Saturday, February 11, 2017

TRUMP-BANNON NEW GLOBAL ORDER: LEAGUE OF THE THREE EMPIRES



U.S. President Donald Trump is thin-skinned, narcissistic and obsesses over peripheral matters to a shocking extent.

There is method in his madness, however. Together with his alter ego and chief advisor Steve Bannon, Trump has conceived a new world order that is deeply at odds with the prevailing American global system.

Since 1945, America’s political leadership has developed an international, liberal global order with the United States at its centre. The system privileged the American dollar and American corporations, backing up this “free world” order with the might of the U.S. military, on which Washington spent more than the next ten countries combined. The purpose of the system was to keep America at the core and to push the Soviet Union and its dependencies to the periphery. The struggle was ideological and geo-strategic.

In the end, of course, the Soviet system collapsed. The ideological threat from Moscow was gone and Russia was reduced to being an authoritarian capitalist state, whose only claim to global power was its vast nuclear arsenal and lethal missile delivery system. Under Vladimir Putin’s brutal regime, Russia has clawed back some of its regional power as seen in its seizure of Crimea, its assault on eastern Ukraine, its menacing posture vis a vis Poland and the Baltic States, and further afield its alliance with the Assad regime in Syria.

The American response to Russia has been to keep its own alliance system intact and to continue to preside over the liberal international order.

That is, until now. Trump and Bannon have an alternative system in mind. As the front man in the duo, Trump never comes out and presents the complete alternative so that it can be grasped systematically. But he has been very open about the pieces of the puzzle. To understand the whole, we have to fit the following pieces together.

* Trump has declared that the United States has been overly generous with other countries and that this has undermined America’s economic strength, productive capacity and ability to create and sustain jobs at home. In part, this is a response to the economic distress felt by people in the “rust belt” states. Even more it is a visceral reaction against the rise of minorities to an ever more prominent place in American society. By the middle of this century, it is estimated that Latinos could constitute twenty-five per cent of the U.S. population, African Americans fifteen per cent, and Asians, indigenous peoples, Pacific Islanders and other immigrants ten per cent. This would reduce non-Hispanic whites, the traditional core of the American national project, to merely half the population of the United States.

Trump has combined economic outrage with xenophobic attacks on Mexicans and Muslims.

* A second piece was Trump’s repeated expressions of admiration for Vladimir Putin. He made it clear both before and after his inauguration that he would pursue closer relations with Moscow and would not be averse to dismantling sanctions against Russia.

* A third piece, closely linked to the second, has been Trump’s statements in support of the United Kingdom’s decision to secede from the European Union. He has said that it would not surprise him if other EU countries followed Britain’s example. He has criticized German Chancellor Angela Merkel for her government’s policy of welcoming huge numbers of Syrian refugees to Germany. In addition to disparaging the EU, a reversal of the position of previous U.S. presidents, Trump has denigrated NATO as a critical pillar in the defence policy of the United States.

Friendly to Russia and negative toward the EU and NATO—these are critical pieces of the Trump puzzle.

Following the inauguration Trump was quick to carry through on the xenophobic elements of his program. He announced that the much-touted wall along the Mexican border would be built and would ultimately be paid for by Mexico. So nakedly insulting was Trump on the issue—he even hinted that the U.S. could send troops down there to deal with “bad hombres”—that Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto cancelled a planned trip to Washington. Then came the emergency 90-day ban prohibiting citizens of seven majority Muslim countries from entering the United States. On this issue, Trump has been blocked so far in the courts.

America’s liberal internationalism has always given precedence to the American national interest. However, as a feature of that system, the U.S. established an economic order in which most countries had to play by a common set of rules much of the time. This was the price, the United States paid for the enormous benefits it enjoyed as the global hegemonic power. But the world-view of Donald Trump and Steve Bannon holds that this system has proven too costly to America.

Assembling the pieces of the puzzle, we can see the new world order espoused by the two.

An entente with Russia would allow the world’s two leading nuclear powers to seek naked dominance in their respective spheres. Russia would be allowed a freer hand in its “near abroad” with dire potential consequences for Ukraine and other eastern European countries bordering on Russia. In its own much larger sphere, the United States would be free to pursue its economic, political and military goals without much regard for the interests of so-called allied powers. The guise of defending the “free world” against Russia would be abandoned along with the rules based trading system of the WTO, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and regional trade blocs, erected under American leadership. Trump has already ditched the Trans Pacific Partnership and has often said that NAFTA is the worst trade deal ever established.

Trump and Bannon would prefer a new and more openly brutal system of bilateral relations between the U.S. and other countries. Bilateralism would allow the U.S. to exert maximum pressure on trading partners, one by one.

Such a global arrangement would not be the first time in history that major powers have made common cause in pursuit of their own interests. In the late 19th century German Chancellor Otto von Bismarck fostered such an alliance among Germany, Austria-Hungary, and Russia. It was an unstable system and ultimately it collapsed.

The point is that Trump and Bannon are aiming at such a fundamental reordering of the world. Whether they would want to include China in what would become a League of the Three Empires is not yet clear. Initially Trump hinted at stirring up trouble with China over the status of Taiwan. However, in a recent telephone conversation with Xi Jinping, described as “extremely cordial” Trump told the Chinese President that he intended to honour the One China Policy.

As the saying goes, Rome wasn’t built in a day. The Trump-Bannon New World Order cannot be constructed in a day. It will be fiercely resisted along the way. Those who are resisting it will be enormously better prepared if they understand the Trump-Bannon conception as a whole and are not merely distracted by its bits and pieces.

Friday, January 20, 2017

The Canadian Choice: Fundamental Change or Hard Right Populism

In the era of Brexit and Trump, Canadians face an increasingly clear choice between fundamental change and hard right populism.

Canada is one of the major countries in the West where the political centre has held, much to the benefit of Canadians. But the same forces that have driven the rise of the xenophobic right in the United States, the United Kingdom, France and other countries are at play here.

We have some time to adapt, but time is running out. The temptation to muddle through in the hope that the Trump administration will be satisfied with gouging Mexico and won’t try to take a bite out of us on trade, investment and taxes is foolish. We risk being further marginalized as suppliers of primary products at the same time as our industrial base is ever more hollowed out.

What is driving the collapse of the political centre is the crisis of the global neo-liberal capitalism of our age.

For the past several decades, the majority of men and women in the labour force in Canada and abroad have seen little or no rise in their incomes (adjusted for inflation), at the same time as their security of employment grows increasingly precarious. Meanwhile, those who have presided over the present global division of labour have enriched themselves more lavishly than any class of rulers in the history of the world.

To put it simply, the leverage of those who control capital over those who sell their labour to earn a living has expanded dramatically.

Though the rise of the xenophobic far right, in response to this state of affairs, has received most of the attention in the mainstream media, a wave of radical politics is sweeping across the developed world. Potentially, this wave can provide the effective antidote to the extremism on the right. The young are at the epicentre of this political surge. In response to the socio-economic conditions they face and the dire problems that confront the world, they have evolved a unique political outlook.

The negative consequences of the vast and growing inequality of our age are being concentrated on the young. They are the victims of the uneven ways the widening class divide affects different generations.

Compared with those who came before, most notably the baby boomers, the generation of the millennials, aged twenty to thirty-five, are grappling with the effects of inequality.

As one man in his early twenties wrote to me: “The millennials are acutely aware of the ever worsening material conditions they face.” From their forebears “millennials have come to realize that at one point in the past it was not typical to have to change jobs every two years, or to be completely locked out of the home ownership market due to ridiculously high home prices, and to have to bankrupt oneself to get a post-secondary education.” One apt term being used to describe the young is “Generation Rent.”

For the young, as well, climate change is imbedded in their reality. Stark changes in weather patterns are part of the public conversation in a way that was certainly not true for earlier generations.

To break with a failed system, Canadians need a wholly new outlook on how to make Canada work for the large majority of the population. No less is required than the launching of an economy, constructed around new green industries, and green energy systems, that will transform the way we live and work. Rebuilding cities and transportation systems will be central to this. Twentieth century cities, particularly their suburban and exurban perimeters, were constructed around the automobile. The cities of the twenty-first century will have to be designed around much more effective public transit. Greater urban density and public transit are essential to the green economy of the future.

Building a new economy around the principle of equity for the diverse elements of the Canadian population including first nations peoples, immigrants, and women can create full employment. It can effectively grapple with the plight of those in the working class who have been losing full time jobs.

Canadians have made vast and successful adaptations in the past to their socio-economic system. Today’s change, in which the young are bound to play a leading role, will require making capital work for people rather than the other way around. Among other things that necessitates the rejection of trade deals such as NAFTA that have much more to do with the privileges of corporations than the free exchange of goods and services.

In Europe and even in the United States, effective political voices have taken up the cause of a new politics. So far, in Canada, while the conditions exist for new movements with transformative political programs, no political party has laid claim to this terrain, and that includes the NDP. Politics abhors a vacuum. If existing institutions fail to fill the void, new institutions, as has happened in other countries will take their place.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

America: En Route from Republic to Post Democratic Empire

With the election of Donald Trump as President, the United States has taken another major step from a Republic to an Empire ruled by those who would be Caesars.

The American republic was born in a struggle against imperial rule from across the sea. Its leaders—who were soiled by the racism and brutality of slavery—nonetheless counted themselves children of the Enlightenment.

The conquest of a continental domain and the Monroe Doctrine’s proclamation that the Western Hemisphere was an American sphere of influence were followed by the rise of the United States to global power.

The early republic, whose founders shunned a standing army in favour of local militias, now has hundreds of military bases around the world. It is an imperial power on a scale that dwarfs all the previous empires in history. It is the only power on earth ever to have dropped atomic bombs on cities.

Americans have a deep and quasi-religious attachment to their Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of 1787. The connection today, however, is much like the nostalgic attachment of many religious people to their rituals.

For the first time in American history, a very wealthy man has bought and paid for his own campaign for the nation’s highest office. Trump’s campaign was less costly than that of his liberal opponent Hillary Clinton. This does not lessen the point that Donald Trump is a would-be Caesar who financed his personal assault on the presidency. American liberal election campaigns, those of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama before her, were also affairs of vast expenditure. Neither Republicans nor Democrats now acquire public funding for their campaigns. Their campaigns are far too stratospherically expensive for that.

A state that places no limits on campaign finance for its highest office is not a full democracy. In the last days of the Roman Republic, candidates for office, some more liberal than others, financed their own lavish campaigns, famed for their “bread and circuses”. They fed the Roman population and hosted gladiatorial contests in the Coliseum.

Today, American presidential campaigns finance travel, communications, and unseemly rallies where thousands cheer for their opponent to be locked up. The Caesars would have envied the lavishness.

A democracy, in which each citizen counts for something greater than the mere formality of equal rights, ceases to exist when meaningful political participation is far beyond the means of the vast majority of the population.

In addition to threatening American democracy, Trump’s election widens the chasm that exists between what can be called Old America and New America. The victories of Barack Obama in two presidential elections came as a horrific shock to much of white America, those who have not adapted to the racial, ethnic and cultural changes in the country. These were the people drawn to the Birther lie, promulgated by Donald Trump for years, that Barack Obama was not born in the United States. Let’s call them the forces of Old America.

The demographic shift in the United States is perceived as a threat to those in the population who most consciously derive their identity from the demography of the Thirteen Colonies at the time of the American Revolution. The United States has been transformed into a country in which minorities, taken together, are en route to becoming a majority. A New America, characterized by an acceptance of diversity, is coming into being. New America is inhabited by tens of millions of people of all races, among them a very large section of the millennial generation.

By the middle of this century, non-Hispanic whites — it was non-Hispanic whites who made the Revolution — will become a minority in the United States. By that date, demographers project that Latinos will constitute 25 percent of the population, African Americans 15 percent, and native Americans, Asian Americans, and Pacific Islanders a total of 10 percent.

White resistance to Hispanic immigration is widespread in the United States, but is especially virulent in certain regions. All along the border with Mexico, there are self-appointed white militias who attempt to stop Mexicans from crossing the border illegally. This is a form of group vigilantism that is closely tied in with the gun culture and the propagation of the freedom to bear arms guaranteed through the Second Amendment.

The leadership of Old America has drawn together a section of the very wealthy classes along with vast numbers of much poorer people. To establish a wide alliance of white Americans, from some of the poorest to the richest, the movement embraces a range of causes that give it its cohesiveness. Antagonism to trade unionism, immigrants, African Americans, as well as to feminism and gay rights are among those causes. The protection of gun ownership is another. So too is evangelical Christianity. The causes and attitudes that animate Old America have not been contrived by a few propagandists. The values of Old America have been nurtured in the soil of the country over decades, even centuries.

Trump’s promises to deport millions of Latinos who are undocumented in the United States, to build a wall along the southern U.S. border, and to block Muslim immigration to the United States were central to his election. His victories in states that have experienced massive industrial decline---Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan and Wisconsin—were driven by his promise to bring jobs back to America and to clamp down on immigration.

What Trump succeeded in doing, not for the first time in history, was winning over much of the working class to the “fool’s gold” of racism. In times of deep social crisis, the far right specializes in drawing alienated and marginalized wage earners away from class politics to scapegoating and exclusionism. The failures of crisis prone neo-liberal capitalism, with its enormous divide between the superrich and the rest of the population, are falsely blamed on immigrants. This political strategy triumphed in the drive for Brexit in the UK. Marine Le Pen will utilize it in the presidential election in France in the spring of 2017. Trump’s victory is being touted all over the world by those determined to win power in their own countries through racist and anti-immigrant campaigns.

To conclude, America has been sliding from Republic to a post-democratic Empire for many decades. Not surprisingly, Americans are the last people on the planet to perceive this. The populations of imperial powers are well known for lacking much understanding of the world beyond their borders. That is one of the costs of empire and a major reason that empires, sooner or later, decline and fall.

Plato insisted that a universal state would be a tyranny.

The United States is the closest the world has ever come to a universal state. Its claims to champion democracy and human rights around the globe have long rung hollow. Now with a self-proclaimed racist, misogynist and climate change denier about to take the helm--a billionaire who admires dictators--the United States has become a tyrannical menace to humanity and the planet.



Friday, November 11, 2016

The Liberals: The Natural Governing Party Returns Under Justin Trudeau

Since 1984, when Brian Mulroney’s Progressive Conservatives won a large majority of federal ridings in Quebec, the federal Liberal Party failed to win a majority of seats in Quebec in any subsequent election, until 2015.  Contrast those decades with the era from 1896 to 1984. 
 
In 1896, Liberal leader Wilfrid Laurier led his party to victory in a large majority of Quebec seats on his way to power.  Since 1896, the Conservatives have won a majority of federal seats in Quebec only three times, in 1958, 1984 and 1988.  Beginning in 1993 and in every federal election since then, the Bloc Quebecois has won a majority of federal seats in Quebec. 
 
What made the Liberal Party “the natural governing party” of Canada for over eighty years following 1896 was that it could almost always count on winning a majority of seats in Quebec, usually a very substantial majority.  (The term “natural governing party” simply means the party that can usually be expected to win elections.)  With Quebec almost always safely in its column the day an election was called, the Liberals had only to do reasonably well in the rest of Canada to win power. 
 
Look at it another way.  In only seven elections from 1896 through 1988---those of 1911, 1917, 1925, 1930, 1957, 1962 and 1979 (four of the last five of these producing short-lived Conservative minority governments)---did the party winning a majority of seats in Quebec fail to win the election.  Throughout this period, the Liberal Party never won power without winning a majority of seats in Quebec.
 
During the elections from 1993 through 2000, the Liberal Party successfully masked the loss of its ability to win a majority of seats in Quebec for two reasons, both of them not destined to endure for the long-term.  The first of these was the Liberal Party’s success in winning an overwhelming majority of seats in vote rich Ontario. The second reason, strongly related to the first, was the division of the political right into two major parties from 1993 to 2003 when the Conservative Party of Canada was founded. 
 
Why did the Liberals lose their grip on Quebec?  In 1984 and 1988, after decades of dominating Quebec, the Liberals came up against the phenomenon of Brian Mulroney, a politician from the north shore of the St. Lawrence who was linguistically as much a Francophone as an Anglophone.  There had never previously been a Conservative leader like Mulroney.  And his timing was ideal.  By 1984, the Quebecois were fed up with the great political wars of the preceding two decades between the two giants of the age, Pierre Trudeau and Rene Levesque.  Moreover, by 1984, Canadians, including the Quebecois, were tired of the Trudeau government, after several years of sharp recession and the unseemly spectacle of Liberals rewarding their own with plush appointments in the months leading up to the election.
 
Beyond Mulroney, there was another and more important reason why the Liberals lost Quebec---Quebec nationalism.
 
Pierre Trudeau’s liberalism had an enormous impact on Canada, but in Quebec it was a highly divisive force.  In the 1968 election campaign, Pierre Trudeau sailed to victory, not only because of the attractiveness of his vision of a Just Society, but in English Canada he was that very special politician, a French Canadian who insisted on making no concessions to Quebec nationalism.  He opposed any form of special status for Quebec and insisted that bilingualism and fairness toward the country’s two major linguistic communities was the responsibility of Ottawa and all of the provinces.  The fate of Francophone Canada, he argued, was not the exclusive problem of Quebec.  In English Canada, this was heady stuff.  Here was a charismatic Francophone saying that the Quebec nationalists had got it all wrong. 
 
Trudeau’s eventual success in patriating the Constitution and in entrenching the Charter of Rights in 1982 was an unqualified success everywhere but in Quebec.  In English Canada, the Charter soon became a pillar of the national identity, making English Canadians much more a “rights based” people than they had been.  In Quebec, while the ideas of a written constitution and a Charter of Rights were not anathema, the fact that these were imposed from Ottawa, against the explicit opposition of Rene Levesque’s Quebec government, enormously reduced their legitimacy. 
 
Quebec governments suffered no serious legitimacy problem when they used the Notwithstanding provision in the Constitution to override the Charter to achieve their cultural, linguistic or educational objectives.  As this “social values” conflict evolved between English Canadians and Quebec nationalists after 1982, quite distinct positions developed on questions such as multiculturalism.  Although multiculturalism has recently come under fire in many circles in English Canada, it was seen for several decades as a pillar of Canadian society.
 
Quebec developed its own concept, called Interculturalism, with Quebecois intellectuals and political leaders making the case that while other cultures have a role to play in Quebec, that role had to be measured against a standard of “reasonable accommodation” that spelled out how far Quebec should go in accommodating other cultures. 
 
Two recent examples will suffice.  The Quebec National Assembly passed legislation prohibiting women who wear the niqab or burqa from obtaining services from public and para-governmental institutions, including doctors’ offices and health clinics, as well as government-funded schools, colleges and universities.  In addition, the Quebec National Assembly refused admission to a group of Sikh men wearing the Kirpan (ceremonial dagger) to a human rights hearing, on the grounds that this violated security.  When asked if such a step was a violation of multiculturalism, a spokesperson for the Parti Quebecois replied that multiculturalism is a Canadian value not a Quebec value. 

Shifting the periodic debates between English Canada and Quebec from the ground of pragmatic accommodation between the two linguistic communities to a clash of values could have long-term negative consequences for Canadian federalism. 
 
What was clear was that Trudeau’s conception of Canada and of Quebec’s place in it, as simply one province among ten, was rejected by a majority of Quebecois. No provincial political party in Quebec, and this includes the Quebec Liberals, has been prepared to live within the confines of the Trudeau vision.  During the debate about the Meech Lake Accord in 1990, Pierre Trudeau who was retired from politics delivered a speech in Montreal, declaiming his opposition to the idea of recognizing Quebec as a “distinct society” in the Constitution.  He would certainly have opposed the Harper government’s resolution, supported by the Liberals, the NDP and the Bloc that Quebec constitutes a nation within Canada---the Bloc naturally did not agree with the final part of the proposition.
 
Trudeau’s long struggle against Quebec nationalism, while arguably successful, had the consequence of weakening the Liberal Party in Quebec. 
 
When to this were added the political response in Quebec to the Clarity Act of 2000 and to the Sponsorship Scandal, which blew up in 2004, the cumulative resentment against the federal Liberals in Quebec was immense.  The Chretien government, with Stephane Dion taking the lead on it, promulgated the Clarity Act to insist that for a Quebec government to use a victory in a sovereignty referendum to take Quebec out of Confederation, the referendum would have to be clear as to its intent and the majority favouring it had to be decisive. 
 
In addition to the deterioration of the Liberal Party’s standing in Quebec, there was the long-term erosion of the party’s viability in Western Canada.
 
Once the Liberals succeeded in winning most of the farmer Progressives into their ranks, during the 1920s and 1930s (with the exception of a brief period in the mid 1920s and 1930-35 when the Conservatives were in power) the federal Liberals depended on the twin pillars of Quebec and the West (especially Saskatchewan) to win power.  (In their huge majority victory in 1935, the Liberals won 56 of 82 seats in Ontario, adding to their dominance in Quebec, the West, and the Maritimes in that election.)
 
By the time of the 1945 election, the Liberals were already slipping in the West, with both the Cooperative Commonwealth Federation (CCF) and the Social Credit performing strongly in the region; even the Ontario centred Progressive Conservatives showed strength there.  In their massive electoral victory of 1949---the Liberals won 191 of 262 seats---the Liberals dominated all of the major regions of the country.  (The only province they lost was Alberta where they took 5 seats compared to the 10 won by the Social Credit.)  Again, in the 1953 election, the Liberals won a large majority, reduced from four years earlier. 
 
In 1957, a very significant shift occurred that pointed the way to a future in which the Liberal Party’s fortunes would decline in the West.  After twenty-two years of Liberal majority government, John Diefenbaker’s Progressive Conservatives won a minority electoral victory, taking 112 of the 265 seats.  While the Liberals held onto a large majority of seats in Quebec, they were demolished in the West where most of the seats were shared among the CCF, the PCs and the Social Credit.  In their massive victory the following year---Diefenbaker won 208 of 265 seats---the PCs dominated in every region.  The Liberals, winning only 48 seats, did not take a single seat in the four western provinces. 
 
In 1962, with Diefenbaker reduced to a minority government, with 116 of the 265 seats, the Liberals took 99 seats.  Significantly, while the Liberals came back strongly in Central Canada---they won only 35 seats in Quebec because of the rise of the Creditistes (Social Credit) under Real Caouette who took 26 seats---they managed to win only 6 seats in the West where Diefenbaker held on strongly.  The following year, 1963, in another election, Lester Pearson’s Liberals won a minority victory, taking 128 of 265 seats, with Diefenbaker’s PCs winning 95 seats.  In this hour of defeat Diefenbaker held onto a large majority of seats in all three prairie provinces, with the newly formed NDP winning 9 seats in B.C. to the Liberals 7, and the PCs 4 in that province.  Again two years later, in 1965, the Liberals had to settle for another minority with 131 of 265 seats, while Diefenbaker won 97 seats, clinging stubbornly to his prairie base, while the Liberals managed to take only 8 seats in the West.
 
A pattern was taking shape.  The Liberal Party was becoming the party of Central Canada, and it was on the skids in the West.  That was certainly to be the case with the party’s new leader Pierre Trudeau, who was elevated to the party leadership and won a majority electoral victory in 1968.  In his first election victory, Trudeau’s Liberals took 154 of 265 seats with Robert Stanfield’s PCs settling for 72 seats.  In 1968, Trudeau won 16 seats in B.C.----he was very popular on the West Coast in urban areas, but the PCs beat him handily in the prairies winning 20 seats to his 11.    In 1972, the Trudeau Liberals were thrown back on their Quebec base to sustain them as a minority government.  They won 109 seats overall out of 264, just two seats more than the Conservatives.  Without his 56 seats in Quebec and 36 in Ontario (four fewer than the Tories), Trudeau would have lost power.  The Liberals won only 7 seats in the West.  In 1974, Trudeau got his majority back, winning 141 seats with the PCs reduced to 95.  Between them, Quebec and Ontario provided 115 of the Liberal seats, with the party carrying 8 seats in B.C. and 5 in the prairies.  The Liberals had to rely on Central Canada as its political engine. 
 
In 1979, the PCs under Joe Clark won 136 seats out of 282 to win a minority victory, with the Liberals reduced to 114.  In the West, the new citadel of the Conservative Party, the Liberals picked up only 3 seats.  Trudeau was back the following year, 1980, with his final hurrah, a majority government.  His party won 147 seats out of 282 to 103 for Joe Clark’s Conservatives.  But the new majority pointed to Trudeau’s dependence on Central Canada where he won 126 seats, and carried only 2 in the four western provinces.  In the West, Trudeau meant one the only---being left out of what looked like an increasingly distant Ottawa. 
 
In 1984, Brian Mulroney’s PCs carried every region in the country, winning 211 seats out of 282, while John Turner’s Liberals scraped together only 40.  Quebec was now gone from the Liberal column----in that province, the Liberals won only 17 seats to 58 for the Tories.  And the Liberals have not won a majority of seats in Quebec in any federal election since then.  The Quebec pillar was gone and so too was the Western pillar, which had been eroding for decades.  The Liberals carried only 2 seats in the West in 1984.
 
In 1993, when Jean Chretien stormed to a majority victory against a divided right, he ended up with 177 seats out of 295, with the PCs reduced to 2 seats, the Bloc Quebecois winning 54 and the Reform Party 52.  The Liberals did better in the West than in recent elections, carrying 27 seats, 12 of them in Manitoba.  But they were far behind the Reform Party with its 51 western seats.  And in Quebec, the party won only 19 seats.  The story of Chretien’s victory as it would be the story of his three majorities was Ontario, where the party carried a stunning 98 seats out of 99.  In 1997, the Liberals managed 101 of the 103 seats in Ontario out of their total caucus of 155.  In Quebec, they took 26 seats, and in the West a total of 15.  The fragility of the Liberals was there for all to see.   In 2000, it was the same basic story with the Liberals winning 172 of the 301 seats, to the 66 seats taken by the Canadian Alliance.  In the West, the Liberals won 14 seats and in Quebec 36, only 2 seats behind the Bloc, but again the story was Ontario with its 100 Liberal seats.
 
From there the story of Liberal decline can be quickly told.  In 2004, the Liberals under Paul Martin held onto power with 135 seats, a minority of the 308 seats in the House of Commons.  The new Conservative Party, led by Stephen Harper, won 99 seats.  Martin managed to win 14 seats in the West and 21 in Quebec.  His Ontario citadel was under attack.  He held onto 75 seats, to the Conservatives 24.  In 2006, the party of the united right, the Conservatives, won a minority victory with 124 seats to the Liberals’ 103.  This time the Liberals were down to 54 seats in Ontario, 13 in Quebec, and 14 in the West.  In 2008, the Conservatives gained seats, but still fell short of a majority, winning 143 seats to 77 for the Liberals.  This time, the Conservatives won a majority of seats in Ontario, 51, to the Liberals with 38.  In the West, the Conservative Party’s bastion, the Liberals won 7 seats and took 14 in Quebec.  (For a detailed discussion of the flip side of the story, the rise of the Conservative Party of Canada, see Week 8, Lecture 15, “The Remaking of Canadian Conservatism 1988 to 2011.)
 
We have looked at why the Liberal Party fell on hard times in Quebec.  What caused its long demise in the West?  It should be noted that each of the four western provinces has its own political culture, and what moves politics in Alberta as compared to B.C., for instance, can be quite different.  Nonetheless, it is helpful to examine the fortunes of the Liberals in the West as a whole.
 
In part, the Liberal problem in the West was its long association with Quebec and bilingualism.  In part, the idea grew in the West that the Liberals cared only about Toronto and Montreal and didn’t concern themselves with “outer Canada.” 
 
In the 1970s and 1980s, the Trudeau government’s petroleum policies deeply alienated the provincial governments of Alberta and Saskatchewan as well as the powerful petroleum industry.  Beginning in the autumn of 1973 and continuing in subsequent years, the Trudeau government fixed the price of domestic petroleum well below the rising world price.  Meanwhile the Trudeau government authorized the sale of Canadian petroleum to the United States at the world price and collected the difference between the domestic and export price as an export tax. 
 
In 1980, the Trudeau government introduced the National Energy Policy (NEP), which established the goal of achieving fifty per cent Canadian ownership of the petroleum industry by 1990.  This goal was to be achieved by expanding Petro Canada, the publicly owned petroleum that had been established in 1975, and that had grown by buying out the assets of a number of foreign owned petroleum firms.  In addition, the goal was to be realized by promoting the expansion of privately owned petroleum firms.  These firms were to benefit from a change to tax system that imposed higher taxes on foreign owned than on Canadian owned petroleum companies. This tax differential was to provide capital for Petroleum Incentive Program (PIP) grants to be made to domestically owned petroleum companies to aid them in expanding their operations.
 
This set of policies, together with the negative effects of a global slowdown of the petroleum industry, opened the Liberals to sustained attacks from the Alberta and Saskatchewan governments and the petroleum industry (not to mention the U.S. government) as hostile of the petroleum sector and responsible for its problems. 
 
Once the unusual Liberal dominance in the elections of 1993, 1997 and 2000---largely attributable to the division on the right, the party faced a much more problematic future.  As the details of the Sponsorship Scandal struck home with the public in the winter of 2004 (for details, see Week 8, Lecture 15) the changed realities that confronted the Liberal Party were plainly visible. 
 
Of course, other factors---changing economic conditions and the quality of leadership---have played their part in influencing the fortunes of the Liberal Party. 
 
If anything, the Liberals got lucky bounces on the economy.  The election of 1993---Chretien’s first victory---came at just the right time for the Liberals, allowing them to capitalize on the vast unpopularity of Brian Mulroney (even though the Tories were running under newly anointed leader, Kim Campbell), and the unhappiness generated by the sharp economic downtown of the early 1990s.
 
Briefly, we turn to the issue of leadership.
 
Rusty and awkward in public, when he was first elected leader of the Liberal Party and served briefly as prime minister, until defeated by Brian Mulroney’s PCs in 1984, John Turner grew in stature and grace as the years passed.  By the time he faced Mulroney for the second time in an election in 1988, Turner had become a formidable campaigner.  In the second English language television leaders’ debate of the campaign, his sharp attack on Mulroney on the issue of free trade briefly propelled the Liberals into first place ahead of the Tories.
 
Jean Chretien, Turner’s successor, was often written off as a light-weight before he won the election of 1993.  Having held many cabinet positions under Pierre Trudeau, he was not a stand out in any of them.  But he did win three successive majority governments.  Luck had a lot to do with this, the luck of being up against a weak and divided opposition.  Despite his lack of gravitas at times, Chretien was an effective communicator, especially in English Canada.  He had learned the hard lessons of a political pugilist through his decades of experience.
 
Paul Martin was sworn in as prime minister in December 2003, three years into Chretien’s final mandate.  Martin was personable and a good listener---a rarity in politics---who didn’t assume that that he was smarter than everyone around him.  He combined a genuine, progressive concern for the well-being of Canadians with a tough, unbending commitment to the neo-liberal ethos.  Unlike Chretien, Martin was not lucky.  He inherited the Sponsorship Scandal from his predecessor.  When it blew up on his watch, he was never able to recover from it.
 
Stephane Dion, the surprise winner of the 2006 Liberal leadership race, was unpopular in his home province of Quebec, in large measure because he was seen as the author of the Clarity Act, and was completely unsympathetic to Quebec nationalism.  As Liberal leader, he never succeeded in winning a large following in English Canada.  He was the only Liberal leader who only led his party in one federal election and only the second Liberal leader never to become prime minister.
 
Michael Ignatieff failed to ignite major affection from the Canadian people.  A highly accomplished intellectual, Ignatieff spent decades outside the country in Britain and the United States, a biographical fact that has come home to haunt him in his quest for political success.  While in the U.S., he supported the American led invasion of Iraq in 2003.  He has since written that he was wrong about that.  Ignatieff pulled the plug on the idea of a Liberal-NDP coalition government when he took over from Dion as interim Liberal leader in December 2008.  During the two years leading up to the election of 2011, Ignatieff had a difficult time developing a consistent line of attack on the Harper government.  He settled on the broad issue of the Harper government’s consistent disdain for parliament and the threat this posed to Canadian democracy in the months prior to the election.
 
For the Liberal Party, the election campaign of 2011 and its aftermath were no less than catastrophic, leaving as they did the standing of the Liberals as a major party in serious doubt.  Michael Ignatieff, despite his strengths as an intellectual and communicator was effectively targeted and marginalized by negative attack ads before and during the campaign.
 
On May 2, 2011, the Liberals won only 34 seats, the worst result in the party’s history.  Even more dire for the Liberals, the party placed third behind the NDP, leaving them neither the government nor the opposition for the first time ever. 
 
The large question for the Liberals was whether a centre party such as theirs could regain their former standing as one of the country’s two major parties.  Major centre parties are very much the exception in first world democracies.  In Europe and the United States, the norm is for the political system to be dominated by major parties on the left and the right.  In Europe, with the exception of the UK, varying systems of proportional representation are in place.  On the continent, the norm is to have one major party on the left and one on the right, along with small centrist parties and smaller parties on the further left and right. 
 
In the UK, which has a first-past-the-post electoral system like Canada’s, the centrist Liberal Democrats, partners in a coalition government with the Conservatives from 2010 to 2015, occupy the centre ground between the major parties, the Conservatives and Labour. 
 
The question for the Liberals was: did, they now face a future as a centrist, third party, poised between the Conservatives and the NDP, sometimes able to coalesce with one or the other?  Or, could the Liberals rebound and push the NDP back into third party status in the next election?  

Onto the stage of Liberal politics has come a young man with a famous last name, Justin Trudeau. In the 2008 federal election, the son of the former prime minister won the Montreal riding of Papineau.

Following the disastrous results of the 2011 election for the Liberals, Michael Ignatieff resigned as party leader. Bob Rae, a Liberal convert from the NDP and the former premier of Ontario, took over as interim Liberal leader. Ever more widely in the party, Justin Trudeau was touted as a possible leader. In June 2012, Rae announced that he would not enter the leadership race.

Despite his relative lack of political experience, Justin Trudeau threw his hat in the ring. His main challenger for the leadership was Liberal MP Marc Garneau, the former astronaut. Garneau charged Trudeau with not having released enough substantive policy positions. Polls showed Trudeau as highly popular with the public, with the potential to shift the party from third place to first place. Eventually, Garneau dropped out of the contest, leaving only Joyce Murray and Martha Hall Findlay running against Trudeau. On April 14, 2013, Justin Trudeau won 80.1 per cent of the 30,800 votes cast by party members.

As leader, Trudeau immediately propelled the Liberal Party to first place in the opinion polls, with the Conservatives in second place and the NDP in third. Beginning in the autumn of 2014, the Liberal lead diminished. In April 2015, while the race between the Liberals and the Conservatives had tightened to a virtual tie, some polls put the Conservatives slightly ahead of the Liberals.

When the federal election was called in the summer of 2015, it was Tom Mulcair and the NDP who found themselves in the first place in the polls, while the Liberals were in third place. During the first month of the campaign, Mulcair promised that an NDP government would manage the country’s finances so as to achieve a balanced budget. The message was one of caution and it was framed in television ads around Mulcair as a family man who understood the pressures faced by families. Sane and trustworthy Tom could be trusted to lead the country. Exciting this was not. Providing hope for a transformed Canada, following nine years of Conservative government, this was not.

Instead the message for a new kind of future came from Justin Trudeau and the Liberals. The cornerstone of Trudeau’s campaign was the promise to end austerity by mounting a massive program of infrastructure spending that would result in federal deficits of five to ten billion dollars annually for a period of three years. (As it turned out, when the Liberal Finance Minister, Bill Morneau, brought in his first budget in March 2016, the projected deficit for the first year was just over $28 billion. It was much higher than had been anticipated during the election campaign, both because of what was discovered to be the true state of government finances when the Liberals took office and because of the continuing deterioration of the performance of the economy.)
Whatever the merits of the case, it was Justin Trudeau who came to personify the hunger for change, not Tom Mulcair.
This was partly a matter of personality. But while Mulcair deliberately sought to moderate his party’s image, Trudeau was intent on radicalizing his. In this, he succeeded hugely. He led his party to a majority in the House of Commons, with 183 seats.
The Liberals took every seat in Atlantic Canada. They won a majority of seats in Quebec, 40, for the first time since 1980. And they took every seat in the City of Toronto.
What immediately excited Canadians when Justin Trudeau was sworn into office was the composition of the cabinet. Half of its members were women and prominent among them were members who were drawn from a number of ethnic, racial and first nations backgrounds.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

The Liberals: From Natural Governing Party to an Uncertain Future, 1984 to 2012

Since 1984, when Brian Mulroney’s Progressive Conservatives won a large majority of federal ridings in Quebec, the federal Liberal Party has failed to win a majority of seats in Quebec in any subsequent election, although they came close in 2000. Contrast the last three decades with the era from 1896 to 1984.

In 1896, Liberal leader Wilfrid Laurier led his party to victory in a large majority of Quebec seats on his way to power. Since 1896, the Conservatives have won a majority of federal seats in Quebec only three times, in 1958, 1984 and 1988. Beginning in 1993 and in every federal election since then, the Bloc Quebecois has won a majority of federal seats in Quebec.

What made the Liberal Party “the natural governing party” of Canada for over eighty years following 1896 was that it could almost always count on winning a majority of seats in Quebec, usually a very substantial majority. (The term “natural governing party” simply means the party that can usually be expected to win elections.) With Quebec almost always safely in its column the day an election was called, the Liberals had only to do reasonably well in the rest of Canada to win power.

Look at it another way. In only seven elections from 1896 through 1988---those of 1911, 1917, 1925, 1930, 1957, 1962 and 1979 (four of the last five of these producing short-lived Conservative minority governments)---did the party winning a majority of seats in Quebec fail to win the election. Throughout this period, the Liberal Party never won power without winning a majority of seats in Quebec.

During the elections from 1993 through 2000, the Liberal Party successfully masked the loss of its ability to win a majority of seats in Quebec for two reasons, both of them not destined to endure for the long-term. The first of these was the Liberal Party’s success in winning an overwhelming majority of seats in vote rich Ontario. The second reason, strongly related to the first, was the division of the political right into two major parties from 1993 to 2003 when the Conservative Party of Canada was founded.

Why did the Liberals lose their grip on Quebec? In 1984 and 1988, after decades of dominating Quebec, the Liberals came up against the phenomenon of Brian Mulroney, a politician from the north shore of the St. Lawrence who was linguistically as much a Francophone as an Anglophone. There had never previously been a Conservative leader like Mulroney. And his timing was ideal. By 1984, the Quebecois were fed up with the great political wars of the preceding two decades between the two giants of the age, Pierre Trudeau and Rene Levesque. Moreover, by 1984, Canadians, including the Quebecois, were tired of the Trudeau government, after several years of sharp recession and the unseemly spectacle of Liberals rewarding their own with plush appointments in the months leading up to the election.

Beyond Mulroney, there was another and more important reason why the Liberals lost Quebec---Quebec nationalism.

Pierre Trudeau’s liberalism had an enormous impact on Canada, but in Quebec it was a highly divisive force. In the 1968 election campaign, Pierre Trudeau sailed to victory, not only because of the attractiveness of his vision of a Just Society, but in English Canada he was that very special politician, a French Canadian who insisted on making no concessions to Quebec nationalism. He opposed any form of special status for Quebec and insisted that bilingualism and fairness toward the country’s two major linguistic communities was the responsibility of Ottawa and all of the provinces. The fate of Francophone Canada, he argued, was not the exclusive problem of Quebec. In English Canada, this was heady stuff. Here was a charismatic Francophone saying that the Quebec nationalists had got it all wrong.

Trudeau’s eventual success in patriating the Constitution and in entrenching the Charter of Rights in 1982 was an unqualified success everywhere but in Quebec. In English Canada, the Charter soon became a pillar of the national identity, making English Canadians much more a “rights based” people than they had been. In Quebec, while the ideas of a written constitution and a Charter of Rights were not anathema, the fact that these were imposed from Ottawa, against the explicit opposition of Rene Levesque’s Quebec government, enormously reduced their legitimacy.

Quebec governments suffered no serious legitimacy problem when they used the Notwithstanding provision in the Constitution to override the Charter to achieve their cultural, linguistic or educational objectives. As this “social values” conflict evolved between English Canadians and Quebec nationalists after 1982, quite distinct positions developed on questions such as multiculturalism. Although multiculturalism has recently come under fire in many circles in English Canada, it was seen for several decades as a pillar of Canadian society.

Quebec developed its own concept, called Interculturalism, with Quebecois intellectuals and political leaders making the case that while other cultures have a role to play in Quebec, that role had to be measured against a standard of “reasonable accommodation” that spelled out how far Quebec should go in accommodating other cultures.

Two recent examples will suffice. The Quebec National Assembly has passed legislation prohibiting women who wear the niqab or burqa from obtaining services from public and para-governmental institutions, including doctors’ offices and health clinics, as well as government-funded schools, colleges and universities. In addition, the Quebec National Assembly refused admission to a group of Sikh men wearing the Kirpan (ceremonial dagger) to a human rights hearing, on the grounds that this violated security. When asked if such a step was a violation of multiculturalism, a spokesperson for the Parti Quebecois replied that multiculturalism is a Canadian value not a Quebec value.

Shifting the periodic debates between English Canada and Quebec from the ground of pragmatic accommodation between the two linguistic communities to a clash of values can have long-term negative consequences for Canadian federalism.

What is clear is that Trudeau’s conception of Canada and of Quebec’s place in it, as simply one province among ten, has been rejected by a majority of Quebecois. No provincial political party in Quebec, and this includes the Quebec Liberals, has been prepared to live within the confines of the Trudeau vision. During the debate about the Meech Lake Accord in 1990, Pierre Trudeau who was retired from politics delivered a speech in Montreal, declaiming his opposition to the idea of recognizing Quebec as a “distinct society” in the Constitution. He would certainly have opposed the Harper government’s resolution, supported by the Liberals, the NDP and the Bloc that Quebec constitutes a nation within Canada---the Bloc naturally did not agree with the final part of the proposition.

Trudeau’s long struggle against Quebec nationalism, while arguably successful, had the consequence of weakening the Liberal Party in Quebec.

When to this were added the political response in Quebec to the Clarity Act of 2000 and to the Sponsorship Scandal, which blew up in 2004, the cumulative resentment against the federal Liberals in Quebec was immense. The Chretien government, with Stephane Dion taking the lead on it, promulgated the Clarity Act to insist that for a Quebec government to use a victory in a sovereignty referendum to take Quebec out of Confederation, the referendum would have to be clear as to its intent and the majority favouring it had to be decisive.

In addition to the deterioration of the Liberal Party’s standing in Quebec, there has been the long-term erosion of the party’s viability in Western Canada.

Once the Liberals succeeded in winning most of the farmer Progressives into their ranks, during the 1920s and 1930s (with the exception of a brief period in the mid 1920s and 1930-35 when the Conservatives were in power) the federal Liberals depended on the twin pillars of Quebec and the West (especially Saskatchewan) to win power. (In their huge majority victory in 1935, the Liberals won 56 of 82 seats in Ontario, adding to their dominance in Quebec, the West, and the Maritimes in that election.)

By the time of the 1945 election, the Liberals were already slipping in the West, with both the Cooperative Commonwealth Federation (CCF) and the Social Credit performing strongly in the region; even the Ontario centred Progressive Conservatives showed strength there. In their massive electoral victory of 1949---the Liberals won 191 of 262 seats---the Liberals dominated all of the major regions of the country. (The only province they lost was Alberta where they took 5 seats compared to the 10 won by the Social Credit.) Again, in the 1953 election, the Liberals won a large majority, reduced from four years earlier.

In 1957, a very significant shift occurred that pointed the way to a future in which the Liberal Party’s fortunes would decline in the West. After twenty-two years of Liberal majority government, John Diefenbaker’s Progressive Conservatives won a minority electoral victory, taking 112 of the 265 seats. While the Liberals held onto a large majority of seats in Quebec, they were demolished in the West where most of the seats were shared among the CCF, the PCs and the Social Credit. In their massive victory the following year---Diefenbaker won 208 of 265 seats---the PCs dominated in every region. The Liberals, winning only 48 seats, did not take a single seat in the four western provinces.

In 1962, with Diefenbaker reduced to a minority government, with 116 of the 265 seats, the Liberals took 99 seats. Significantly, while the Liberals came back strongly in Central Canada---they won only 35 seats in Quebec because of the rise of the Creditistes (Social Credit) under Real Caouette who took 26 seats---they managed to win only 6 seats in the West where Diefenbaker held on strongly. The following year, 1963, in another election, Lester Pearson’s Liberals won a minority victory, taking 128 of 265 seats, with Diefenbaker’s PCs winning 95 seats. In this hour of defeat Diefenbaker held onto a large majority of seats in all three prairie provinces, with the newly formed NDP winning 9 seats in B.C. to the Liberals 7, and the PCs 4 in that province. Again two years later, in 1965, the Liberals had to settle for another minority with 131 of 265 seats, while Diefenbaker won 97 seats, clinging stubbornly to his prairie base, while the Liberals managed to take only 8 seats in the West.

A pattern was taking shape. The Liberal Party was becoming the party of Central Canada, and it was on the skids in the West. That was certainly to be the case with the party’s new leader Pierre Trudeau, who was elevated to the party leadership and won a majority electoral victory in 1968. In his first election victory, Trudeau’s Liberals took 154 of 265 seats with Robert Stanfield’s PCs settling for 72 seats. In 1968, Trudeau won 16 seats in B.C.----he was very popular on the West Coast in urban areas, but the PCs beat him handily in the prairies winning 20 seats to his 11. In 1972, the Trudeau Liberals were thrown back on their Quebec base to sustain them as a minority government. They won 109 seats overall out of 264, just two seats more than the Conservatives. Without his 56 seats in Quebec and 36 in Ontario (four fewer than the Tories), Trudeau would have lost power. The Liberals won only 7 seats in the West. In 1974, Trudeau got his majority back, winning 141 seats with the PCs reduced to 95. Between them, Quebec and Ontario provided 115 of the Liberal seats, with the party carrying 8 seats in B.C. and 5 in the prairies. The Liberals had to rely on Central Canada as its political engine.

In 1979, the PCs under Joe Clark won 136 seats out of 282 to win a minority victory, with the Liberals reduced to 114. In the West, the new citadel of the Conservative Party, the Liberals picked up only 3 seats. Trudeau was back the following year, 1980, with his final hurrah, a majority government. His party won 147 seats out of 282 to 103 for Joe Clark’s Conservatives. But the new majority pointed to Trudeau’s dependence on Central Canada where he won 126 seats, and carried only 2 in the four western provinces. In the West, Trudeau meant one the only---being left out of what looked like an increasingly distant Ottawa.

In 1984, Brian Mulroney’s PCs carried every region in the country, winning 211 seats out of 282, while John Turner’s Liberals scraped together only 40. Quebec was now gone from the Liberal column----in that province, the Liberals won only 17 seats to 58 for the Tories. And the Liberals have not won a majority of seats in Quebec in any federal election since then. The Quebec pillar was gone and so too was the Western pillar, which had been eroding for decades. The Liberals carried only 2 seats in the West in 1984.

In 1993, when Jean Chretien stormed to a majority victory against a divided right, he ended up with 177 seats out of 295, with the PCs reduced to 2 seats, the Bloc Quebecois winning 54 and the Reform Party 52. The Liberals did better in the West than in recent elections, carrying 27 seats, 12 of them in Manitoba. But they were far behind the Reform Party with its 51 western seats. And in Quebec, the party won only 19 seats. The story of Chretien’s victory as it would be the story of his three majorities was Ontario, where the party carried a stunning 98 seats out of 99. In 1997, the Liberals managed 101 of the 103 seats in Ontario out of their total caucus of 155. In Quebec, they took 26 seats, and in the West a total of 15. The fragility of the Liberals was there for all to see. In 2000, it was the same basic story with the Liberals winning 172 of the 301 seats, to the 66 seats taken by the Canadian Alliance. In the West, the Liberals won 14 seats and in Quebec 36, only 2 seats behind the Bloc, but again the story was Ontario with its 100 Liberal seats.

From there the story of Liberal decline can be quickly told. In 2004, the Liberals under Paul Martin held onto power with 135 seats, a minority of the 308 seats in the House of Commons. The new Conservative Party, led by Stephen Harper, won 99 seats. Martin managed to win 14 seats in the West and 21 in Quebec. His Ontario citadel was under attack. He held onto 75 seats, to the Conservatives 24. In 2006, the party of the united right, the Conservatives, won a minority victory with 124 seats to the Liberals’ 103. This time the Liberals were down to 54 seats in Ontario, 13 in Quebec, and 14 in the West. In 2008, the Conservatives gained seats, but still fell short of a majority, winning 143 seats to 77 for the Liberals. This time, the Conservatives won a majority of seats in Ontario, 51, to the Liberals with 38. In the West, the Conservative Party’s bastion, the Liberals won 7 seats and took 14 in Quebec.

We have looked at why the Liberal Party fell on hard times in Quebec. What caused its long demise in the West? It should be noted that each of the four western provinces has its own political culture, and what moves politics in Alberta as compared to B.C., for instance, can be quite different. Nonetheless, it is helpful to examine the fortunes of the Liberals in the West as a whole.

In part, the Liberal problem in the West was its long association with Quebec and bilingualism. In part, the idea grew in the West that the Liberals cared only about Toronto and Montreal and didn’t concern themselves with “outer Canada.”

In the 1970s and 1980s, the Trudeau government’s petroleum policies deeply alienated the provincial governments of Alberta and Saskatchewan as well as the powerful petroleum industry. Beginning in the autumn of 1973 and continuing in subsequent years, the Trudeau government fixed the price of domestic petroleum well below the rising world price. Meanwhile the Trudeau government authorized the sale of Canadian petroleum to the United States at the world price and collected the difference between the domestic and export price as an export tax.

In 1980, the Trudeau government introduced the National Energy Policy (NEP), which established the goal of achieving fifty per cent Canadian ownership of the petroleum industry by 1990. This goal was to be achieved by expanding Petro Canada, the publicly owned petroleum that had been established in 1975, and that had grown by buying out the assets of a number of foreign owned petroleum firms. In addition, the goal was to be realized by promoting the expansion of privately owned petroleum firms. These firms were to benefit from a change to tax system that imposed higher taxes on foreign owned than on Canadian owned petroleum companies. This tax differential was to provide capital for Petroleum Incentive Program (PIP) grants to be made to domestically owned petroleum companies to aid them in expanding their operations.

This set of policies, together with the negative effects of a global slowdown of the petroleum industry, opened the Liberals to sustained attacks from the Alberta and Saskatchewan governments and the petroleum industry (not to mention the U.S. government) as hostile of the petroleum sector and responsible for its problems.

Once the unusual Liberal dominance in the elections of 1993, 1997 and 2000---largely attributable to the division on the right, the party faced a much more problematic future. As the details of the Sponsorship Scandal struck home with the public in the winter of 2004 (for details, see Week 8, Lecture 15) the changed realities that confronted the Liberal Party were plainly visible.

Of course, other factors---changing economic conditions and the quality of leadership---have played their part in influencing the fortunes of the Liberal Party.

If anything, the Liberals got lucky bounces on the economy. The election of 1993---Chretien’s first victory---came at just the right time for the Liberals, allowing them to capitalize on the vast unpopularity of Brian Mulroney (even though the Tories were running under newly anointed leader, Kim Campbell), and the unhappiness generated by the sharp economic downtown of the early 1990s.

Briefly, we turn to the issue of leadership.

Rusty and awkward in public, when he was first elected leader of the Liberal Party and served briefly as prime minister, until defeated by Brian Mulroney’s PCs in 1984, John Turner grew in stature and grace as the years passed. By the time he faced Mulroney for the second time in an election in 1988, Turner had become a formidable campaigner. In the second English language television leaders’ debate of the campaign, his sharp attack on Mulroney on the issue of free trade briefly propelled the Liberals into first place ahead of the Tories.

Jean Chretien, Turner’s successor, was often written off as a light-weight before he won the election of 1993. Having held many cabinet positions under Pierre Trudeau, he was not a stand out in any of them. But he did win three successive majority governments. Luck had a lot to do with this, the luck of being up against a weak and divided opposition. Despite his lack of gravitas at times, Chretien was an effective communicator, especially in English Canada. He had learned the hard lessons of a political pugilist through his decades of experience.

Paul Martin was sworn in as prime minister in December 2003, three years into Chretien’s final mandate. Martin was personable and a good listener---a rarity in politics---who didn’t assume that that he was smarter than everyone around him. He combined a genuine, progressive concern for the well-being of Canadians with a tough, unbending commitment to the neo-liberal ethos. Unlike Chretien, Martin was not lucky. He inherited the Sponsorship Scandal from his predecessor. When it blew up on his watch, he was never able to recover from it.

Stephane Dion, the surprise winner of the 2006 Liberal leadership race, was unpopular in his home province of Quebec, in large measure because he was seen as the author of the Clarity Act, and was completely unsympathetic to Quebec nationalism. As Liberal leader, he never succeeded in winning a large following in English Canada. He was the only Liberal leader who only led his party in one federal election and only the second Liberal leader never to become prime minister.

Michael Ignatieff failed to ignite major affection from the Canadian people. A highly accomplished intellectual, Ignatieff spent decades outside the country in Britain and the United States, a biographical fact that has come home to haunt him in his quest for political success. While in the U.S., he supported the American led invasion of Iraq in 2003. He has since written that he was wrong about that. Ignatieff pulled the plug on the idea of a Liberal-NDP coalition government when he took over from Dion as interim Liberal leader in December 2008. During the two years leading up to the election of 2011, Ignatieff had a difficult time developing a consistent line of attack on the Harper government. He settled on the broad issue of the Harper government’s consistent disdain for parliament and the threat this posed to Canadian democracy in the months prior to the election.

For the Liberal Party, the election campaign of 2011 and its aftermath were no less than catastrophic, leaving as they did the standing of the Liberals as a major party in serious doubt. Michael Ignatieff, despite his strengths as an intellectual and communicator was effectively targeted and marginalized by negative attack ads before and during the campaign.

On May 2, 2011, the Liberals won only 34 seats, the worst result in the party’s history. Even more dire for the Liberals, the party placed third behind the NDP, leaving them neither the government nor the opposition for the first time ever.

The large question for the Liberals and their interim leader Bob Rae, was whether a centre party such as theirs could regain their former standing as one of the country’s two major parties. Major centre parties are very much the exception in first world democracies. In Europe and the United States, the norm is for the political system to be dominated by major parties on the left and the right. In Europe, with the exception of the UK, varying systems of proportional representation are in place. On the continent, the norm is to have one major party on the left and one on the right, along with small centrist parties and smaller parties on the further left and right.

In the UK, which has a first-past-the-post electoral system like Canada’s, the centrist Liberal Democrats, now partners in a coalition government with the Conservatives, occupy the centre ground between the major parties, the Conservatives and Labour.

The question for the Liberals is: do, they now face a future as a centrist, third party, poised between the Conservatives and the NDP, sometimes able to coalesce with one or the other? Or, can the Liberals rebound and push the NDP back into third party status in a subsequent election? And does the continuing combat between the Liberals and the NDP for a similar electorate bode well for the continuing domination of Canadian politics by the Conservatives?