For the last several years, it’s been clear that many Canadians have been becoming disengaged from politics. The most interesting shift in politics was the sudden and unexpected breakthrough of the NDP during the 2011 election and the collapse of the Liberal Party. The NDP managed this breakthrough because of many things, but in no small part it was due to the influence of Jack Layton and the fact that the NDP advocated policies that were distinct from the two other tired options of the Conservatives and the Liberals.
But once gaining power, the NDP jettisoned many of the things it once advocated for in order to become “more electable.” Just one example is the backpedalling of the NDP on free trade – once a position where they were noticeably different from the other two parties because they were against it on the grounds that it left Canada’s economy based on resource exportation and opened the doors to outsourcing Canadian jobs. But once they were Official Opposition, this position was apparently expendable.
This abandonment of former positions to bring a party more in line with the popular position on many things is problematic on many levels, but in short it suggests that Canadians only want to choose between the colour of the ruling party. It also suggests that the things a party advocated for before were wrong. That any party would admit such a thing so quickly after an election, even in a roundabout fashion, demonstrates they never really believed what they told Canadians or they did not do their homework. Evolution of policies because they are proven wrong is one thing; wholesale abandonment of old positions is quite another.
I had basically given up on seeing diversity in politics, believing that our federal parties were more interested in pandering and populism than in actually advocating what is needed for Canada. But current Liberal leadership candidate Martha Hall Findlay has started to prove my pessimism unfounded. She is not nervous to take the unpopular positions, because she believes in what she is saying. She has thought and written extensively on issues facing Canada and I see in her a conviction to convince others of her position rather than capitulate to lowest-common-denominator politics.
She has advocated for raising the GST to raise needed revenue for the government. She has in the past supported Stéphane Dion’s “green shift” that was so harshly ridiculed by the Conservatives in 2008. She has unabashedly said she is in favour of big government and big programs, despite the fact that those terms have been so severely maligned in the last 30 years.
She is convinced that she knows what is right, and is principled enough to stand behind what is right even if it isn’t politically popular. She understands her job is to convince Canadians of her vision, not simply parrot the vision of the government in the hopes that people will switch their colours on a whim. And unlike the NDP, I am convinced she would hold true to her principles if elected. While I don’t always agree with her, I respect her immensely for staking out a position and then standing by it.
Hall Findlay is not just the best hope for the Liberal Party, but the best hope for Canadian politics to move beyond partisan rhetoric and the pursuit of power simply for the sake of power. Hopefully Liberal supporters will see that and make the right choice when they vote in April.
Photo illustration by Edward Dodd