Recently, prior to a highly contested by-election in Calgary-Centre, two prominent Liberal MPs effectively shot the party in the foot. Both David McGuinty (MP for Ottawa South) and Justin Trudeau (MP for Papineau and presumptive favourite in the ongoing Liberal leadership campaign) had to address comments that they made, which were perceived as being ‘anti-Alberta’.
At a time when the financial power of the Canadian federation is moving westward, these comments hurt a party that has long been thought to hold a bias towards Central Canada.
Recognizing the importance of Albertans for the future success of the Liberal Party, both men responded fast. McGuinty was forced to apologize and resign from his role as energy critic, while Trudeau made a quick apology and clarification of his remarks. Either way, though, the governing Conservative Party of Canada (CPC) has yet to let them off of their respective hooks.
The Harper Government is now pressing to have both McGuinty and Trudeau appear before the House Natural Resources Committee to explain their remarks. While this may or may not come to pass, it appears that the CPC may be running scared.
Justin Trudeau’s presence in the Liberal leadership campaign seems to have lifted the party’s fortunes, as some polls show a Trudeau-led Liberal Party of Canada (LPC) competing to win the next federal election. Having finally secured his sought after majority, Prime Minister Harper seemed to have lifted his foot off of the pedal that had been firmly in campaign mode during his time in 24 Sussex Drive.
Now, with a seemingly resurgent Liberal Party, Harper and the Conservatives seem to be back into campaign mode.
PM Harper’s previous Liberal opponents were deluged by a storm of hard-nosed advertisements. Both Stéphane Dion and Michael Ignatieff were battered by aggressive advertisements from the Conservative Party. Comparatively, the New Democrat Party (NDP) Leader of the current Official Opposition, Tom Mulcair, has had to deal with relatively tame attacks as the Harper Government seemed to turn their attention to, well, governing.
The Government’s attempts to bring the two Liberal MPs to task seem to demonstrate two things: 1) Harper’s resolve to break the Liberal Party remains intact, and, 2) the CPC might be taking Trudeau’s, and the LPC’s, bump in the polls seriously. The Harper Government seems to be going to great pains to cast the LPC as anti-Alberta and, in doing so, has opened itself up to criticisms over past anti-Canadian statements. This stands in stark contrast to the soft-glove approach that the NDP received after moving into Stornoway.
The CPC may be doing themselves a disservice by opening up their own members to criticism and apparently discounting the Official Opposition NDP. What is apparent though, is that the Harper Government will go to great pains to paint the Liberals and Trudeau as anti-Alberta in order to sow longstanding beliefs about the party.
All things considered, if Trudeau continues to do well in the Liberal leadership campaign and in the voting preferences of Canadians, it looks like the Harper Government might move back into perpetual campaign mode in order to take as much wind out of his and the party’s sails as possible.
That, unfortunately, may lead to poor policy decisions that will hurt the governance of Canada and the Canadian public’s interests.
Earlier today Mark Goldberg posed an interesting question on his blog and Twitter: “Will Liberal leadership race advance digital economy issues?”
Mark’s comments fall on the day that George Takach, a prominent Toronto lawyer and Osgoode Hall professor who specializes in technology issues, has entered the Liberal leadership race; and comes a day after Dr Marc Garneau, Canada’s first man in space, announced his long-anticipated campaign to lead the party. Judging by the backgrounds of both men, technology-related issues will likely become front-and-centre issues going forward.
That these two men will (likely) be pushing ideas to allow Canada to capitalize upon the burgeoning ‘informational’ and/or ‘knowledge-based’ economy is most welcomed in these quarters. With the current Harper Government having failed to release a much-needed ‘Digital Economy Strategy’ (although the latest word has this plan being released before year’s end), Canada is failing to build upon its historic success in information and knowledge-based industries.
Takach and Dr Garneau should give some limelight to these issues and help move public debate, and government policy, forward. For his part, Takach is proposing ambitious proposals including a ‘Digital Bill of Rights’. Discussions over the digital future of Canada, including the rights of Canadian citizens as well as the social and economic benefits to Canadian industry, are integral for developing a comprehensive roadmap for the future of this country.
Recent debates over usage based billing and other matters have demonstrated that digital issues are popular and important for younger Canadians. With neither the Conservative nor the NDP leading on this front, the Liberal Party has an opportunity to engage a group of citizens that are prone to shun established political mechanisms. At a time when the Party is reaching out to a new group of Canadian ‘supporters’, tapping into digital issues can be a bridge to attract a new and younger generation of Canadians into the Liberal’s ‘Big Red Tent’.
Justin Trudeau, the presumed frontrunner in the Liberal leadership race, is making a point of reaching out to younger Canadians. With Takach, and to a lesser-extent Garneau, leading the way on digital issues it will be important for Trudeau to speak to these issues in order to galvanize the new coalition of previously unengaged voters whose support he needs and seeks.
If the Liberal leadership debate does, at least to a certain extent, ‘go digital’ it will benefit the Party as well as the country.