Don Martin: Liberals put their hope in the Easter bunny
Discussions at the Liberal’s three-day
Deep Thinkers Summit were thoroughly depressing – which means the conference was successful as an academic exercise and a probable failure as the party’s political fix.
Straight-shooting speakers filled the hall with gloomy future scenarios and impossible solutions under hostile headlines like those generated by an attack on the lost, soul-less, conniving Liberal party from diplomat Robert Fowler, who tongue-lashed delegates into shocked silence on Sunday with a profoundly insightful, must-hear speech on Canada’s misguided foreign policy.
The experts’ collective messaging about the oncoming retirement revolution, ailing government finances, productivity erosion and the imminent failure of our mission in Afghanistan was so dark, nobody could blame Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff if he scurried away from toxic politics to the cloistered shelter of the Harvard ivory tower.
They lined up to advocate a carbon tax, two-tiered health care or new taxes to prop up a system verging on unaffordable, a harder-on-Israel Middle East policy and basically declared the looming clash between an uneducated workforce and millions of skilled job vacancies to be unavoidable.
As former New Brunswick premier Frank McKenna whispered to former prime minister Paul Martin halfway through debate on one of the intractable problems: “We’re f****d”. Responded mr. Martin: “The whole world is f****d.”
But the guy who might share that fate could be Michael Ignatieff as he tries to mesh real problems with politically-incorrect solutions as the results of this gabfest are taken to regional conferences later this spring.
His final speech Sunday was strangely flat and the top priority of Canadians — jobs — did not appear anywhere in the wrap-up news release, dwarfed by announcing a curious freeze on corporate income tax rates once they come into office.
Perhaps he had figured out very quickly that the proposed cushions for Canada’s future shock could not be deployed without causing extreme political injury.
Suddenly all the grandiose talk of seizing this day as the Liberal moment to act ended with mr. Ignatieff engaging in a delicate ducking of specifics, which suggests the deep thinking process could end up an audacity of hype.
Mr. Ignatieff actually declared that he hadn’t detected any doom or gloom during the conference deliberations. He’d heard only reaffirmations and hope.
Fair enough. having been seated in the front row for most of the seminars, perhaps he had better hearing than all the assembled media and many of the delegates.
But gloomy or not, most of the pressing solutions needed for problems appearing on long-range radar are impossible to deliver within prevailing budgetary limits.
Mr. Ignatieff acknowledged this as the deep thinking migraine for his party as it aims to become the oxymoron of a “fiscally balanced” “compassionate government” .
The Liberals will embrace the Conservative deficit elimination goal and decline to introduce new programs that would incur fresh deficit, he vowed.
So far, so good. but how mr. Ignatieff will pay for his new national priorities on early education and child care for all, national innovation strategies, lower tuition, language training for all immigrants and environmental action without spending borrowed money is left to his vivid imagination.
He even shrugged off that fiscally ruinous health care file by insisting it could be magically cured with better prevention, new technology and more home-care for the elderly. if he believes that, he should order the Easter bunny to deliver sugarless eggs this weekend as a national kickstart to obesity prevention.
But credit is due for mr. Ignatieff’s brainstorming idea. To watch a party that couldn’t organize its own vote on its own parliamentary motion last week pull off a meeting of diverse minds while Internet-linked to dozens of remote gatherings across the country was impressive and should become the technological norm for political conventions.
But if many of the proposed Think big answers are actually hammered into the party’s platform, the Liberals should be advised to Think Small in terms of seats in the next election.
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