ANTONIA MAIONI

Grits: Be bold, or get lost

Contributed to The Globe and Mail

Along with other commentators, McGill University political scientist Antonia Maioni was invited to address the Liberal caucus meetings this week in Ottawa. Here are her five tips for the Liberal Party of Canada to revive, survive and live to see another political day.

Move away from the middle of the road: For years, Liberals have fed off the notion of moderation and centrism, of being neither here nor there. But the middle of the road can be a dangerous place – especially if you don’t know where you’re going. The Liberal Party’s challenge is to reimagine the political spectrum as a multidimensional space, not just a flat line where they struggle to hold an imaginary middle position.

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Take ownership of policy issues: The Liberal Party should remember that its greatest strength relates to the ability to use political power to pursue an agenda and address policy priorities. There’s a myriad of challenges to Canada’s economy and society. Take health care: As the top-of-mind issue for Canadians and the country’s largest public expenditure, Liberals would do well to inject some rationality and enlightenment into the conversation.

And although few elections are won or lost over foreign policy, this is an area where the Liberals used to matter but have failed to recapture their place. The voice of liberalism has to be able to communicate relevant and salient positions in order to contribute meaningfully to these debates.

Rebuild the Quebec relationship: The brutal fact is that the Liberal Party of Canada no longer matters in Quebec. The party has lost its place in the fabric of Quebec society, has lost touch with Quebeckers, and still doesn’t understand why that’s happened. The Liberal leadership has failed to articulate a clear message to Quebec nationalists, and hasn’t been able to explain what makes Quebec tick to the rest of Canada.

The first challenge is to get a grip on the map and move its efforts off the West Island of Montreal and into the rest of the province. The second is to bury the old federalist-sovereigntist dichotomy that was used to such political advantage in the past but that no longer resonates in modern Quebec.

Get over the white knight syndrome: Liberals seem to believe that a single visionary can rekindle the party and recapture voter imagination. Not only is this the stuff of romance, it’s also pure fiction.

Liberal leaders who made a difference had three things in common: a deep commitment to liberal values and the determination to express them; an astute understanding of the political climate and how to affect it playing the long game; and the ability to forge relevant policy positions on issues that mattered to individual Canadians and to Canada as a whole.

Tune out the merger talk: Like everything else in politics, the essential questions of a potential merger between the Liberals and the NDP would be: Who profits and who pays? It’s a risky business at the best of times, but right now, without a leader and without a position of strength, there’s precious little in it for the Liberal Party.

Not only does merger talk make the Liberals look pretty desperate, it also saps the party’s already wilted energies and distorts the public debate about why Canada needs a Liberal party. In other words, be bold or get out of the way.

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