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Tom’s take: That ‘vision’ thing

Apparently, according to the Mayans at least, the world will end this December.

If so, that would be a shame. Fortunately, for our collective morale, most people don’t believe the Mayans. Unfortunately it appears the Liberal Party of Canada does. How else to explain their mad rush into oblivion?

The conventional wisdom around Ottawa boils down to this: the Liberals are done because they don’t have any ideas or policies, and nothing short of throwing the party to the howling mob will save their sorry bones.

That may be conventional, but it’s not very wise.

Let’s start with the mob. It’s clear the Liberals have taken a bit of a dislike to leaders, especially their own.

There’s a recommendation making its way through the Liberal ranks that the leader, whenever there is one, should be stripped of most powers, and those powers handed over to the party grass roots (nee Mob.)

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If the revolution of the proletariat is successful, Liberal leaders of the future won’t be able to appoint candidates, or protect incumbents.

That may not be a bad idea. But the next beheading is.

The Liberal leader would no longer be able to determine party policy. He or she would become a sort of cipher clerk, taking policy instruction from the members at conventions and sticking by them no matter how dumb.

This used to be the case with the NDP, but decades ago there was a counter revolution, and that leader was free to set the agenda, which Jack Layton did with admirable dexterity.

And it was never the case with the Conservatives. Every leader from Sir John A. MacDonald has been free to define conservatism any way they wanted. It would be hard to imagine Stephen Harper, or Brian Mulroney, or John Diefenbaker meekly taking their orders from weekend political warriors.

The reality is that leaders don’t need to be shackled. They are rarely out of tune with their parties, because they are the party.

In an imaginary world, the Stephen Harper Party would happily do battle with the Brian Mulroney Party, and the Jean Chretien Party would relish a fight with the Paul Martin Party.

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Well OK, the last one isn’t imaginary, but you get the point.

The leaders have to be free to move in the same way a General must be free to decide and change tactics on the battlefield.

What is worth a look at though is what George H. W. Bush called “the vision thing,” or the “thing that the Liberals seem to lack.” It is true that it’s hard to say what the Liberals stand for. Mind you, it’s hard to say what the NDP stands for either.

It’s the curse of being in opposition.

The government gets to say what ideas are going to be discussed in Parliament, and invariably they are all the government’s ideas. The opposition’s job is to oppose them. That’s our system.

But here’s where the Liberal mob should light their torches and storm the castle.

That party, any party, can lay down markers. They should not be specific, but they should be visionary.

How about a call to make Canada the most literate country on Earth by a certain year, or the most connected, or the most productive.

Such pillars would leave the leaders free to maneuver the battlefield but know what the objective is. It may even allow a courageous party to say that there is no more Right or Left, there is only right or wrong.

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The Conservatives have found their vision, without the party really knowing it. Hiding behind their policy of power, that “strong, stable, national majority government” line was their real selves. Their guiding principle has been to tame the ambitions and reach of the federal government and restore to the provinces what they think is rightly theirs.

It may lack a certain zing, but it is working.

Sadly, most political visionary statements are phrases more likely to be found on the back of cereal boxes.

Many sound like “We want all Canadians to be happy!” (really?) or, “There’s a place in this world for painted ponies.”

I like a revolution as much as the next guy, but if the Canadian political mob is going to have all of us marched off to collective farms, the least they could do is give us a vision of what it will be like.

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