The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #137660 Message #3149786
Posted By: Ed T
07-May-11 - 10:30 AM
Thread Name: BS: Canuck Politics
Subject: RE: BS: Canuck Politics
This article is interesting, but does not seem to link:
A quick sketch of a certain political landscape: The Liberals, who had spent a century or so alternating with the Conservatives as the country's governing party, were suddenly racked by internal division and rapidly declining fortunes. The whole sorry situation was highlighted by a clash of party titans that saw a long-serving prime minister pitted against his own finance minister in an unseemly struggle for power.
Election disasters followed, and the grand old party that had ruled the nation so often, and for so long, seemed destined to disappear.
The Conservatives, on the right, watched the unfolding mess with delight.
And on the left, the socialists sensed an unprecedented opportunity to vault over the disintegrating Liberal party and — buoyed by the popularity of their own respected and mustachioed leader — become the country's official Opposition for the first time ever.
Canada, circa 2011? Are we talking Jean Chretien and Paul Martin, the Stephen Harper-led Tories and — who else — that furry-lipped phenom, NDP leader Jack Layton?
No, we're not. This was Britain, circa 1922.
And truth be told, they were all wearing moustaches in those days — so we can only push the analogy so far.
But the analogy is intriguing. And it is being pushed a lot these days in the aftermath of an Earth-shaking federal election that has profoundly altered Canada's own political landscape.
The 1920s saw the eclipse of Britain's Liberals — the party of Gladstone and Asquith — as a governing force in that country, and the corresponding rise of Labour as the enduring left-of-centre rival (and natural government-in-waiting, when it isn't actually in government) of the U.K.'s right-of-centre Conservatives.
It's a scenario that some see taking shape today in Canada, a two-party polarization of national politics — or "clarification" as Harper put it during the final week of the federal campaign just concluded — that would see the centrist Liberals disappear or reduced to a permanent rump of red, and future elections fought largely between the forces of Left and Right, the Orange and the Blue.
If it does come to pass, and the party of Laurier joins William Gladstone's on the margins of modern political history, then it would represent the realization of a death-to-the-Liberals dream long shared in Canada by many social democrats and conservatives alike.
Back to Britain, briefly, where a cleavage developed over the handling of the First World War between Liberal prime minister H.H. Asquith and his longtime chancellor of the exchequer, David Lloyd George. The party split into two factions, allowing Britain's Labour party — previously a far-left rump — to rise quickly to become the official Opposition in 1921 (under John Robert Clynes) and government (under Ramsay MacDonald) in 1924.
Ever since, leaders of the Labour and Conservative parties have alternated occupancy of 10 Downing Street.
The toppling of the British Liberals and the advancement of Labour as a viable governing option have been cited fondly for decades by Layton's legendary NDP predecessor, Ed Broadbent, who sees Canada's political culture evolving along similar lines.
Following Monday's historic orange surge, the New Democrats' landmark leap to Opposition and the stunning Liberal collapse under Michael Ignatieff, Broadbent was asked if a merger of the two centre-left parties now made sense.
"The unfolding that began last night is very similar to what happened in England at the turn of the last century," Broadbent replied to CPAC interviewer Peter Van Dusen.
"And, in fact, if you look at Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Germany — all the continent, not just the U.K. — in the development of democratic politics in Western Europe, and other advanced democracies like ourselves, what's happened there is that the Labour parties, or social democratic parties, replaced the Liberals."
That, Broadbent went on, "is exactly what happened in England. The once-famous Liberal party of England, that had a history like our Liberal party — and dominated 19th-century British politics — suddenly got absorbed or withered away."
He added: "That is what I was working for, to be quite candid, is all those progressive people who voted for the Liberal party to realize that they could have their real home in the NDP."
The essentially two-party political system envisioned by Broadbent — "a choice between two larger parties, one that is left of centre in a democracy, like the NDP, and the other that is right of centre," he told CPAC — was famously laid out for Canadians by the former NDP leader during the 1988 federal election.
"I think it would be healthy in Canada to evolve the way other countries have, like Britain," Broadbent stated at a campaign stop during the Free Trade Election.
Broadbent's comments at that time were widely identified as a major campaign blunder that prompted many progressives — horrified at the prospect of a Canada with no Liberal party — to throw their support to Grit leader John Turner.
The NDP, expected by many to gain Opposition status in 1988, set a party record with 43 seats but fell far short of expectations.
The Liberals "were deeply mired in third place when Broadbent opined that the election would probably eliminate the Liberals, and give rise to a PC/NDP two-party nation!" former Tory prime minister Brian Mulroney recalled in his 2007 book Memoirs. "I was astounded that he would make such a statement. I knew it would scare the hell out of undecided Liberals, and drive them right back to Turner."
But it isn't just social democrats such as Broadbent who have hungered for a post-Liberal Canada.
Harper himself, having already engineered the transformation and takeover of the blue forces — an amalgam of the battered, old-line Progressive Conservatives and the ascendant, Alberta-based Reform movement — has long been driven by a desire to open up the middle of Canada's political spectrum by eliminating the Liberals.
"He hates the Liberal party," Harper adviser Keith Beardsley states succinctly in Lawrence Martin's 2010 book Harperland, "and I would say his aim from Day 1 — and I don't think anyone would disagree — was to break the brand. The long-term strategy, that was it."
After Monday's devastating defeat, a shell-shocked Ignatieff nevertheless rallied in defence of his crippled party and its traditional utility as a home for millions of Canadians near the centre of the country's political spectrum.
"I think the surest guarantee of the future of the Liberal Party of Canada," Ignatieff said, "is four years of Conservative government and four years of NDP opposition."
But the prediction and the principle were promptly panned by University of Calgary political scientist Tom Flanagan, the former Conservative campaign manager who spent years writing treatises and plotting strategy with Harper to ensure the rise of a new Canadian conservatism.
"Centre parties have largely disappeared, or continue to survive only as minor parties, in modern democracies," Flanagan wrote in the Globe and Mail, citing a host of examples — "think Republicans versus Democrats in the United States, Conservatives versus Labour in Britain, the Liberal-National coalition versus Labour in Australia," as well as Germany's Christian Democrats and Social Democrats.
"Canada was the big exception with the Liberals dominated politics," he added, but now Canadian exceptionalism is "coming to an end."
As on the left, where the prospect of displacing the Liberals has been a powerful political animus since the rise of the Progressives and the proto-NDP CCF in the 1920s and 1930s, the idea of consolidating all fiscally and socially conservative Canadians within an unapologetically right-wing party has been a motivating force for many decades.
In 1989, a young Reform party policy guru penned a manifesto — and sent it to his leader, Preston Manning — about how the Western-based protest movement should embrace a more explicitly right-wing set of programs and philosophies to build a solid base of support across Canada and help initiate a wholesale realignment of Canada's political order.
Stephen Harper's appeal to Manning, recounted in William Johnson's 2005 biography of the future prime minister, was particularly clever since he cited the writings of Manning's own father — Alberta's longtime Social Credit premier Ernest Manning — to advance the argument.
E.C. Manning's 1967 treatise Political Realignment, has been described as having been "ghost written" by the premier's son. And Harper reminded the younger Manning that the book "argued that, to address the modern electorate and modern issues, Canadian partisan politics needed to be realigned into two more ideologically coherent parties, a Social Conservative Party and a Social Democratic Party."
Harper's own ideas have undergone significant transformations since 1989.
And not much about Canadian politics has remained the same since the Mannings offered their vision of a two-party electoral system in 1967.
But the vision of a country without Liberals commanding the political centre — inspired by British history, and made to seem tantalizingly close by Canada's latest election — continues to fire imaginations on the left and right.