The federal Liberal Party will face a very steep, uphill climb if it is ever to return to power in Canada, a leading political columnist said Wednesday. Speaking at McGill, Chantal HÃ©bert, who writes for the Toronto Star and Le Devoir and appears as a panelist on CBC’s The National every Thursday, painted a very bleak picture of the Liberals.
Particularly bleak, she said, is the party’s evolution since 2003, when the Progressive Conservatives and the Reform Party merged to form the current Conservative Party of Canada.
Referring to the merger as “the most important political moment in Canada of the 21st century,” HÃ©bert said it was not the only factor that swung the balance of power to the Conservatives.
Also important, she said, is the that the Conservatives are now better funded and better organized than the Liberals, and that “today, there is much more intellectual energy on the part of the right than of the left.”
Since first elected prime minister in 2006, the Conservative leader Stephen Harper has adopted more centrist policies which have made it difficult for Liberals to draw any clear distinctions between the two parties, HÃ©bert said.
Speaking hypothetically, the columnist said that, if a Liberal took over government tomorrow, other world leaders would not need much of a briefing.
“On the environment, they’re not promoting very different policies,” HÃ©bert said, comparing the two political parties. “Economically, Mr. Harper’s plan is so Liberal, the Liberals have yet to put forward an alternative. On foreign affairs, does anybody know where there is a major difference between the Liberals and the Conservatives?”
But not all Liberals are convinced of HÃ©bert’s claims. In an interview with the Concordian, Liberal MP for Westmount8212;Ville-Marie Marc Garneau contested the assertion that there are no major differences between the parties.
“I think what we see right now is a perceived similarity, because Mr. Harper has moved a lot of his policies to the centre,” he said. “But I think our two parties are very different.”
Though he acknowledged the similarities in Afghanistan policy, he argued the Liberals had a much stronger commitment to clean technology and greenhouse gas reduction.
The biggest difference between the two parties, Garneau said, can be seen in economic policy. “I think the Liberal Party has shown itself to be more popular and competent in handling the economy. Frankly, I think they’re very mediocre managers of the economy.”
He pointed out that throughout the time the Conservatives have been in power, Canada went from having a federal surplus to having a large deficit. When it was pointed out that the proposed Liberal-New Democratic Party coalition in 2008 had called for more deficit spending in the economy (to which Harper acquiesced), he argued this was good financial policy.
“We needed to spend to prevent a deeper recession and stimulate the economy, which Mr. Harper didn’t want to do,” he said. “And now Mr. Harper goes around the country talking about how well the stimulus has worked.”