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The Globe and Mail

A thrilling Liberal Party revival - or not

Editorial cartoon by Brian Gable

Brian Gable/The Globe and Mail

The excitement is palpable, inescapable. It's no exaggeration to say that no one can quite recall such exhilaration – not Trudeaumania, not Obamamania, not the Leafs winning two games in a row. And why not? The Natural Governing Party is on its way back, and not a moment too soon.

The eagerly-anticipated renaissance began last week, with Interim Leader Bob Rae's magnificent address announcing the renewal process, PLUS an inspiring eight-page document presented by the National Board of the Liberal Party of Canada called " Roadmap to Renewal," PLUS a remarkable 79-page personal opus (89 pages in French) written by the party's much-loved national president, Alfred Apps, entitled " Building a Modern Liberal Party." Our cup truly runneth over.

I'm afraid there may be some confusion here since some media conflated the official document and the Apps document, believing in fact there was only one document, but I am assured by the helpful Liberal Party communications office that there are indeed two documents and that the Apps document is "provided as a personal perspective solely to stimulate discussion and debate among, and input from, LPC members and supporters." I am glad to be able to clarify this confusion for which, frankly speaking, there is no longer any excuse.

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We may also, I believe, now conclude safely that those who saw two ostensibly competing party manifestoes as proof of turmoil within the party are likely wrong on this count though not wrong about the debilitating divisions that have virtually torpedoed the once mighty organization as all Liberals, including Interim Bob and the much-loved Mr. Apps forthrightly acknowledge.

Permit me then a word or two on Interim Bob's historic speech – eloquent, poetic, moving, indeed as riveting as any of Stephen Harper's – and the two non-competing renewal documents, the official eight-pager and the president's landmark cri de coeur of 79 pages (89 pages in French).

What's most compelling about the Liberal re-think is its sheer gutsiness; its virtually unprecedented courage in thinking the unthinkable, speaking the unspeakable, dreaming the impossible dream, standing firm for ideals your ordinary, timid, conventional, opportunistic politicians have no stomach for; and its holding fast to first principles that now seem lost and forgotten – although it is also true that the principles are to be found almost exclusively in Interim Bob's speech and the unofficial intellectual tour de force by President Apps. The official roadmap, being a reflection of the Liberal Party of Canada, is naturally bereft of them.

Space alas does not permit the full elucidation of this brave initiative, but let me highlight some of the more exciting radical ideas that are bound to transform the lives of everyone of us. First and foremost, we are told, the Liberal Party of Canada must proudly represent the middle of the road, those far too long neglected by Harperites who speak only for greedy plutocrats and New Democrats who speak only for the oppressed proletariat. In other words, Liberals must represent neither the 1 per cent nor the 99 per cent, but all those remaining – in short, the rapidly disappearing middle class. Of course this is a matter of some urgency since the middle class is rapidly being scrunched and will soon go the way of the dodo as indeed Liberal voters are already doing in British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia.

Then there are Mr. Apps's own bold ideals enshrined in his 79-page oeuvre (89 en francais), described respectfully by one scribe as "a thorough description of Liberal philosophy and ideology." Truer words were never spoken. Mr. Apps core beliefs include "the absolute primacy of and autonomy of the individual," diversity, democracy, freedom, pluralism, capitalism, and of course the ever-popular "balanced middle road." These are perfect examples of the Liberals refusal to embrace the "simplistic messages" and "bumper sticker populism" of the other parties. Liberals cherish these values while it is well-known that Conservatives, NDPers and Greens eschew democracy, pluralism, diversity, freedom and all the rest. Thank heavens someone does, or where would we be as a country, you might well ask.

Of course there are the inevitable naysayers and party poopers. As some reporters thought necessary to note, "Many of Mr. Rae's priorities mirror the Conservatives' own: encouraging growth through innovation, intelligent taxation and increased free trade." Hard rightists kvetch that the Harper government has already moved towards the centre, particularly in terms of economic policy, while hardline pinkos complain that Jack Layton took the NDP too far toward the middle. All this merely reflects the fear of the old-line sourpusses that a Liberal revival is merely a matter of time.

There is one last challenge here that must be confronted squarely before offering the three cheers this project surely earns. As Interim Bob himself pointed out, his latest political home is actually a dysfunctional organization with an "aging establishment elite" holding too much power and small cliques "afraid of losing control," a "culture of mistrust" and persistent "turf wars." This is not that good. Indeed, Mr. Apps is himself seen as a figure of some cliquish controversy and his dematerialization may be a condition of the party's capacity to rise like the phoenix. But if he is disappeared, what then becomes of his 79-page paper (89 pages in French) and the passionate principles that are enshrined therein. Are they lost forever? And how would we know?

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May a sympathetic outsider be permitted a modest suggestion, plucked directly from the headlines? At last weekend's high-profile college football game between the Penn State Nittany Lions and the Nebraska Cornhuskers, to demonstrate to a riveted world their intense pain, the Lions walked solemnly hand in hand to centre field where they met their rivals, and together both teams removed their helmets, dropped to one knee, and prayed in silence. What precisely they prayed for no one knows, but suffice it to say that the vast throng of 108,000 fans went eerily silent and they prayed too, though what precisely they prayed for, that too no one knows. Suffice it to say, the Lions lost.

Enough. There it is. Wise Liberals will know what it means and what they now must do.

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