Resisting the pull of cynicism since 1969.

Monday, August 21, 2006

What a Liberal should sound like

According to the dictionary, my blog's name is an oxymoron, since 'idealist' and 'pragmatist' are supposed to be antonyms. To me, though, it's more than just a cute piece of wordplay; it's actually my personal philosophy of politics. My strongly-held beliefs about the ways we should help the less fortunate in our society are what propel what I try to do in the political arena. What this means is that I think Canada hasn't done nearly enough to adequately fund public health care, social housing, or education, nor has it done enough to protect the environment and encourage more sustainable practices--whether under Conservative or Liberal governments. And yet at the same time, I think it's equally important to propose creative solutions to those problems that end up actually being practical and implementable. Ideology underlies my politics, but it isn't the be-all and end-all of it.

I've thought for a long time that a healthy Liberal party would also tend to consist of idealistic pragmatists. The ideals underlying the practical solutions they propose would be rather different from my own, given that they tend to value social justice and economic prosperity equally, while I tend to favour the former--but the logic of their decision-making should tend to resemble mine. As such, I don't expect to agree with Liberals much of the time, but I do expect to respect the reasoning behind where they're coming from. What I'm seeing in most Liberal rhetoric these days, though, is the "pragmatist" without the "idealistic." They want to take back power not because they're brimming with new solutions that they're just dying to implement, but because they want someone other than Stephen Harper to be in charge. This is what I meant when I encouraged the Liberals back here to tell us what they stand for, because at this point, we honestly don't know. Given my own ideals, I don't expect their vision to be something I agree with, but it should still be something which, as an idealistic pragmatist, I can respect. And that will require them to stand for something bigger than ensuring that Harper gets the boot.

I mention all this as background to saying that for the first time in a long, long time, I listened to a Liberal speak and thought: you know, this is what a Liberal should sound like. That Liberal was Martha Hall Findlay, and the context was an interview with Conservative blogger Greg Staples. I didn't agree with what she said about the Third Way, health care, or post-secondary education--but then again, I didn't expect to. What I did think while listening to that interview, though, was that she was definitely a politician I could respect. She not only has integrity in spades, but she was able to make very clear that her pragmatic ideas are grounded in a serious commitment to strong underlying principles, and that there are limitations to how far she'd be willing to compromise on those. She actually answered yes/no questions with a "yes" or a "no" rather than trying to weasel out of taking a strong stance. She took Greg to task on the points where they disagreed without resorting to personal attacks. And finally, she's willing to do more than just spout campaign talking points, even if that means disagreeing with her party's sacred cows or criticizing the road they've been on recently.

Here are just a few quotes from the interview that illustrate what I'm trying to say:

On Pierre Elliott Trudeau: "Oh! Economically, yeah, not perfect by any stretch of the imagination!"

On health care reform: "We have to have an honest discussion, without getting caught up in terminology and rhetoric. A perfect example is the word 'private.' The status quo's not going to work--it isn't working. And in a time of aging demographics and more expensive technologies, we simply can't carry on by writing bigger cheques. And I want to make sure we can get away from the word 'private' as this bugaboo that prevents us from having an honest discussion. So stressing that I support a single-tier system in this country, publicly funded, we need to let the private sector participate in the delivery."

On the environment: "I was very upset during the last campaign. We signed Kyoto, and that was absolutely the right thing to do--global warming is something we have to address. But after signing Kyoto, we wrapped ourselves in the flag and then didn't actually do much."

On the last Liberal campaign: "I've got to tell you, being Liberal means a lot more to me than just not being Conservative. A whole lot more. And it was really frustraing in the last election. When was the last time Toyota put up pictures of Hondas and said 'please don't buy these cars?' Choose the lesser of two evils? This is so not enough for me. If we're going to go and ask the Canadian public for their support, we have to show why we have policies for Canada's future, why we're best positioned to implement those policies for Canada's future, and not just why somebody else isn't."
She's not going to win this race--she has neither the political experience nor the throngs of support that would be necessary. But despite the fact that I don't agree with much of where she's coming from, in a Liberal leadership race where we've mostly been seeing a whole lot of spin without much substance, she's still a breath of fresh air. And if the next Liberal leader doesn't give her a top-notch critic portfolio or cabinet position, he's missing a huge bet.


tin106 said...

Nowadays, several words are used for not exactly what they are defined as. There are such words called as " coined " words which existed and formulated by people for their own expense.

KevinG said...

Be patient IP, a few months is not enough time for the Liberal party to find a new leader, re-create a common sense of purpose ( other than getting elected again ) and putting a voice to that sense of purpose.

It's interesting that when I first saw you sign a comment as Idealisting Pragmatist I assumed you would be a liberal if not a Liberal.

Greg Staples said...

Thanks for the link (and listening) - and I don't think she "took me to task", she clarified points, As I've said, I am impressed by her even though I disagree on some points. But I, like you, can be impressed by someone I disagree with.

UWHabs said...

Martha does really seem to be a different sort of politician. She came to talk to our club back in April and I was quite impressed with her vision. I wasn't quite sure if she had "leadership" material, but I think she would do wonders in a cabinet post, something like the environment would do her well.

West End Bound said...


Going back to your April post (the Gerard Kennedy party you "crashed") you said:

"Would I be happy to see him as the Prime Minister of Canada? Sure. Do I think he's the best choice of the lot? Probably, yeah."

Which of the two do you have a preference for now: Hall or Kennedy?

Idealistic Pragmatist said...


Understandable that you'd think that--certainly the NDP stereotype isn't that of an idealistic pragmatist, while the Liberal stereotype is. And I'd go so far as to say that any good Liberal *should* be an idealistic pragmatist. But I'd maintain that it's possible to be an idealistic pragmatist while belonging to any of the major Canadian political parties. It's just that the ideals underlying the pragmatism are going to vary.

west end bound,

That's a hard question to answer. I suppose if pressed, I'd say that I agree with more of what Kennedy has to say than I do with what Hall Findlay has to say, but I think Hall Findlay would make a superior leader of the Liberal party (given a world in which she had more political experience).

But if your question is who I'd rather see as Prime Minister, mostly I think it's not my place to take a position on that, since I'm not a Liberal. I can make comments from the sidelines, but I don't have a dog in this fight, and it doesn't make much sense to pretend I do. In a riding like Edmonton-Strathcona, it wouldn't make sense for me to vote anything but NDP anyway, even thinking purely pragmatically. :-)

West End Bound said...

While perusing the stats from your riding I smiled to see that it was created in the year of my birth. It has to be a great riding!

It appears that your candidate in the last election, Linda Duncan, is vastly more qualified than the others. Hopefully she will be successful if she runs the next time. Or, how about you running??!??

Idealistic Pragmatist said...

west end bound,

Ha! No, I already have a job I love, and no desire to leave it to run for office. Thanks for your faith in me, though. :-)

West End Bound said...

Not a problem . . .

If someone of "w" 's caliber can become the president of the US, surely your riding can rise above that!