The future is electric cars, high-speed rail, green technologies, superior health care and democracies that are democratic.
The Conservative government is spending a combined $30-billion on new prisons, Cold War fighter jets and corporate tax breaks. It's still foot-dragging on the green file.
The opportunity for the Liberals to cast themselves as the party of the future as opposed to the party of the past is gaping. But, thus far, they haven't made that case. The old argument about holding off on policy intentions until an election campaign is preventing them from getting traction.
Michael Ignatieff has spent the past few months working on his fuzzy personal image. That needed to be done. Now it's the fuzzy policy image that needs work. On that front, the Liberals - or so they claim - will soon get active.
A major initiative in the works, according to insiders, is on health care - specifically, home care. The new plan would see new forms of financial assistance for family caregivers, people who have to take time from work to tend to aging parents or family members stricken by mental or physical illnesses.
This would be done for thousands of families through increased benefits, a major one being an expansion of the employment insurance system. There's a compassionate care benefit in the existing EI, but Liberals say it's too small and overly restrictive.
The party also wants more investment in institutionalized home care - professional caregivers going to homes - and will push for that in the coming renegotiation of the federal-provincial health accord. But this is a more dubious prospect. Their emphasis will be where the federal government has the most power to act - a concrete plan for family caregivers.
"This isn't about a nanny state," said one of the Liberals working on the policy. "This is about people taking care of each other."
Given the Conservatives' emphasis on families, the Liberals are surprised they've done so little on home care. With the aging population, some public opinion analysts are of the view that home care is one of the most obvious and resonant big ideas for improving health care. It frees up hospital beds, humanizes the system and keeps families together.
Liberal health critic Ujjal Dosanjh, who wouldn't comment on his party's new plan, said the thinking when the Liberals negotiated the health accord with the provinces in 2004 was that "home care was the way to go because it would reduce the burden in the hospitals. … But the Conservatives have not pushed the provinces to come up with what's needed to be done in the accord." Mr. Dosanjh, who was health minister when the accord was signed, said it's hard to get a fix on what the Harper government has done because it's not forthcoming on the subject.
Liberal MP Keith Martin, a physician and an authority in the health-care field, is all in favour of an expanded home-care plan, but he hasn't been consulted by the party hierarchy. One reason, perhaps, is that Dr. Martin favours an increased role for the private sector in health care. He says the Canada Health Act must be modernized to allow patients to pay for care in separate facilities funded solely by the private sector. "We cannot continue to wrap ourselves in the CHA, hold on to shibboleths and demonize those who are trying to modernize our obsolete health-care system."
Indeed, a case can be made that our system is becoming both obsolete and unsustainable. A new home-care plan might not do much to address these larger issues, but it's a step in a better direction.