Sunday, 15 January 2012

A Liberal convention without the party favors

There was a time when I couldn't wait to strap on the convention feedbag at a Liberal Party of Canada biennial convention.

For several years in my youth, I was a true believer, a political neophyte who hung on every word of my illustrious leader and felt great passion for the debate on the future of Canada.

Like many before me, I was swept up by the romance of politics, its possibilities and its rhetoric.

I wanted to believe.

But I was in my twenties and naive.

I believed that what politicians put in political platforms would be realized in communities across this frigid land. In fact, I helped craft the words of the first ever Red Book. I was so proud of the Red Book, I kept a dog-eared copy on my computer table for years.

But I soon became Dorothy, a polyanna in sensible shoes looking for those ruby slippers. I quickly realized there was nothing in the Wizard's bag for me.

Most of the pronouncements on programs I really cared about were carrots on a stick, fed to eager donkeys during elections then yanked out of their mouths once the campaign signs were picked up.

Every election, ingredients in the making of a utopian Liberal society were hauled out -- universal childcare and drug plans as an example. They were tantalizing appetizers that couldn't quite make it on a meat and potatoes menu.

I took the Party at its word that it would be able to check off all its promises one by one, and make life better for people everywhere.

Over those years, as a party operative, I wrote the same words, the same goals and promises in political literature. Then, alas, I found myself writing speeches trying to explain why the promises couldn't be met. Virginia, there is no Santa Claus. The "cupboards were bare".

Truth be told, we couldn't afford these expensive and unrealistic promises.

We never could.

I don't have the stomach for politics anymore.

I can barely force myself to read the convention coverage in the newspapers this morning.

That's because politics today is no longer the art of the possible.

The Liberal Party is no longer looking forward.

It's too busy cleaning up its own entrails.

Our positive pronouncements have turned into doomsday scenarios for this country. We're now trying to find formulae to "dig us out" of the messes we created in the past, to find dam fillers for "these difficult economic times".

Truth be told, what sank the Liberal party was political opportunism.

There were too many party faithful who rolled up their sleeves in search of a lucrative payday. They will be all over Ottawa this weekend.

Those attending the Liberal Party convention will rub shoulders with many Harry Rosen-clad, well-heeled individuals who got their nut over the years by supporting the Liberal Party.

A convention attendee will likely rub shoulders with a gaggle of Senators. Colin Kenny is a robust example of Liberal patronage, a man who was not yet in his forties when he was appointed to the Senate in 1984.

There will be others, many now retired from government run boards of Canadian agencies. And there will be many, many political consultants and lobbyists who have paid off the mortgages on their Rockcliffe piles by peddling influence to Liberal insiders.

It will be interesting to see how many people stick around the Liberals now that the party favors have dried up.

That will be the test for true believers.

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