Issue Management

I spy with my little eye, someone running for leadership

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.

16 responses to “Issue Management”

  1. You lost me here:

    “being considered “extreme” (i.e. pot legalization)”

    In what way is the legalization of Marijuana extreme? Neither by the facts, nor popular opinion. Two-third of Canadians want “pot” decriminalized, and many could easily be swayed by the economic benefits of legalization. Within the Liberal party, it was strongly supported at the last policy convention. A candidate for leadership that embraces this would be both bold and courageous, as well as correct.

    Sorry I know this post focuses on supply management, but you really threw it all off for me by making that statement.

    • It’s “extreme” in the sense that it’s outside of the political mainstream (as defined by the policy positions that politicians are willing to tackle).

      A candidate for leadership that embraces this would be both bold and courageous

      And that’s why it’s “extreme.” Non-extreme policies can be supported by politicians who are timid and cowardly.

    • Adrienne – You don’t need to convince me. I drafted a “legalized marijuna” policy at the 2005 Liberal Policy convention.

      My point is that a politician who proposed a legalized marijuana policy would be mercilessly attacked by the other parties and the media. Maybe they should still do it, but there’s definitely a risk of political fallout.

  2. These trade agreements are an attack on Canada’s sovereignty. The liberal party should oppose them.

      • The beef is a lack of democratic accountability. Look at what is happening in the EU right now.

  3. Pretty much all international agreements diminish sovereignty in some way. So some specifics would be good. Personally, I have issues with the intellectual property aspects (at least from what info I can gather) of the TPP talks.

  4. I know next to nothing about Martha Hall Findlay (possibly due to not being a Liberal, and living in BC), but she sure has managed to pique my interest due to her call for abolishing the supply management system. Took a look at the Wikipedia (yeah, I know) page on her, and my interest increased some more.

    At any rate, the whole “evidence based policy” thing is what, IMO, you folks should be shooting for. Be the socially liberal, fiscally conservative party that is guided by evidence based policy. Take strong, evidence based, positions regardless of which group it pisses off.
    If you actually become that, I can guarantee at least one vote. And while it won’t guarantee that you don’t disappear (and that does seem to be a real possibility), at least you’ll go out with a bang and not a whimper (as is, AFAICT, your current trajectory).

  5. The “Quebecois as a Nation” motion was a meaningless bit of rhetoric that changes absolutely nothing for Quebecers. That said it was an effective response to an even more vile motion but forth by the BQ demanding Quebec be recognized as a nation.

  6. One thing I will say is that someone finally seems to understand what selling centrism is. The party needs to do this more. The wannabe republicans label Liberals as lefties, partially because in a simple black and white world it is easier to think there is only a left and right, and we have let them. It’s time to change that.

    • I wouldn’t rule Martha out completely. If Trudeau takes a pass and the field is, say, Findlay, Kennedy, Garneau, Cauchon, David McGuinty, and a few no-names, I think she’d stand as much a chance as anyone.

      Especially if she brands herself as a “gutsy risk taker”. I’m not saying I’d back her, but it would be a mistake to write her off at this point, if we find ourselves in a fractured leadership race lacking star candidates.

  7. I’m all for ending the Supply Management system. In the short term, it will do more to put money in my pocket than anything else any party is likely to propose next election. It’s a system that costs Canadian hundreds of dollars a year. Dump it! I say.

  8. not to sound like too much of a fan boy, but i’m pretty excited that people are talking about Martha at this early stage of the race. she is an amazing person and the leader the Liberals need. she is a Liberal through and through. she knows what it means in her bones. it’s impossible to imagine her in bed with either the NDP or Conservatives. she could win back the centre-right, and potentially grab some of the women’s vote from Harper and Mulcair. and policy implications aside, her move today also shows she knows how to play the political game deftly (she always has though). also not to be undervalued is the fact that she is relatively invulnerable to Conservative attack ads.

    i’m not exaggerating when i say i’ve been impressed by her and have followed her since the day she entered politics. if people want something different, the “politics of full sentences” rather than cliches, Martha is it. go Martha!

  9. Always nice to see someone who still has tens of thousands of dollars of debt from the last go-round putting her name forward for another go-round.

    ‘Cuz nobody loves a winner like one who couldn’t even pay her bills last time out.

    Sure, she’s got some interesting ideas.

    But the LPC will eat her alive based solely on her failures last time out.

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