Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Can a Liberal change?

Liberals face fundraising, leadership challenges

From an interesting piece by James McNulty in the Vancouver Province today (h/t National Newswatch):

With the heady days of Canada's largest-ever leadership convention seven months
past, federal Liberals find themselves idling in the polls.

Leader Stephane Dion has not caught fire with the public, enthusiasm for him within
Liberal ranks remains muted, and the party is millions of dollars behind the Conservatives in fundraising.

. . . Liberal renewal is an enormous job, readily acknowledged by Gerard Kennedy and Bob Rae.

During recent interviews in Vancouver, the two former leadership contenders admit that new political fundraising rules require a challenging Liberal culture shift from cocktail-and-banquet party to grassroots money machine.

Kennedy says the internal rework is a work in progress. Adding a new leader has made the process "like painting a moving train."

"The convention wanted it to catch fire right away . . . and I don't think that was in the cards," Kennedy admits. “Stephane Dion is a slow burn . . . and, yes, there's a bit of an impatience from the showbiz side of politics."
All this talk of culture shifts and setting the world on fire got me to thinking: has the Liberal party ever really, fundamentally, changed in the last four decades? Given that it has become a party centered around the pursuit and exercise of power, would it not be apt to compare the Liberal Party to a woman who undergoes cosmetic surgery, and then only when between husbands? (Not that there's anything wrong with that.)

The fundraising changes (which are hardly “new,” having been law since January 1, 2004) are a case in point. The banning of corporate and union donations to central parties (but not ridings or individual candidates, though this was eventually implemented by the Harper government) did not spring from the Liberal “grassroots,” but solely from Jean Chr├ętien’s gut.

They were, along with the proposed decriminalization of marijuana, one of the radical policy changes he sprung on the public, after announcing his retirement in 2002. Pronouncing that he could now do what he wanted since he was not running again, Chr├ętien put forth legislation that he would never have proposed during an election (we are seeing a similar phenomenon in Toronto, with David Miller proposing taxes he never breathed a word of in the election barely half a year ago). The fact that the party has still not developed a small donor base underlines the fact that, even though the finance laws were changed by a Liberal prime minister, those changes were hardly Liberal.

And, apropos of the foregoing, McNulty’s article is short on details of whatever big changes are coming to the Liberal party, and Kennedy’s and Rae’s comments predictably deteriorate into veiled and open attacks on Stephen Harper:

Kennedy notes that while Harper runs the Conservatives as a one-man band, Dion
has given his leadership rivals prominent roles and the caucus more
decision-making power. "That's not a threatened leader, that's not insecure."

The public jury on Dion remains out. Meantime, Rae says Stephen Harper
has much to explain on Tory policy around Afghanistan, limiting federal spending
power, failure on social policies such as daycare spaces, and a green back-step.

One of the Liberal party’s most successful leaders, Wilfrid Laurier, famously predicted that the 20th Century would belong to Canada. It ended up belonging to the Liberal Party. In the Liberal party’s estimation, that was probably good enough, as will be any “renewal” they eventually undergo.


Calgary Junkie said...

The fundraising changes brought in by Chretien are one of the best examples of how the biggest threat to the Liberal Party is Liberal members. Ex LPC President Stephen LeDrew was so right when he called Chretien's changes "dumber than a bag of hammers".

One of the problems the LPC must have in fundraising is, how do they motivate their members to donate ? Speaking for myself, I get motivated whenever I see the media ganging up on Harper, distorting, ommitting, repeating Liberal talking points. I say to myself, "now is the time for all good men to come to the aid of their party", as obviously the pushback has to come from BLOGS and CPC members like myself. So I send off another $100, easily done from the CPC website. And no big expense, considering I'll get $75 back in my 2007 Income Tax Return.

And sure enough, the party uses the money on effective negative ads, taking Dion's leadership numbers down another peg. So I feel like they're spending my donation wisely.

But why don't LPC members feel an urge to help their Party, which is so obviously in need of funds ? The one LPC motivational appeal I've seen is a letter to people who might have lost money due to the changes in Income Trust rules. But would such a person really believe that the Libs would undo Flaherty's IT rules ? I dunno, given the Libs credibility is so low, it would be almost impossible for them to convince people that they would actually DO what they promise.

Anyway, it looks good on the Libs to be struggling for cash, after all those years of easy money.

Hector B. said...

The Libs self-inflicted fundraising problems were, in hindsight, fairly predictable when you consider the bases of the two main parties.

The Liberal base is special interest groups and government employees, who both expect to receive funds/consessions from the government.

The Conservative base is "the little guy" and to some extent business, who both just want the government to get off their back. The Conservative base will gladly write cheques to the CPC, with a view that it will help reduce their overall load.

Liberal donors are inherently cheapskates, wanting someone else to foot the bill for them.

If Flaherty and Harper deliver on some real tax reductions (over and above the GST cut), then every dollar sent to the CPC will be worth it.

Dave Hodson said...

Hector, I like your thinking!

I always view my CPC donations as investments. I like to think I'm contributing to getting the political policy I want implemented, and hopefully the investment will eventually pay off. The return comes in the form of reduced taxes and other economic prosperity that will result from a CPC government.

Liberals clearly do not see it this way, or else they wouldn't be in the financial troubles they're currently in.

Recent surveys in the US have also revealed that conservatives are more generous people, giving more money (both in total dollars and as a percentage of their total incomes) to charities, churches and other causes.