Wednesday, April 24, 2013

The Liberal Party vs the Harper Party, can you tell the Difference. . . . ?

It has become commonplace among those on the left of centre to lump the contemporary Liberal Party of Canada in with the Conservative Party. And this tendency is clearly rooted in a certain degree of truth. Though the Liberals talk a good game on the environment, for example, when they were in power they did little to move Canada's economy toward more sustainable development. The twisted notion that lowering Corporate taxes will be "good" for the economy was, and continues to be a hallmark of Liberal Party thought, despite the overwhelming evidence that it is simply a falsehood. The simple fact is that the LPC has been, and continues to be, a fundamentally neo-liberal political party and in that sense they share certain basic beliefs with the Conservative Party.  This seems clear to me and those who deny it are either foolish or far too wrapped in their own ideological blanket to be worthy of serious political discourse.

However, despite their common ideological beliefs, I think that there are difference between the LPC and the Harper Party. The most obvious difference that comes to mind here is concerning their basic democratic attitude. Though the Liberal Party was clearly guilty of centralizing power in the PMO and using certain vagaries of the British Parliamentary system to their advantage, they were not guilty of wide-spread election fraud (which only the naive believe the Harper Party has not done), they never destroyed centuries of tradition by proroguing parliament specifically to avoid losing power, they were never held in contempt of parliament for failing to reveal their budget numbers (something the Harper Party does on a regular basis), they didn't cut their PMs or Ministers completely off from the Press and the public, and though they used some significantly negative advertising in their time, they didn't turn government into a full-time attack machine to be used all the time against anyone who opposed them. In other words, while the Liberals sometimes violated the spirit of our democratic traditions, they didn't (like the Harper Party has done) turn the government into a machine of war waged against every aspect of our democracy. Indeed, the Liberal Party often mischievously (perhaps too soft a word) exploited the system to their advantage, but they never attempted to destroy the very system itself.

On other important issues there have also been significant differences between the LPC and the Harper Party. Let's take up the issue of the environment again. While the Liberals were clearly guilty of a failure to act properly on climate change, as well as doing little to promote an alternative energy economy, they were not guilty (as the Harper cabal is) of systematically dismantling already existing environmental protections. On the issue of foreign affairs, the LPC displayed a relatively balanced approach to many international issues. Though I would still consider the LPC to be part of the neo-colonial (economically colonial) movement of Western Power, they also had, in their day significantly countervailing tendencies with their party as well as listening to diplomats and civil-servants who were interested in some degree of real international justice.

All of this brings us to the basic economic approaches of the two parties, and this is where things get a little murky. While I agree that both the LPC and the Harper Party have been similar in their neo-liberal outlook, there is, even here a difference that some might consider meaningful. The difference I speak of is this - I think many in the LPC continue to believe that neo-liberal corporatism will actually bring about greater prosperity, while I think it is clear that the Harper Party pursues neo-liberalism as a strategy to impoverish the majority in order to increase the relative wealth and power of the minority. It is in this sense that the Harper Party of Canada is a 'third-world' style political movement. Harper and his cabal want to increase corporate power and wealth in order to crush the majority of people into poverty and subjugation. Third-world elites have been doing this for generations. These elites understand that when the majority have no wealth or power, when they are subject to continual economic instability with few rights and no unions, when they have little information and less education, then the wealth and power of the elite is significantly increased. On the other hand, though I am certainly not a Liberal Party supporter, I think that most of them actually (and naively) believe that a pursuit of corporatism and neo-liberalism will eventually lead to an increase in generalized prosperity. And most Liberals also know that regular "market forces" don't necessarily function in certain areas of the economy. I think that this explains why Paul Martin (a significant capitalist in his own right) pursued universal childcare. In other words it seems to me that even though most powerful Liberal Party members pursue what I would define as a corporate agenda, they at the very least understand that an outright corporatist economy is a dangerous thing (either to the people or to the establishment which can be overthrown by a restless and poverty-stricken citizenship)

Though I have, at least once, voted strategically, I could never vote for the Liberal Party out of political commitment. I believe that corporatism will lead to social and environmental disaster and that any politician worth her salt should oppose corporatism and look for socialist and collectivist alternatives. But as a self-confessed leftist I also think that, at the very least, the LPC's relative commitment to not "muzzling" every scientist and civil servant, and keeping some degree of democracy in our system, means that they could represent a significant improvement on the Harper Party, if for no other reason than that I believe that the more public space exists for discoure on important issues the greater the chance that alternative will open up. I might be wrong, only time will tell.


Bluegreenblogger said...

Quote: "While the Liberals were clearly guilty of a failure to act properly on climate change, as well as doing little to promote an alternative energy economy, they were not guilty (as the Harper cabal is) of systematically dismantling already existing environmental protections."
I think that you are being unfair here. The overwhelming majority of those environmental protections were created by Liberal Governments in the first place. I think there is more than a little truth in the Liberals assertions that they are a pragmatic party. They frequently enacted policies intended to achieve their stated objectives.

kirbycairo said...

you are correct Bluegreen - many of the protections were created by Liberal governments. But I was really characterizing the LPC in its more recent form (say since the early or mid 1900s). And I was doing this because it was during this period that, it seems to me, that they became a neo-liberal party.

Anonymous said...

You indicated that the Cons were the first party to be found in contempt of Parliament, and that's true as far as it goes. But don't forget it was Iggy's Liberals who were holding Harper's coat when it came to concealing the evidence of Canadian government involvement in war crimes in Afghanistan. It was the Liberals (and the Bloc) who agreed to vet and censor documents that Parliament was entitled to demand in full. It was the Liberals who failed to hold the speaker's feet to the fire on the matter so that in the end no documents were ever released.

Now Trudeau fils' Liberals are supporting Harper's reviving of Chretien's blatantly unconstitutional and unneeded terrorism bill. And it's the Liberals who are supporting Harper's neo-liberal trade pact with China. As far as I can see, there's a lot of truth to the old adage "Liberal, Tory, same old story."

Owen Gray said...

As you say, Kirby, the Liberal Party of the '90's paved the way for Stephen Harper.

Perhaps the distinction you're talking about is the difference between neo-liberalism and classic liberalism.

Neo-liberalism is bent on destroying government. Classic liberalism sees government as a force for good.

kirbycairo said...

Dear Anonymous - You are right, of course. As I said, I am not a Liberal supporter and they have certainly had their dubious policies and supported some pretty horrendous stuff. I was simply making the case that an argument can be made that meaningful differences exist between the parties, and these difference (if nothing else) could open discursive space for critiques to be made of the worst offenses of corporatism.

kirbycairo said...

Dear Owen - the classic vs "neo" is one way to talk about it but we can't forget the corporate element in the modern form of Liberalism (and liberalism with a small "l"). But your point is helpful in the sense that regardless of how modern capitalism has developed, most Liberals believe essentially that following capitalist directives will bring prosperity. Unfortunately, in the case of modern corporatism this is a rather vain hope.