Monday, April 4, 2011

The Liberal Platform - offering a choice; tacking left

The Liberal platform was released yesterday, generating a lot of discussion and commentary. While I am not planning on presenting a full proposal-by-proposal assessment, I think there are some themes and initiatives worth highlighting.

1. The notion of choice

Go back 12-18 months ago, and you would have seen a Liberal Opposition that had not done much to frame an alternative vision of Canada. It was not clear what they stood for or what a Liberal government would look like.

Now fast forward to today and you have your answer. Through this platform, which the announcements of week 1 were designed to build up to, the Liberals have given themselves definition. They have moved from presenting a "we're not the other guy" argument towards "this is who we are and what you can expect."

Canadians are now better placed than they have been in some time to ask themselves which party is more aligned with their priorities. This doesn't mean they will suddenly vote Liberal. But it does mean they can make a more informed choice.

2. Clarity of message

Taking a page from the 2006 Conservative campaign, the Liberals have opted for a focused message which highlights their core priorities. The goal here is simplicity and clarity. You can't be everything to all people; you can't do it all. You want what you stand for to be memorable, to be suitable for an elevator conversation or a chat when you are waiting in line. The "Family Pack" theme ticks this box. In fact throughout week 1 the Liberals have largely been on-message.

3. Know your audience

Women voters are key to Liberal hopes. While the Conservatives have a strong grip on the middle-aged male demographic, women are another story. This platform, with its focus on families and education, is geared towards this demographic.

It is also very much focused on the left. The Liberals had a decision to make. Do we try and take from the Conservatives or from the NDP? They have opted for the latter, and are trying to do so in two ways.

First, they are intent on communicating this as a 2-horse race with the Liberals as the only party capable of stopping Harper. This was the message after the by-elections in the fall and it's the message today.

Second, they have adopted policy positions clearly more attractive to an NDP voter. Roll-back of corporate tax cuts, training, the learning passport, child care...the list goes on. If the NDP had released this document, no one would have been to shocked with the main elements. In some parts, I actually felt like I was reading New Labour from the UK.

For better or worse, they have tacked left. Time will tell whether this was the right decision.

4. Where's the fix?

If I were to choose one area where I was disappointed, I would likely go with the limited focus on the erosion of our democratic institutions. This has been the one theme on which all of the opposition has focused consistently for 2 years. We have been told that Parliament is broken and that our institutions are in jeopardy. The election was actually brought about as as result of a contempt finding.

So, where's the fix? Yes, this theme is discussed and some novel ideas are presented. But compared with the substance behind the Liberal's other proposals, I found the discussion in the platform thin. I am hopeful that this issue gets more airing in a debate.


Those are some of my initial observations. What are yours? Has the platform influenced how you are looking at this election?

Interestingly, despite the plaudits the Liberals have received for their week 1 performance the Conservatives are continuing to enjoy a very healthy advantage in every poll I have seen. We'll see if week 2 and the release of this platform changes anything.



  1. I still have to read the policies indepth, but I like the general theme of the Liberal platform.

  2. Have to say I agree with Kendall... the Lib platform is a good module. BTW, any freaking chance you can mix up the closing query "Thoughts"? It's annoying. We all have "thoughts". But most only have them about American Idol, Charlie Sheen, and/or our bodily functions. Only a few have "ideas"!

  3. Thanks to you both for your comments. I purposely stayed away from commenting on the policy items themselves, as I am still going through it and considering them. That said, I very like the focus on education and learning.

    A modern economy demands an educated society, and this platform is making that connection. Too often we see economic and social policy being framed as mutually exclusive - they are not, in my opinion.

    Re. the suggestion on a different closing line, perhaps I can open a poll up the subject ;)

    Keep the comments coming!

  4. If there's a poll going up may I suggest, "Talk amongst yourselves." ?

    Seriously, I do like the emphasis on education as well. I'd like to see the provinces (NB from personal experience) doing more to make education more affordable. I believe it would have a great ROI.

    It's great to focus on the future and the next generation, but one thing I would like to see also is some sort of help for students with current student loan debt. I know too many people who are having a hard time making a start in life because of this burden. I know NL stopped applying interest on the provincial portion of student loans as soon as they became a 'have' province (and about 8 months after I made my last payment, I might add).

  5. The only reference I see to student debt is the following:

    "There will be further relief for student debt loads through a Liberal government’s Canada Service Corps, which will forgive $1500 in student loan debt for young Canadians who engage in volunteer service."

    It's a start, but I take your point. This doesn't do anything for the post-gradudate individual already struggling with paying off their student debt.

  6. Parliament should be supreme and I gladly will change any of these policies or from any other party to make it work.

    I don't think they are serious about it, the CPC, LPC, NDP or BQ.

    But it will be joke as long as we allow it, I say we have the power to make those changes, and make them accountable.


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