How to get rid of Liberals
by Margret Kopala

Published in the Ottawa Citizen, November 5, 2005

Prior to Justice Gomery’s report, Canada’s lone unity warrior cautioned against seeing threats to national unity at every turn. Environment Minister Stephane Dion’s sentiments are well taken but the generation that grew up in the shadow of the Bomb may be forgiven for having an overdeveloped sense of impending catastrophe – despite the relative safety of our 1950s Edmonton homes. We can hope that Gomery Parts 1 and 2 will bury the sponsorship scandal but, for us, the larger question remains whether Canada will go down with it.

Canadians may be inured to shady dealings in government but was there ever a time when, in the course of one generation, two former prime ministers sought redress in court proceedings? First, Brian Mulroney and the so-called Airbus affair; now it’s Jean Chretien and the sponsorship scandal. Whether Canada and its leaders are victims of partisan excess, some incurable rot at the core, or merely caught in the final spasms of an Old Canada political culture, even by crumpled Canadian standards, these are new lows.

That threats to national unity exist is in any case irrefutable. Ineptitude and insult of which the sponsorship scandal is only the latest example keep separatism alive in Quebec and growing in the West. Worse, and despite gains for Conservatives following Gomery Part 1, all polls indicate that no political party inspires sufficient confidence to lead the country out of this morass.

How then, as Ottawa University professor Gilles Paquet asks in “Gomery as Glasnost” ( Literary Review of Canada, September 2005), does Quebec and the West get rid of the federal Liberals without leaving the country? A Conservative victory in the next election is one obvious solution, if only it were possible. Adding to the chorus of advice for Conservatives, let me suggest the following.

Have an Agenda: This is a government that hasn’t done its homework on everything from healthcare and the fiscal imbalance to marijuana and productivity and trade issues, not to mention the appointment of the Governor General. Additionally, having an agenda is the only antidote to accusations of having a hidden agenda.

Expose Liberal Deception: In politics, the knife is more effective than the hammer and shouting easily dismissed as noise. Voters already know about the sponsorship scandal; now they need to know the rest, including Liberal disinformation on same sex marriage. The Supreme Court did not say the traditional definition of marriage violates the Charter.

Explain Complex Issues: Most voters do not understand issues like climate change or even healthcare. From the emissions trading system to the controversy around the causes of global warming, no one has explained the ramifications of the Kyoto Accord or other options.

Win the Air Wars: Democrats, including those in the media, are open to a Conservative victory but it means taking the battle to the airwaves as well as on the ground. With most voters glued to their television screens, absence of a well honed, professionally crafted and executed message is politically fatal.

And if all that fails …

Remember Abraham Lincoln: Gilles Paquet believes tragedies resulting from cash strapping decisions made in Ottawa will precipitate the necessary reframing, restructuring and retooling necessary to bind the Canadian federation. As Kashechewan demonstrates, Liberal government cash is all that’s needed to precipitate silence instead. A deeper tragedy, perhaps secession itself , may therefore be necessary before change is possible. Indeed, for the generations caught in the din of the national unity wars, the prospect of a radically altered country, even its dissolution, has become normalized.

Tall, gangly and lacking ego and ambition, the sartorially challenged Abraham Lincoln was given to introspection and what biographers now believe were bouts of serious depression. These very qualities, they say, also gave him the insight, eloquence and the deep calling to public service that helped him bind a nation.

In the absence of a government predicated on strength of character, a sense of honour and a vision of greatness commensurate with the country’s geography, a constitutional crisis will require of the Conservative party the insight and eloquence to articulate the options available for a new or dissolved Canada.

MARGRET KOPALA’s column on western perspectives appears every other week.

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