The Liberal rebuild

Ted Hsu is the kind of local-based leader needed for Liberals to overcome results of the recent election

Kingston and the Islands MP Ted Hsu (left) and the riding’s former MP, Liberal Peter Milliken, at Hsu’s election party on May 2.
Kingston and the Islands MP Ted Hsu (left) and the riding’s former MP, Liberal Peter Milliken, at Hsu’s election party on May 2.

As the Liberal Party enters a substantial rebuilding phase, it’s useful to reflect on the results of the recent election and its implications for the future.

On May 2, Ted Hsu secured his seat as the Liberal Member of Parliament for Kingston and the Islands.

The riding now represents one of just 34 Liberal seats in the House of Commons.

Too few Liberals have realized that Canada’s 41st election has put their party somewhere it has never been nationally: third place. During the campaign, Liberals didn’t demonstrate that they were fit to govern and were unable to connect with Canadians. However, Liberals must understand that the election result was not the product of short-term factors. It’s part of the party’s long-term trend towards irrelevance. To move on and to be successful, the party must answer some fundamental questions.

What is a Liberal? For years, most Canadians answered this question by contrasting the policies of the Liberals with those of the Conservatives. By defining themselves only in opposition to Conservatives, Liberals have failed to elevate their platform above those of other non-Conservative parties.

After years of explaining how the Conservatives are undemocratic, heartless robots, the Liberals failed to provide an explanation of why Canadians should vote Liberal instead of NDP, Green or Bloc.

For decades, Liberals argued that NDP, Bloc and Green supporters should vote strategically to prevent a Conservative government.

Once the NDP seemed like a more viable option, some Liberals began supporting them, while others began voting strategically for the Conservatives.

The Liberals need to build a clear definition of who they are and what they stand for in order to be successful in the future.

A second question that must be addressed is, “what kind of policies do the Liberals want to pursue?” If the Liberals fail to offer Canadians new, bold and substantive policies, the Canadian electorate will ignore the party.

Currently the Liberals are the only party without a position on Senate reform and the only national opposition party which isn’t advocating for electoral reform. Canada’s first-past-the-post electoral system wastes votes, does not accurately represent voters’ interests and allows for a party that receives 40 per cent of the popular vote to have 100 per cent control of Parliament.

Personally, I would like to see Canada adopt Australia’s electoral system. The lower house is elected by Alternative Vote, as in AMS elections. The Senate is elected by a proportional system, meaning that if a party gets 30 per cent of the vote, it gets 30 per cent of the seats.

Mandatory voting is also something worth looking at, considering Canada’s atrocious voter turnout. Only an estimated 61 per cent of Canadians aged 18 or over voted on May 2.

With four years until the next election, Liberals can afford to spend time debating these issues. Third and most importantly, Liberals have to remember why a centrist party is necessary in Canada. The challenges our country will face in the coming decades require balanced, evidence-based policies that do not rely on ideology.

On the economy, Liberals must have policies that recognize the importance of deficit-reduction balanced with strong social programs.

On the environment, Liberals must have policies that reduce the damage Canadians do to the environment while allowing us to remain economically competitive.

On healthcare, where an increasing proportion of government revenue is being spent, Liberals must find the middle ground between the Tory solution of privatization and the NDP solution which allows healthcare costs to increase to a point that is unsustainable.

The riding of Kingston and the Islands is positioned to take a leadership role as the Liberals encounter these present and future challenges and demonstrate to Canadians that a balanced, centrist approach to these issues is not only relevant but needed.

In an election where some politicians were elected without spending any time in their ridings, Hsu’s campaign reminded me of the importance of strong local candidates.

Of the hundreds of Kingston voters I talked to during the campaign, many said they were unsure of the Liberals but would support Hsu.

This is the kind of local leadership that will aid the party’s rebuilding process on a national level. The party needs to define what it means to be a Liberal, debate bold policies and explain why a centrist party is relevant to the challenges facing Canadians in coming years.

As long as the Liberal Party remembers there is more to learn from losing than winning, the party will be able to provide Canadians with a choice worth voting for, both in Kingston and beyond.

Sean Torrie was a volunteer for Ted Hsu’s campaign in Kingston and the Islands and is former president of the Queen’s University Liberal Association.

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