“Liberal” Values

The postmortem on the electoral decimation of the Liberal Party is well underway. One of the phrases that keeps popping up in discussing the future of the Liberal Party is the notion of so-called “Liberal values”. This would seem to be a good time to ask: What the heck are those values?

Some dictionary synonyms for the word ‘liberal’ include:  progressive,  broad-minded, unprejudiced, beneficent, charitable, openhanded, munificent, unstinting and lavish. With the exception of perhaps the last adjective, these are qualities that all of the other parties claim for themselves.

Philosophically, classic liberalism is a  free market, individual liberties-supportive mindset; something that is no longer reflective of any particular policy orientation of Liberal government policies or ideology of recent memory. Liberal thinking, at least since Lester B. Pearson, has been mostly interventionist.

‘Centrism’ is a somewhat fluid, electorate-based notion that the Liberals have successfully ‘owned’ for some time. But, now that “Not Stephan Harper” has shown itself not to supply a “winning condition”, it may well be a concept under new management.

Paul Martin, in particular, [unsuccessfully] sold the Big Red Tent, “all things to all people” brand identity of the Liberals. That’s probably already too theadbare a concept to hang the brand on, never mind having to do it from third-place territory.

Martha Hall Findlay, a defeated Liberal candidate, is one of the few (so far) true believers to concede the Big Tent can’t include everybody, necessitating some hard, perhaps painful, choices. (Well, it’s sort of axiomatic that rehab ain’t fun.)

When a political party is dealing from strength, it can afford to be smug about it’s “values” – a knowing glance is enough of an answer. But when the electorate finds that wanting, it requires something more explicit.

What’s going to be really interesting (for me, anyway) is the part that the recycled NDP-er,  Bob Rae, plays in the attempted resuscitation of the brand. If a hard left turn is in the cards, can a merger be far behind?

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