What’s Wrong With The Liberals?
"The Liberal Party is travelling in the ditches of expediency, first Right, then Left"
HON. C. G. POWER
ALL MY life I have been a Liberal and all my adult years, I hope, a liberal.
Now I am a Liberal looking for some place to vote liberal.
What the Liberal Party urgently needs is a house cleaning, not in its top leadership, but in the field of policy. The traditional party of progress and reform has gone off the track and is travelling in the ditches of expediency and improvisation, first Right, then Left. What it requires is a rebirth and resurgence of liberalism and a clear restatement of its principles. That resurgence must come upward from the ranks. It can never be handed down from on high in the shape of Orders of the Day.
From what does it require saving? From opportunism at neglect of principle and from the possibility of coalition with the followers of any other political philosophy.
Both ailments are begotten of what can only be called the office-holding mania.
What, you are about to read is no complaint from a malcontent. It is certainly not motivated by frustrated personal ambition. The Liberal Party has given me far more in the way of honors, prestige and authority than even the wildest dreams of youth might have contemplated. Rather it is because, and not in spite of, 30 years of joyous comradeship that I claim the prerogative to have my say about my own team and its current trends.
Heritage of Discontent
FOR MONTHS past many people of liberal mind have been giving anxious consideration to the present state of the Liberal Party. On occasion, mostly in private, they have expressed grave forebodings as to the future of Liberalism in Canada. I have been the confidant of some, had correspondence with others. I find that Liberals in both federal and provincial spheres have lóst their fighting spirit. The thumping ministerial majority in Chambly-Vercheres does not change the validity of the statement, even in respect to Quebec.
By temperament and conviction Liberals are impatient of delay. We fume and fret if all possible benefits to mankind are not achieved at once. We are demanding and critical of our own leaders. Such discontent is nothing new. It is not unexpected. It is our heritage, necessary if liberalism is to be dynamic.
No anxiety would exist if such healthy discontent and self-criticism were all that troubled us. The fact is that in the Liberal ranks across Canada the old, healthy grouses have given way to pessimism, disappointment, defeatism and despair.
Some of the talk you hear, naturally enough, revolves around the question of the party’s leadership. What has the Prime Minister on his mind? What are his personal plans? Who can take his place?
These are questions raised by puzzled people, but they are the effects of frustration, not the cause. What the Liberal Party needs is not a new leader— it needs a new outlook, clearly defined in terms of policy. No party in Canadian history has had the
Major Charles Cavan Power, M.C., more familiarly known as “Chubby,” is at 59 the dean of the Commons. He has sat in the House for Quebec South for 30 years. He was Canada's first Air Minister, and resigned the Cabinet in 1944 in protest over compulsory overseas service.
benefit of such capable and adroit leadership which Mackenzie King has given his followers since 1919.
That isn’t our trouble. Our trouble is that we don’t know where we are going.
What we need, then, is a clear restatement of principles and a return to the ways of liberalism.
“Consider the Trials—”
LET US examine the causes of discontent, even at À peril of giving offense to colleagues and friends . . .
During the war years we all drifted away from democratic ideas and principles. The condition was not peculiar to the one party. It cut across every element in the nation. I believe most Canadians
were in accord with the process invoked to fight the war the extraordinary steps taken, the controls, the censorship, the security powers, the by-passing of Parliament, what was tantamount to govemment;-by-decree. But the instrument was the Liberal party, through the government which its supporters had elected to fight, and win the war. Hence that party will be charged with the responsibility, no matter whether or not it. wants to assume it.
Undoubtedly speed, efficiency, expediency and secrecy were essential in wartime. But there is no need for any continuing sacrifice of cherished liberties or democratic principles today.
Consider for a moment the so-called espionage trials. We have abandoned in peacetime the age-old tradition of the security of the subject, every individual right which stems from Magna Charta, for the ways of the Star Chamber and of lettres de cachet. Now we stand committed to the technique of incarceration without trial, inquisition without access to counsel, solitary confinement and the refinements of a secret police system.
But this is not the only symptom of what war has left in its wake. Extraordinary power does something to the people who wield it.
Thus we have one of our ministers—and he would be a most surprised man if you told him that he no longer subscribes to the democratic thesis—gravely informing the House of Commons that the authority of the government is not delegated to it by the House, nor by the people, but comes from the Crown.
If he is right, then it is high time that some liberal reintroduced the famous resolution which Dunning carried triumphantly in Britain nearly 200 years ago: “The power of the Crown has increased, is increasing, and should be diminished.” Again, on being chided for wasteful and extravagant expenditure of millions of dollars in peacetime, we heard another minister brush off his critics with the retort: “A million doliare is not an important matter anyway!” What has become, then, of the great liberal watchword, “Economy, Retrenchment, Reform?”
fn the tariff area, duties have been raised on the advice of ministers in a way which I can only describe as surreptitiously, a course in which these gentlemen would have persisted, but for the outcries of startled democrats.
We have permitted our opponents to set themselves up as Provincial Rightera, and given them, at least on the surface, some justification for the charge that the Liberal party is the party of centralization. That the charge is fundamentally false does not detract from its force, as witness Mr. Duplessis’ continuing victories in provincial by-elections.
The philosophy of Canadian liberalism has never been that of centralization on the one hand, nor of Balkanization on the other, but of close and friendly co-operation between the federal government and those of tiie provinces, coupled with a recognition of each other’s rights and areas of governance. This is still the basic outlook of the rank and file. We recognize that the unusual ethnic structure of our country, closely hitched to local geography, necessitates an easy, but clearly stated, relationship. In the past we were the prime defenders of that approach. Now we have conveyed the defense of provincial rights by default to others, and are made to appear as the ogres of arch-federalization.
By our deals, gifts and contracts, almost invariably made at sacrifice of our own economic interests, the Liberals, of a’l people, have been relegated to the role Continued on page 46
Continued on page 46
What's Wrong With The Liberals?
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of Imperialists by their political opponents.
And what has become of our traditional role as the friends of labor? Only the toughest reactionary would challenge the statement that throughout the war the Canadian worker played a highly patriotic role in our fantastically expanded economy. Our policy, even then, was one of expediency and improvisation and was often highly exasperating to the worker. To continue it into peacetime is unforgiveable.
Yet in a recent strike a Liberal government took sides against the unions in advance of the strike itself, legally outlawing the workers before the act. Then, when the strike happened anyway, we ignominiously backtracked and made no pretense of enforcing our own rules.
Not content with having purloined from our natural opponents on the Right their outlook of intransigeant imperialism and reaction, we have gone full circle and purloined from the Left as well.
From the ideology of the CCF we have lifted the worship of bureaucratic controls, leaving Parliament—and the reference is to the present, not to wartime—little more than the role of a debating society, controlled from outside, not by the people who elect its members, but by minor czars and petty dictators. The combination obviously adds up to sheer opportunism.
By such devices Parliament is flouted and ignored. Is this the rightful course of the party which, throughout its history, has regarded the expreasion of dynamic democracy in a free, unfettered and responsible Parliament, as its supreme function?
Is there a remedy? I believe so— and an effective one. I believe that the great and enduring principles of liberalism can be adapted and streamlined to the needs of modern living. I believe this streamlining can be accomplished without sacrifice of liberty,
freedom or initiative. I believe that a complete restatement of liberal principles must be undertaken without delay, accompanied by an enumeration of objectives flowing from these principles —these to be the goals of the Liberal Party, whether in office or in opposition.
Liberalism does not necessarily thrive on office. The contrary is often true. The words of Alexander Mackenzie, Canada’s first great Liberal Prime Minister, are just as pertinent today as when they were spoken in 1877:
“I believe and have always believed that it would be most disastrous to the Liberal Party to remain in power one moment longer than they can keep their principles and carry them into effect by practical legislation and ... I do say that I would take infinitely more pleasure in sitting on the furtherest back bench of the House of Commons as a purely independent member of Parliament than to occupy the first of the Treasury benches, if compelled in order to occupy that seat, to propound a policy at variance with my previous utterances to the great party which I have the honor to lead. Sir, I hope there is still left in this country such a thing as high-mindedness in political life.”
In short, we must fight with all the fervor of inspired men prepared to accept whatever immediate verdict the electorate may pronounce, convinced that the Canadian people will soon renew their faith in the dynamic principles essential to a free people engaged in developing a frontier country. But to fight in these terms you have to know what you are fighting for.
What’s to Be Done
Thus far, you may say, all this is negative. Any man who sat in the grandstand Saturday can tell you on Monday morning what* plays the quarterback should have called. But where’s the good in it, unless he can give you a winning strategy for next Saturday? What is the point in criticism if the critic has no constructive alternative to offer?
I certainly do not allocate to myself the right to write a new Liberal program, but I do have thoughts and ideas
which I discover are shared by liberalminded Liberals wherever I go. First, then, what is liberalism? What is this political force we are talking about?
Hobhouse has defined it as “a struggle for liberty; personal, civil, political, fiscal, social, economic, domestic, national and international ... a struggle for the rights of the people as against privilege and privileged interests and classes . . . With this struggle for liberty comes the struggle for equality of opportunity for all men.”
Canadian Liberal leaders in the past —and I would certainly include Mr. King among them—have fought unremittingly for the liberty of the individual, for collective prosperity, for racial and religious freedom and harmony, for our growth to nationhood by constitutional reform. Such an outlook was not invented by these leaders. The leaders spoke with the voice of the people’s own liberalism. The voice is stilled today. It must speak again.
It must remind us that we must be first, last and always Canadians in the fullest meaning of the term . . .
Canadians in Quebec, in Toronto, in Halifax and Vancouver, not insular Canadians surrounding ourselves with walls, nor attempting to insulate ourselves against other Canadians. There is no Canadian future in satellitism or colonialism on the one hand, nor in withdrawing into ourselves regionally or racially on the other. The young Canadians who have gone abroad to fight this country’s battles twice in the past quarter century have come back to us with a fervent passion for this huge, beloved land. Ours must be the Canadianism of broad horizons, for the St. Lawrence, the Mackenzie and the Columbia belong to all of us in equal degree, and they will not be ours for long if we are small-minded men.
The task of liberalism is to develop the work of Confederation, remembering always the meaning of the word and its assumption of union in diversity. It is to cement the elements which, scattered over half a continent, make up the Canadian people.
“This,” said Sir Wilfrid Laurier at Quebec in 1894, “is the role of the Liberal Party in the Confederation, and as long as I have the honor to take
part in the shaping of our destinies, this is the ideal toward which it shall gravitate.” The words are just as valid in 1947.
Next we must reaffirm in our minds that liberalism itself is a fundamental creed, having its sources in the very heartstrings of humanity. It is not a middle of the road compromise with Reaction and Socialism and it cannot coalesce with either without catastrophic abdication of its principles.
It differs from Reaction in its recognition of the necessity for constant change in civilization that is always in flux, and in its willingness to foster that change.
It differs from Socialism in its abhorrence of regimentation and its detestation of bureaucratic control.
An eminent European liberal, Salvador de Madariaga, puts it in these words: “Not in vain is the state compared to a ship. We (liberals) are the most advanced part of the ship, which is neither on the Right, nor on the Left, but ahead of both—in the prow.”
Liberalism, in short, cannot be the meeting place for groups ready to veer to Right or Left with the changing winds of popular opinion. Its party can no longer be the party of the laissezfaire individualist, nor can it continue to accept the doctrines of the free-forall Manchester school of economic liberalism, no longer valid in a complex mechanized society, if ever they were.
The rise to importance of vocational groups — labor, capital, agriculture, manufacturing, etc.—makes a new concept of the state a necessity. No longer may it be said accurately that “the individual is not for the state, the state is for the individual.” It more nearly approaches the truth to say that the state exists not for itself as a supreme entity, nor for the individual as a sort of social untouchable, but as an arbiter or umpire between the interests of highly organized professional, commercial or industrial classes on the one hand and the mass of the people on the other.
Liberalism believes in the competitive system and maintains that a primary function of government is to keep competition truly competitive, intervening only when the rules are broken and the people’s rights infringed. It abhors monopolism and detests the economic royalism which would use the system, through the machinery of tariffs, money power and economic privilege, to shackle the people. With the same vigor it rejects the thesis that our economy should be controlled by theorists who profess to know what’s best for everybody else. An umpire, by the way, doesn’t simply blow a whistle. He halts the play whenever either team is offside and imposes stiff penalties on players who cut up rough.
Specific Objectives Needed
It is no part of Liberalism’s job to provide a shield and buckler for fearful Tories who would support us to save themselves from the CCF. Nor can we provide a refuge for timid Socialists who are afraid to go down the line with their own revolutionary leaders. As Conservatism seeks to govern through the presumed intellectual and admitted financial superiority of its brain trust and Socialism would like to rule us through boards of so-called experts, Liberalism seeks at all times to let people govern themselves.
That is why I insist that it is a philosophy of government in its own right and one which cannot successfully coalesce with any other. It is that form of government which, to quote Vancouver’s Senator McGeer, “seeks to extend the fullest measure of co-operation and to reduce restrictive and
repressive legislation to the very minimum of necessity.”
As ideals must be broad and sweeping, objectives must be specific. Let me, therefore, as an individual, give factual expression to at least some of the ideals liberals must express for the future.
First, as to Canada’s role in the postwar world . . .
We are, at present, in mid-passage in the development of a nonpartisan, or all-party, foreign policy, under our first full-time Minister of External Affairs. To pass judgment on this new approach at this time would not be fair or proper. It is one aspect of our new outlook on a new world which must be permitted to develop and which should not be hampered by domestic criticism at this time.
May I point out, however, before leaving the sphere of external relations, that we are a free American nation? I do not want my country to be a satellite of the United States any more than I would have had it a suburb of Empire. We are a Western Hemisphere and North American people and, as such, cannot afford to channel our thinking into the unnatural directions which continuing Imperialists on the one hand, or sufferers from continental inferiority on the other, will insist is our logical choice.
Now, what is the application of liberalism at home? This at the moment is our principal concern.
Let us apply to our domestic affairs, to relations between Ottawa and the provinces, between our race groups, our regional populations and our diverse economic elements, some of the powers of diplomacy we have come to regard as of such vital importance in the great world outside. Maybe we need a Department of Internal Affairs as well as one for External. Maybe we need interprovincial diplomats as well as international.
Let us bend our efforts to the development of the Canadian people, as such, not through the medium of narrow provincialism, hut through mutual respect and self-respect.
Let us restore at once, and then go on to enlarge, the civil liberties of the Canadian people.
Let us have an immediate return to Parliamentary government in the fullest meaning of the term. This involves the responsibility of the Cabinet to the House and it means the reform of parliamentary procedure to make democracy work. But it means more than simply sending the rest of the wartime bureaucrats home.
It means restoring the dignity of the individual elected representative of the people by giving back to him the job he was chosen to do. The government service and, in large degree, the public itself, has developed during the war an attitude of casual indifference to the M.P., individually and collectively, which bodes no good for the democratic system. It would serve no good purpose to discuss how it happened. Suffice to say that the power of Parliament needs urgently to be reasserted. Or else . . .
Let us get down to brass tacks in the field of labor-management relations, recognizing organized labor as an integral part of our society and management (including the capital it represents) as labor’s vis-à-vis in our economic structure. The government’s first job is to bring home to these two that they are not natural enemies, but natural partners. There is no other highway to industrial peace.
Liberalism can never be rigid. It must always be fluid. When it must improvise, improvisation must be a means, not an end. What I am trying to state is a philosophy, and philosophies are not easily contained within
wIls. What I do know is that those wlio hold to this philosophy cannot compromise with the Right or the Left, or coalesce with either. The fate of the Liberal Party in Britain bears sharp testimony to what happens when Liberals forsake their ideals for brief political gain.
Time to Chart a Course
In 1919, when we chose Mackenzie King as our leader, we gave him a chart and a compass. That convention was summoned by Kir Wilfrid Laurier, our then leader, eight days after the end of the war— not, as generally believed, by others after the Chief’s death—and its stated purpose was to prepare, discuss and adopt a program for the Liberal Party of Canada in the light of political changes and the economic and social upheaval arising from World War 1.
Now the clock hands have come full circle and our need, as then, is to rechart our course. The democratic method to that end is the one we used in 1919—a national convention through
which liberalism can speak to its leadJ ers. How else can leaders know what the rank and file have in mind?
The question of leadership must enter into such discussions, of course, j hut it presents no major problem. Mr. King will he offered the role by acclamat ion. I f he accepts he will have received a new mandate from the ranks. Should he refuse and it will not he easy to do so in face of the pressure to continue— , any one of the young and brilliant men currently mentioned, if he accepts j wholeheartedly the platform and prin' ciples laid down for his guidance by democratic liberalism, could he counted on to lead a resurgent party to new triumphs. Any one of these young men is certainly as well known to his countrymen as the unknown we chose in 1919.
What Liberals want to know is not who will lead the army, hut what they are fighting for. They want, the objectives stated and a chance to approve them. The question of loyalty to an individual or individuals does not seriously arise. What we need is a beacon shining on the hills. ir