Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Conversations With a Liberal

Did you know that I'm personally responsible for the Conservative majority? It's true: by being one of the 31% of Canadians who cast their vote for the party most strongly opposed to Stephen Harper's ideology, I myself gave him his coveted majority. I'm expecting a senate appointment pretty soon in return.

At least, I would if there were any truth, or logic, to the arguments I had to listen to today while speaking to that endangered species, the Canadian Liberal.

Capital-L, that is.

This person was abundantly clear: the NDP lack ethics, they are opportunists. The NDP split the vote with wild promises. They attacked Ignatieff. Ignatieff did nothing wrong, he was the best man for the job, he was the victim of smear attacks. The Liberals remain the best party, sooner or later voters will come back, the Liberals don't need to change anything.

Etc. etc. etc. Okay, one day after his party's worst-ever defeat, and he has a right to be angry. But I wonder what percentage of staunch Liberals agree with this assessment: for their own benefit, I hope it's next to zero, but I'm not at all sure it is. If the Liberals really do fade into obscurity (and I don't think they will), it will be through nobody's fault but their own. Their stubborn refusal to change, to accept defeat, would almost be funny if it weren't so damaging to one of Canada's proudest political legacies. Look what they've done to themselves in a mere decade:
  • 2000: 40.85%
  • 2004: 36.73%
  • 2006: 30.23%
  • 2008: 26.26%
  • 2011: 18.91%
Yesterday, fewer than one in five Canadians cast their vote for the Liberal party. With only 60% turnout, that's closer to 11.5% of Canadian adults. You can blame Stephen Harper, and perhaps you should. You can blame Jack Layton, and perhaps you should. But the vast majority of the blame has to fall with Michael Ignatieff and with a party that was crashing and burning before he even lived in Canada.

I personally believe the Liberals have a continued relevance and place in Canadian politics, even if the Liberal cognoscenti themselves question it at the moment. This guy himself, and plenty of others, had plenty to say about 'the death of Canadian multipartisanism'. This is rich, and emblematic of the problem: the Liberals are so confident of their assured and rightful place in Canadian politics that the mere act of them on one occasion being a third party causes them to presume that they've been permanently gutted. Otherwise, how else do you come to describe the historic ascendancy of a third-party as the death of multipartisanism?

This person, and so many others, presume that the NDP have stolen away votes that rightfully belong to the Liberals - so 'rightfully' so that the Liberals didn't seem to think they were worth fighting for. The Liberals fought a bipartisan smear campaign (and despite what my colourblind friend claims the Liberals fought much dirtier than the NDP) out of the basic presumption that all it took to bring votes to the Liberals was to undermine the Conservatives. Any other party in Canada was a mere distraction, a mosquito in the ear.

My friend was one of those who look at vote tallies and talk about 'vote splitting'. He was angry that the NDP had the audacity to run candidates in all 308 ridings, while presuming it was the birthright of the Liberals to do the same. He pointed out 905 and 416 ridings where the combined Liberal and NDP votes were higher than the Conservative votes. He very sincerely believes that it was 7,731 NDP voters in Etobicoke Centre who turned that riding blue, as opposed to 21,661 Conservative voters in the same riding. Observations like the fact that my hometown of Oshawa has historically had a Liberal spoiler who by the same logic has repeatedly denied the NDP the seat (not last night, I hasten to add, where the Tories won it fair and square) fell on deaf ears. Did the Liberals take advantage of the retirement of an incumbent to use a star candidate in order to 'steal' the NDP's most loyal seat in a by-election last year? Irrelevant... what matters is the fact that NDP voters should have known better than to stray from Daddy LPC.

One party cannot steal votes from another. Parties don't determine elections, the individual decisions of millions of Canadians do. And if barely one in five were convinced by Ignatieff's claims that only he could stop a Conservative majority - if, in fact, only 32% of the anti-Harper vote were - it's for no other reason than the fact that he, and his party, were not convincing enough.

I am as sad, angry and upset by yesterday's events as the rest of the anti-Harper majority of Canadians. But I am entirely unrepentant. I chose to exercise my democratic right yesterday by doing the right thing. By opposing Harper in the firmest way possible and in support of the party with the best vision. If you choose to see it this way (I don't), yesterday it was the Liberals, not the NDP, who were the spoilers. Who, by 'splitting the vote' (whatever that even means), handed Harper his majority.

But don't tell them that. It was all our fault, not theirs.

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