Binkley - A chance for Liberals


Try it Liberals, new ideas might help win back

public support; next election not that far away 

By Alex Binkley
True North Perspective
Sunrise or sunset for the Liberal Party of Canada? Photo-illustration by Geoffrey Dow.  
Sunrise or sunset for the Liberal Party of Canada?  

The beating the Liberals suffered in the May 2 election has the party in dire need of finding its place in the middle of the political spectrum. Otherwise, it will be submerged by the Conservatives and NDP.

So far, it has staggered along. It has far less time in Question Period to stake out its positions and has fallen back on tired old ideas rather than looking for new approaches. Certainly, the party is still shell shocked by the shellacking it took.

If it doesn’t use the summer break, (parliament is off until September 19), to start charting a new course then the party will continue to founder in political irrelevancy.

Although they tried, the Liberals didn’t manage to distinguish themselves from the NDP in the postal lockout debate. They could have pushed for a commons committee examination of the financial state of Canada Post as well as the union’s safety complaints.

The Conservatives like to keep this kind of information behind closed doors. The Liberals should have been able to frame the debate in terms of the public’s right to know about the state of a crown corporation. That probably would have resonated with more Canadians than the NDP’s staunch defense of the union.

Here’s another opportunity for the Liberals to try to get into the middle of a political debate. The government plans to remove the wheat and barley marketing monopoly from the Canadian Wheat Board (CWB).

The Conservatives have the numbers to force the change through parliament. They promised to do it before the 2006 election and aren’t going to waste this opportunity. They want to get the new regime in place for the start of the 2012 crop year next summer so by the time of the next federal election it will no longer be an issue.

The NDP will oppose the end of the monopoly saying the government is destroying the CWB and denying farmers their rights. So far the Liberals are using the same arguments.

However, if they can bring themselves to accept that the Conservatives have the numbers to make it happen, the Liberals could decide to push for the best possible bargain for producers.

Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz has invited the CWB to say what it needs to survive without the monopoly. He says the government wants the Board to remain an effective outlet for farmers who want to use it.

So far the CWB has been doing a rendition of Chicken Little’s The Sky is Falling rather than engaging the government. One has to wonder why the Board didn’t have a fully developed Plan B in case the Conservatives formed a majority. It had five years to prepare one.

The Grain Growers of Canada and other pro change groups have tried, without success, to get the CWB to discuss its future.

The Liberals could bring leadership to the issue. On one hand, they can press the government on what it is prepared to offer in a transition period for the Board. For example, if it is a voluntary organization, why couldn’t any group of Canadian farmers ask it to handle international sales for them on a commercial basis?

Ritz has worked very hard on finding new markets for Canadian farm products but that doesn’t mean all farmers have the experience or aptitude to take advantage of his efforts.

The Liberals could also push for whatever financial bridges the Board needs and for resolution of related issues such as producer cars.

That would be far better than me-tooing the NDP or letting the issues drift, as the government seems content to do. If they try a different approach on the CWB, the Liberals might figure how to stake out their territory on other matters. With some work, they could gain public recognition for independent and constructive policies. The next election isn’t that far away.

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