My earlier article “Allies of Freedom” originated as an email response to an opinion by Gerry Nicholls in the National Post. Mr. Nicholls replied by email, which, with his permission, I include here in relevant part:
“… I must say that I agree with much of what you say. As a “liberal” in the old fashioned sense, I always felt in my gut that the Conservative Party was not truly my home. Conservatives, after all, have an authoritarian streak which does not sit well with me and traditionally have not been that friendly to free market economics.
“The Liberal Party on other hand was once the party of freedom. (Unless my history is mistaken, the Liberal Party of Laurier was a staunch defender of individual rights and economic freedom.)
“Yet, since the days of Pearson and Trudeau, the Liberal Party has changed and become the statist party, venturing into NDP socialist territory, forsaking its classical liberal roots. Recall that it was the Liberals who created the monstrous NEP and who opposed free trade!
“This, by default made the Tories the more free enterprise-friendly party, at least by comparison and at least in theory – though as Prime Minister Harper has shown his actual commitment to less government and more freedom is certainly open to question …”
One of the triggers that caused me to step finally from the often apathetic majority into the politically involved was the Anti-Terrorism Act, of 2002. Driven by the hysteria of 9/11, a great many of our public representatives seemed to lose their good sense, in my view, and put into place mechanisms that I believe are extremely dangerous to the freedoms to which we lay claim, and for which we have long sent and continue to send people to fight, and die. This was passed, with considerable support in the house, by a Liberal majority government.
So imagine my surprise to find myself, in the end, a Liberal! An expatriate Albertan besides, who always thought if I ever joined any party I’d be a Conservative. But the Conservative party of Mr. Harper is not the Conservative party of old. ‘Nuff said. Many former Progressive Conservatives, and Conservative might-have-beens have found a good home in the Liberal Party of Canada.
I’ll grant the complaint about the NEP (I’m an ex-Albertan, after all), and NAFTA to a degree – though it should be remembered that the Liberals were in opposition at the time, and are supposed therefore to “oppose” the government of the day. (I think “Opposition” is too strong, however: it tends to be too polarizing, leading to the idea that we must simply oppose everything. I think we’re supposed to review critically, engage the debate, point out errors and omissions, and improve things where we can, but not just categorically be “against” everything.)
But while the record shows minuses, it also shows its good share of pluses. Liberals also brought us, for instance, the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. While some have issues about particular applications of this, and I’m sure it will need adjustment as we go along, in protecting minorities from excesses or errors of the majority it is a key piece in securing our free democracy.
As a once self-proclaimed Objectivist, the social justice aspects also gave me pause, at first. But I’ve come to understand that the best-interests of the individual are sometimes best achieved in terms of what is good for the group as well.
Eliminating homelessness and poverty, building buffers such as employment insurance, universal access to medical care, and supporting a national early learning and childcare framework will in the long term build me a better, safer, more prosperous and agreeable world in which to live and raise my family.
But what the Liberal party, or any other party for that matter, stands for, though it should trend to it’s core values in the long haul, is in any given moment largely a factor of the people who are then energizing it, and how they are caught up in the events, great and small, of that moment.
Archimedes is said to have said “Give me a lever and a place to stand, and I can move the world!” The Liberal party is for me a very good place to stand. Though it may stray from time to time, fundamentally it still is the party of freedom. The core values remain, and it is up to me, as for other active and involved members, to keep track of those core values, and help keep it on track.
The errors, omissions, and sometimes blindnesses of the past, so visible in 20:20 hindsight, can be fixed. What matters here are those core values, and the will to pursue them going forward.