
There simply isn't any other issue on which the public and the politicians are so out of sync with each other.

The discrepancy was picked up by Vote Compass, an online survey of national issues on CBC.ca during the recent election campaign, according to director of analytics Peter Loewen. "The Vote Compass data help us identify issues in which the views of our respondents match up with none of the parties. Euthanasia is the most startling case," Loewen said.

This is how the Vote Compass question was worded: "If they so wish, should terminally ill patients be able to end their own lives with medical assistance?" Almost all Vote Compass respondents were supportive of the option, regardless of political stripe. Only a small hump of Conservative supporters strongly disagreed with the notion.

To try and soothe Liberals, I go beyond simply philosophical arguments. Liberals should champion "choice", the principles are core and yet we avoid this issue like the PLAGUE. Why? Because, people react strongly, you WILL offend subsets, euthanasia is forever controversial. However, championing the issue also has tremendous appeal, which is why euthanasia has a moral, as well as strategic, value. Polls have shown overwhelming support for at least limited euthanasia, this CBC compass polls confirms this sentiment in resounding fashion. In fact, of all the questions, it is on this issue that we see the greatest chasm between public acceptance and political timidity. Also, as with other findings, apart from hardcore Conservatives, there is little electoral downside, but plenty of potential. If you breakdown the regionals, the results are even more informative.

Liberals need to start standing for things, that reflect core philosophy. Liberals need to be provocative, we need to challenge, we need to put ourselves at the center of important discussions, rather than avoiding and not being current in application. The Quebec government has started the conversation, we've had some marginal introductions in Parliament, but the issue remains almost taboo, DESPITE every bit of evidence suggesting the public is ready for the conversation. Liberals have a lot of work to do in the near term, but when we get down to who we are, where we stand, how we reconnect and energize the brand, THIS issue deserves consideration. The issue speaks to everyone, it has philosophical underpinnings, and above all, it isn't safe and bland, it's progressive, not reckless. Not alienating anyone isn't a virtue, it's a voluntary paralysis.


Steve V said...

I can already tell this post on euthanasia will go over like past references. Why can't I see the pitfalls? I see public opinion on side, I also see it particularly attractive based on regions, core supporters? I think it speaks to liberalism, the idea of choice, and yet it's seems WAY to hot to consider.

I won't bring it up again ;)

Morakon said...

Good article Steve. I think your right to say we need to ignore the right left idea and just start picking good ideas, good policy and let others decide where that puts us on the political spectrum. I'm also with you on the Euthanasia debate. We need to start staking our own ground and not be Con-lite or NDP-lite. I would also like to see the party dump a couple of policy ideas that we talk about every election but didn't bother with when in power. National Child Care for instance. I'm all for it but we have no credibility on that topic so it's time to toss it. People aren't buying what were selling. Time to shake it up.

Steve V said...

I agree, on National Child Care, I don't want to hear about it anymore. We can still support it, but nobody believes us on it, it sounds like an ancient promise, it gets no traction.

As for this topic, maybe the more broad point about being bold and not afraid to alienate. More specifically, maybe at least an openness to have the conversation, like in Quebec, is a good first step.

CuJoYYC said...

The key word is 'bold' and the key phrase is ' the power of conviction'. I've always eschewed the shorthand easy descriptions of left and right. Too easy. Too inaccurate.

It's a matrix, folks and we're at the centre of it. I agree that we should let the 'spectrum' fall where it may, ignore it as it were, and ignore the terms altogether. We should simply stand behind our convictions boldly.

It's not even about policies per se. Policies come and go. Issues rise and fall. It's about our approach, our process and our willingness to listen to divergent voices during the process of policy creation.

We also need to stop the incessant search for a Messiah. Choose a capable leader but promote the team.

Omar said...

I suppose I'm with most other Canadians in wanting the right to die with dignity, but I'd rather see a bold move toward the relaxation of the ridiculous soft drug laws as a prime mover in shaking of timidity. If you want to attract the younger voter what will be more appealing to them, exciting and new marijuana law reformation or drab and dreary changes to the euthanasia issue? I think the former.

Steve V said...


Couldn't agree more!


Same thing happened on twitter, it evolved into a discussion about pot. I don't think I've ever introduced this topic without "going there". I agree, this post was more inspired by the CBC piece, as well as the greater point of being bold and provocative. This party will die, no question about it, unless it dares to ruffles some feathers.

Morakon said...

Good point Omar. Ex Lib MP Keith Martin has spoken about how decrimializing the possesion of x number of marijuana plants would basically destroy demand in Canada. His theory is current laws aren't stopping marijuana use so you might as well just fine people, while still making grow ops a criminal offence and the result is you will have slightly lower drug use (no longer a forbidden fruit) and you take billions out of the pockets of organized crime. That's bold and good policy.

Purple library guy said...

I'm a leftist, so I'm not really part of the project here. But I can respect an approach like the one outlined here. I think a Liberal party thinking along these lines would add a lot more to the political process and have much more legitimate raison d'etre than the kind of "Stands for nothing in particular" party the Liberals have tended to be lately.

Unknown said...

Omar... did you say that the Liberals should soften the drug laws so they get more votes?

Wow... I think that shows how far the party may be willing to go to get back in power.

Omar said...

They can't soften drug laws because they are not the government, Steve. Should the Liberals campaign on the idea? In my opinion, yes. I don't believe a majority of Canadians think relaxing marijuana laws is as far out there as you apparently do. Of course the primarily Caucasian blue hairs who fervently support Harper would have a conniption, but who cares? They'll have legal euthanasia to ease their pain.

Steve V said...


I'm not sure legalizing shows "how far" they will go, it really isn't an outlandish policy. The war on drugs has failed, pot is everywhere. Instead of clogging up courts, COPS, why not regulate, tax and just accept what is inevitable anyways.

Koby said...

I agree with the thrust of Steve's post. I have been saying much the same for the last 5 years and euthanasia has been one of may favorites. However, I am with Omar in thinking that marijuana legalization has more potential for the Liberals.

The Liberals should support both.

Steve V said...

I'd probably agree marijuana is slightly less controversial. If you really flesh out a policy, it also affords you BILLIONS in revenue to put forth other ideas. Not just taxation, but savings on the policing front, judicary, organized crime.

Koby said...

I think marijuana legalization is far less controversial, but far more philosophically complex.

One thing that makes marijuana legalization more controversial is that it has not been done before. Several countries already allow euthanasia and so do several states. If Canada was to legalize pot, such a move would grab headlines around the world and get start debate everywhere.

Koby said...

"I think marijuana legalization is far less controversial, but far more philosophically complex."

Should read

I think euthanasia is far less controversial, but far more philosophically complex."

Kirk said...

I think support for euthanasia is a mile wide and an inch deep. Actual examination of how it would work and is "working" shows a lot of flaws in the very idea that people choose euthanasia without external pressure and with a reasonable understanding of how they will react when the time actually comes.

I don't trust the government to execute criminals because of the biases and miscarriages of justice in the legal system. I don't expect any euthanasia system to be any better.

The Liberal's have a lot of knowledge of govt. How about a comprehensive package reforming how government provides services to Canadians and how the public service is structured and functions.

The Liberal Party seems as badly structured as any bureaucracy so maybe we can kill 2 birds with one stone in reforming both. Certainly a reformed, responsive to it's members, Liberal Party could highlight that change by a full out reform plan for the civil service. A new Party and a new Government structure.

A no downside (outside of Ottawa) platform plank.

Kirk said...

Want to reinforce removing ourselves from the left-right thang.

I think left and right are really the same thing, ideologies. I am for a non-ideological approach.

There are very strong ideologues in both the NDP and Conservative Parties and we sometime bemoan our lack of true believers but most Canadians aren't right or left. Their rational (they think, we think) and pragmatic.

There's a lot to recommend a "cut the BS", pragmatic approach. The NDP and Con ideologues will point their fingers and say "Liberals don't believe in anything" but without being "believers" we can still stand for solid principles and even morals.

Liberals MPs can also do a lot for themselves and the party by calling BS on both the NDP and Conservatives. We've been there and yes we've done that but as former insiders we can be effective whistle blowers on the whole govt and political scene and redeem ourselves in the eyes of the electorate at the same time.

Just listening to Martha Hall Finley on P&P recently were she has called BS on some of the goings on has twigged me to the power of that that the Liberals can use effectively.

Steve V said...


I mentioned this point in the post, people don't fit into little neat boxes, which is why we shouldn't fixate over right, left, etc. We can have core principles, but unlike an ideologue, it allows for pragmatism. Ideologies are out dated, they have simplistic solutions for complicated societies and worst of all they generally have the answer before being confronted with the question. It's for that reason there is still room for the Liberal Party, but we must arm ourselves with a compelling rationales and let people judge our presentation based on the totality. We will never be everything to everyone, stop trying. Right now we are like that soft spoken person that keeps asking "are you okay, how are feeling, can I get you anything, are you sure you're okay?" Vanilla, borne of fear.

Morakon said...

Supply Management is another good one to look at. Tahank you Rob Silver : http://tinyurl.com/6g6p9tb

Steve V said...

Ha! I just left a comment on Rob's piece saying what a terrible idea it is. Sounds good in theory, absolutely devastating in practice. No thanks to that suggestion, from an otherwise wise source.

Steve V said...


The good thing about Silver though, he's throwing stuff out there, he's a real reformer. I am really enjoying all the ideas being chucked out, even if I don't agree. There is a lot of positive energy out there, at some point in the months, years ahead, it will pay dividends.

Koby said...

Kirk passive euthanasia is widely practiced in Canada. Death by dehydration is its most common form. A patient indicates that he is not to be given any liquids or food and soon enough "nature takes its course". A workable euthanasia law could be as simple of actively euthanizing patients who are already being passively euthanized.

As for differentiating themselves from the NDP, I could not agree more. However, I would not hold to the cleavage that you and Martha Hall Finley seem to hold to, viz., pragmatic versus ideological. Politics can not be reduced to bad technocratic approaches and good ones. There are real philosophical differences as to what things are good and what is bad. Without such agreement you are not going to have the common ground necessary to compare to different approaches. Anyway, I have long maintained that the Liberals need to differentiate themselves from the NDP on three major points, viz., asymmetrical federalism, collective rights, and equity. The Liberals should withdraw their support for all three. Now, when it comes to the Conservatives, I have always maintained that the Liberals should get firmly behind the principle of universality and be socially liberal.


The Liberals need to more than bold. They also need to be consistent. In the past the Liberals have shamelessly held inherently contradictory policies in hopes of capitalizing on both sides of a particular issue. Take Marijuana. On the one hand the Liberals have long maintained that Canadians should not be saddled with a criminal record for consuming something that is, after all, less harmful than alcohol. It is this light that Chrétien famously joked about having a joint in one hand and the money to pay for the fine of having it in the other. “I will have my money for my fine and a joint in my other hand.” On the other hand, just as they long downplayed the affects of smoking marijuana they have long stressed the importance of stiff penalties for trafficking. Both positions are popular with the public, but run the two positions together and it is as if Chrétien said this instead. “I will have my money for my fine and a joint in my other hand. Having paid my fine I would hope the cops find the person who sold it to me in put him in jail for a very long time.” If the act of consumption is not deemed overly ruinous then the whole punitive rationale for trafficking comes crashing down. Add to mix an acknowledgment on behalf of the Liberal party that marijuana can serve a medical purpose and you have a conceptual train wreck as a policy.

Far from helping the Liberals such an approach probably harmed them. It pissed off the ardent supporters of both sides of the political divide at the same time and prevented them from saying anything intelligent about various issues.

Möbius said...

"Of course the primarily Caucasian blue hairs who fervently support Harper would have a conniption, but who cares?"

I'm a Caucasian greyish-haired conservative type. But I would support complete legalization of weed, and most other illicit drugs. The war on drugs doesn't work, and legalization and control is the only solution, IMHO. I just don't believe the LP or CPC will do it, so what's the point in making a choice?

Omar said...

Wow. Something that would save my family a whole $300. Spread out over an entire year! Whoopi-fucking-ding. What in the hell is 15 twenty dollar bills worth in this day and age? Not bloody much. It's like the banks that offer to DOUBLE your $25 deposit if you open up a savings account for your child. Gee, Mr Billions in Profits, how generous of you. Grovel, grovel, grovel...

Koby said...

People often accuse me of being a pot head for wanting to legalize marijuana. This both angers me and amuses me.

I do not drink alcohol, do drugs or even drink coffee. So to being accused of being a pot head is kind of funny. What bothers me about the stereotype is that it is used to shut down serious discussion. In Canada marijuana legalization is bit of ha ha issue and given the level of crime not something that even supporters think about much. Outside the Western world though drug profits feed low grade civil wars. If you are there, you then think about it all the time. Having lived in northern Rio for a bit I know.

If Canada was to lead the way on this issue other countries would gladly follow suit and it would generate a huge amount of international press.

Morakon said...

Here's another issue no one else wants to touch. Cross Boarder Shopping. It's been in the news lately. Don't do anything crazy, maybe offer to double the exemption. Helps people pocket books and spin it as a warning to business to bring down there prices or you'll do it again. I think you could definately run a defending the middle class platform.

Jerry Prager said...

Not sure I have an opinion on Youth in Asia, as for marijuana, as a writer on organized crime, I know that the only benefits of prohibitions are to organized crime. With gangster capitalism now married to global corporatism, they will make money on the drugs and on the private prisons.

CuJoYYC said...

Morakon said... "Here's another issue no one else wants to touch. Cross Boarder (sic) Shopping. It's been in the news lately. Don't do anything crazy, maybe offer to double the exemption. Helps people (sic) pocket books (sic) and spin it as a warning to business to bring down there (sic) prices or you'll do it again. I think you could definately (sic) run a defending the middle class platform."

So you're proposing that we support US businesses at the expense of Canadian businesses? Your suggestion means that the government of Canada would official sanction supporting the tax base of border communities so you can save a few shekels?

Less see who that would hurt.
Local businesses? Yup.
Regional businesses? Yup.
Local governments? Yup.
Provincial governments? Yup.
The federal government? Yup.
Your overall local economy by flowing currency and profits south of the border? Yup.

Who would it help?
Large multinational corporations such as Walmart, Costco, Target? Yup.
Local, state and federal governments through additional taxation? Yup.
Gasoline suppliers who profit from your drive to and from a border town? Yup.

Think locally. Buy locally. Support local and independent businesses. They're NOT the ones with the high prices and they ad value to your community. By shopping at large multinationals or by shopping south of the border, you vote with your dollars daily against your own collective self-interest and the preservation of YOUR community.

Here's a brief example. A few years ago, a school board approached a local stationary store for a financial contribution to the school's fund. When the proprietor asked them where they bought their school supplies, they answered Staples because they were cheaper. When he asked where they go to ask for financial support, they replied that they approached small local businesses. Needless to say, the small business owner made his point and did not make a contribution. Nor did Staples as they were never approached. Too big. Too corporate. If you think about that for a moment, you'll see what I'm getting at.

Support local business. We're not evil price gougers and we're truly a part of your community—and that's not just a marketing slogan from a high-paid marketing firm from some far-off place.