In her Star column today, Chantal Hebert supposes that the Quebec Nation resolution might resurface as a divisive issue during the Liberal Leadership race, as it did in 2006. While I don’t think there’s any appetite to revisit that specific debate, with a Quebec election on the horizon and a guy by the name of Trudeau considering a run for LPC leadership, it seems almost certain that Quebec’s role within Canada will emerge as a question at some point.
And that’s not a bad thing. The Liberal Party needs to decide what it stands for, and the “Quebec question” is a fundamental issue that every party needs clarity on. I personally feel a strong federalist position is the LPC’s best opportunity to differ itself from the NDP and Tories, but others will argue a softer stance might put the NDP’s Quebec seats in play. Either way, the debate, however emotional it may get, is worth having.
Less fundamental and less emotional is the topic of supply management, which has gained steam as an issue this week due to trade talks…WAIT! DON’T GO! I know it’s a dry issue, but bear with me.
I won’t go into the policy implications of abolishing supply management – for those, read this article by Mike Moffatt. I won’t even get into why this could be a winning issue for the Liberals – for that, read Rob Silver’s post on why voters might like the idea of cheaper milk and cheese.
What I will talk about is this policy in the conext of the Liberal leadership race. Through her op-ed and media blitz on the subject, Martha Hall Findlay has effectively launched the first policy debate of the contest:
Hall Findlay calls for end to supply management system
OTTAWA — A former Liberal MP delivered the latest broadside against a system designed to guarantee prices for farmers in certain sectors Thursday, stating membership in a potentially lucrative free trade deal is at stake.
Martha Hall Findlay released a paper in Ottawa calling for an end to the system, known as supply management, as Canadian officials planned negotiations to become part of the major international agreement known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership.
Some of the other eight nations who are part of the deal are calling on Canada to get rid of the system, which guarantees certain farmers prices for their goods and caps the amount they can produce, as a prerequisite for joining.
The trade talks make getting rid of the system more important than ever, said Hall Findlay during her press conference at the Château Laurier, since the deal would provide new markets for farming sectors such as beef or pork who aren’t part of the system.
Why I like this from a leadership perspective is that it lets Martha get ahead of the pack and define herself as a substantive policy-first candidate. Sure, she’s going against the Liberal Party’s official position but she’s not in caucus anymore, so she has a bit more leeway to be “mavericky”. What’s more, considering the Liberal Party just finished a convention championing “evidence based policy”, it would be very hard for other candidates to attack Hall Findlay’s proposal as being “un-Liberal”.
The media spin on this has been nothing but positive, with articles heralding Hall Findlay as a gutsy risk taker. Liberals are looking for a leader who will put forward bold policies, and abolishing supply management is a bold policy that avoids the pratfalls that typically befall bold policies, namely being considered “extreme” (i.e. pot legalization) or “political suicide” (i.e. carbon taxes).
Obviously enough, no one is going to vote for the next Liberal leader because of their position on supply management. But policy can serve as a foil for leadership. In the same way having a red book was more important for Jean Chretien than what was in it, putting forward “courageous” policies is a way for Hall Findlay to define herself as a “courageous” politician.