Tuesday, 28 October 2008

Chretien's Biggest Mistake?

Olaf asks, "What was Chretien thinking?"

The Liberals are, in part, victims of their own 2004 political financing reforms. Even though the party had long relied heavily on corporate donations, along with sizable individual contributions gathered at big fundraising dinners, Jean Chr├ętien’s government moved to limit businesses to giving $1,000 a year and capped individual donations at $5,000.

The Liberals were heavily criticized for their heavy reliance on big donations from corporations and wealthy people (usually tied to the same corporations). It served to distance the party from the "common man". This is a gap that the Conservative party has tried to slide into. To the point that Stephen Harper apparently is the leader most Canadians would like to sit and have a beer with.

While contemplating Chretien's "What the hell?" moment, it occurred to me, was it so bad that the Liberals relied heavy on corporate donations? So it made them more amenable to corporate concerns. So what? Its not like the Liberal party abandoned the social liberal aspects of their identity. The Kelowna accord and the national child-care initiatives were widely praised by socially liberal ideologues.

Looking back, the corporate donations might have been a good thing. They provided balance to the whims of the electorate. By addressing business needs and individual needs, the Liberal party aimed to strike that delicate balance between the demands of a capitalist world economy and the needs of the individual. (Maybe I have romantic hindsight here, but bear with me).

The Conservative party on the other hand is strictly dependent on individual contributions. Their only influence is the demands of their membership. That sounds like a good thing (power of the people!), but there are quite a few loose nuts on the right that are now given a voice and a platform. As much as I believe in the notion of democracy and the voice of the people, I also believe that individuals can be equally dangerous when ideology and anger override common sense and rational thought. For the extreme example of this principle in action, witness the Palin worship going on in the Excited States of America. I do not believe for an instant that this is a phenomena limited to the right. Wingnuttery knows no ideological bounds.

So the take away question is this: other than condemning the Liberal party to penury, has Chretien removed the balanced viewpoint form the Liberal party as well? Will we see the wing nuts grow in stature and start to shift Liberal policy to match their ideology?

Or am I just nuts and partying alone out in left field again?


olaf said...


Or am I just nuts and partying alone out in left field again?

Instinctively, I would answer yes. But I think you're onto something here, and its certainly an original theory that I haven't heard offered by the mass of pundits constantly trying to come up with an original theory.

Catelli said...

I don't address the why though. Unless it simply was Chretien was trying to kill the notion that the Liberal party was too cozy with the business community. Maybe that is all it was, but something still seems off about that notion.

The results of the decision are easier to theorize about, which is where I was going with my post.

deaner said...

Unless it simply was Chretien was trying to kill the notion that the Liberal party was too cozy with the business community

I can't see that as a motivation, if for no other reason than that he never seemed too worried about it either in the period he took off from politics, during his return, or in his subsequent (political) retirement. Your observation about the corporate donations being a counterweight to the leftist faction in the party is interesting, and I think it has some merit - I would caution that it was the "big guys" who donated to the Libs - Magna, Power, CanWest, GM, etc. Their influence was probably not do much "right wing" as "corporatist" - which is kind of a code word for "fascist." No doubt Ted Rogers would have been pleased as punch to have the government take out his competitors for him via the CRTC (etc)