Friday, February 03, 2006

Reinterpreting Laurier for the 21st Century

Like many Liberals, I suspect, I'm currently reading Stephen Clarkson's The Big Red Machine and looking for clues on where it all went wrong.

I'm still back in the Trudeau era and it's been a very interesting read so far. But I do want to share one quote that I think we Liberals should consider during what should be a period of introspection, soul-searching and renewal for our party.

"It is not enough to have good principles; we must have organization also. Principles without organization may lose, but organization without principles may often win."

--Wilfrid Laurier, 1893

I think the end of that quote describes what has been the state of the Liberal Party for far too long, and what ails us today. We've become Laurier on acid.

And I'm not talking just the past three years, or the past 13. It goes back much further, and goes much deeper than that. We have become so consumed with organization that we've forgotten our principles, and what we're supposed to stand for.

The old quote goes "The best thing about being a Liberal is you don't always have to be one." It has fueled much of the party's success over the 20th century. The Liberals became Canada's natural governing party by stealing the best ideas from the left and the right.

But that Laurier philosophy is also what leads to policy making by pollsters and back of a napkin policy shifts (cough…nowwithstanding clause). It's what sees a leader promise a role for Quebec in international cultural affairs in one election, and then condemn his opponent for doing the same thing 18 months later.

Yes, organization is important, and you can't win elections without it. As an aside, I don't think we had organization either in this campaign. But my point is you DO need principles too. Now, more than ever. Who are we? What do we believe in? What does it mean to be a Liberal?

To flip Laurier around it's not enough to have good organization; you need to have good principles too. As we begin to attempt a rebuild of the big red machine in the coming months I hope we keep that in mind.

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Anonymous said...

Very well put!! Dont know if I'll go back to being a Liberal...but substance to me means everything...and whether anyone likes to admit it or not...alot of people, including the hordes of media have been drawn to Harper because of policy and it or hate it..its a vision...if he keeps the lunatics at bay then he gets even stronger....Gerard Kennedy...

noone said...

I liked this post and have been reading up on our history too. Not only reading about Liberal leadership history, but the history of Canada.

It seems to me that when we started this country, it was founded, ultimately, on Liberals, by Liberals. And we've done very well because Liberals have taken the best route for Canadians. Some things may not have been purely "Liberal" actions but they were good for Canada at a point in time.

The problem I have with Stephen Harper is that his "vision" is so far removed from what Canada is and was from day one. If we wanted to be a USA lite, we would be by now. Many great people have worked and fought long and hard to make Canada BETTER than the USA. We have a history of looking to them to see what NOT to do. I want us to remember that it has worked in the past and we do have a better quality of life and country as a result.

As for Harper, as a human being, I'm sure he's a fine person. As a leader for Canada, I see him as a threat to what we're about at our core. It's as if he grew up hating the very country that gave him all he is today. We don't need someone like that pretending to lead. And I do see him as pretending. He's not leading, he's enforcing, or plans to enforce. And that's what the Conservatives are about, which is very bad for Canada.