Time for a Liberal Program
With the Conservatives enjoying staggering leads in some polls - 12 to 14 points seems to be the average - it has become blatantly obvious that the Liberal Party needs a radical change of course. But what kind of change?
Stephen Harper has managed to pull off a cruel tactical maneuvre - he has cornered the Liberal Party on the left of the political spectrum, and broadened his reach across the centre. He's in majority territory now, and it would not be surprising to see him force an election some time after Easter, eagre to capitalize on Dion's perceived weakness. And, unless Dion has only been pretending to be a rather ineffective opposition leader, Harper would probably win, likely with a majority. Scary stuff. But there is an option that doesn't include simply waiting for the inevitable electoral slaughter to come.
Being cornered on the left, the time has never been better to attempt to unite the centre-left behind one party. To that end, the Liberals need a plan which will appeal to the types of people who usually mark their ballots NDP or Green. But at the same time, ceding any more ground in the centre would be foolhardy. Thus, the party must also make it clear that it is still the best choice for the middle class. The Liberals need to spread out in both directions, tapping all of four bases of the Liberal coalition - business liberals and middle class suburbanites of the centre-right, and welfare staters and social liberals of the centre-left. And of course, the hope would be to add a fifth base to that coalition - environmentalists of all political bents.
To have such a broad appeal to so many different groups, the Liberal platform will need to be fresh, dynamic and innovative - the fact that Bob Rae and Scott Brison are its co-authors is an encouraging start, as they're both very bold men. The platform should include a healthy tax cut aimed primarily at the middle class to satisfy the business community and give middle class voters a very visible incentive to vote Liberal. It should include plans to expand Canada's social safety net - the hard years of the 1990s are over, and Canada can afford to spend on its citizens' most basic needs. It should include a detailed environmental action plan - I don't want to say the Liberals should blatantly steal the Green platform, but stealing from it would be a good start - covering the major issue of global warming, but also addressing smog, and the poisons in our food, air and water. (If Dion wants to lead the green charge, he had better become very good at promoting these issues.) Finally for the social liberals, bold steps forward on drug law reform (including the legalization of harmless substances like marijuana), euthanasia, prostitution and stem cell research would give the activist crowd who usually go NDP and Green an additional reason to vote Liberal, and would have the added bonus of forcing Stephen Harper to take some pretty ridiculous and indefensible positions, most of which Canadians generally (especially the urban voters Stephen Harper needs to get his majority, and also to some extent suburban voters who are uncomfortable with knee-jerk social conservatism) would reject.
This is my prescription for the Liberal Party. I believe that this is what is necessary to win - and even if we don't win, at least we will have gone down fighting for something, instead of just pulling a John Kerry and going down fighting for nothing.