Out with the old

Russell Wangersky
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Well, it has happened in Quebec - you have to wonder if it could happen in this province, or maybe if it could even happen again federally.

With the Liberal party dismasted and barely afloat across the country, you have to wonder if the time hasn't come for the centre-left to do what the right in this country so clearly did - sink the hulk and start afresh.

Right now in Quebec, a brand-new party is leading in the polls. The Coalition Avenir Quebec has a fuzzy platform - neither federalist nor separatist - few candidates, and little more than a plan for government to be more businesslike.

But still, it's ahead.

Its biggest attraction? It's neither the provincial Liberals nor the Parti Québécois.

The fact is, given the general exhaustion most Canadians feel about politics right now, we could probably use something like that nationally, too. A federal party that's neither Stephen Harper's attack-dog partisan gang of anything-goes ideologues, nor the schmooze-fest Liberals, spavined by too long a record of filling their plates and pockets - and the pockets of friends, followers and like-minded advertising agencies - with money and entitlements from the taxpayer.

The problem is, both the Conservatives and the Liberals have their own baggage. (Even though the Tories reinvented themselves through Reform and Canadian Alliance facelifts, they're starting to sound positively Mulroney-esque, like they are becoming overly fond of the personal perks of power, from helicopter rides to playing fast and loose with the truth.)

Now, some would argue that the NDP could simply step up to the plate and become the "left" of the left/right equation.

That's certainly possible, but the NDP has baggage of its own.

Sure, it's not the baggage-cart of fading entitlement that the Liberals are dragging around behind themselves, both federally and provincially. Heck, in this province, even in opposition, the Liberals can't seem to help but fill any available job with family members or Liberal friendlies already pulling down provincial pensions.

What has the NDP got to deal with?

A generation of unelectability behind them, and one that's chock-a-block with mistrust for many voters. Why? Because, as the traditional third party in the country, they've had legislature after legislature to pitch out impractical ideas that they have never had to worry about finding funding to actually pay for. That approach has cemented the popular opinion that the NDP is a bunch of left-wing socialists whose plans would bankrupt the country - it doesn't matter if that's true or not.

All that matters is that enough people believe it to make it an anchor around the NDP's neck.

But, at the same time, I can't believe there's any way that a country can go on being run by a party that believes its well-right-of-centre views are the views of all Canadians, especially when that party got the votes of just 26 per cent of eligible voters in the last federal election.

Any way you slice it, that means 74 per cent of Canadians voted a different way or cared so little about the available choices that they didn't vote at all.

Right now, both federally and provincially, the Liberals are talking about trying to rebuild grassroots party organizations that they've basically let lie fallow for years upon years.

They're talking about finding new ideas from, essentially, the rump of people most enamoured of the old, tired ideas and behaviours.

The NDP? Even with a stellar performance as the third party in this province and the opposition federally, it will take years upon years for them to craft a new reputation - and it's something they may not be able to do for a decade or more.

What's left?

What does that leave us with? A couple of terms of the 26 per cent solution federally?

I hope not. We're only months in, and there's already enough scary stuff out there for an entire term of minority Conservative government. Three more years of this, and if we have parliamentary sessions at all, they'll be behind closed doors.

This is a country of smart, engaged citizens - albeit, citizens who have been fed election after election of dirty tricks, attack ads and the most base politics we have ever seen.

Those smart, engaged citizens might not want to become career politicians - some might have to be pulled kicking and struggling anywhere near the very idea - but the fact is, it's doubtful whether career politicians are who you want running your country anyway.

You want someone, after all, who's looking at the future of the country, not their own personal political future or the future of their party.

Maybe it's time we also had a new party with new people and new ideas - and none of the baggage, either right or left. No old boys to be in the club, no wheels to grease, no one to be beholden to for patronage or pork.

Wouldn't that be nice?

The Coalition Avenir Quebec says its slogan is "Quebec can and must do better."

Well, Canada can and must do better, too.

It's hard to see how it will do better when its political parties are so mired in staying exactly the same.

Russell Wangersky is The Telegram's editorial page editor. He can be reached by email at rwanger@thetelegram.com.

Organizations: NDP, Parti Québécois, Conservatives Reform and Canadian Alliance The Telegram

Geographic location: Quebec, Canada

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Recent comments

  • Pierre Neary
    December 21, 2011 - 21:34

    Definetly would make things interesting. Maybe it is something you should consider Russell?

  • Lane
    December 19, 2011 - 23:08

    Mr. Wangersky, can you name one single policy of the government that actually has any place at all on the obsolete 'right-centre-left' model of the political spectrum, or do you just label everything you disagree with as "far right" and "ideological"?