Saturday, March 27, 2010

Expectations and other notes from Can150

Just thought I'd offer up a few thoughts and notes on the proceedings thus far and what's in the air.

I have been hanging with the blogging compadres, we do naturally congregate, after all. We have been candidly dissecting and hashing out the sessions, the people we're seeing, all around. That's a great part of such events and it really gives you a sense of where other bloggers are coming from, particularly when we don't get to see each other in person so much but live in our online worlds. So that's always a great aspect of these things.

In surveying some of the media analysis this morning, Travers, Ibbitson, Simpson, Martin, etc., some of it provoked a bit of a whoa reaction from me. It's natural that these columns are gravitating toward the "big" questions, what the conference, its substance/speakers say about Liberals at the moment and where the party is going. The Liberals need a vision, Liberals are looking to catch the next wave, Liberals searching for new life, etc.. Yes, that's what the weekend is supposed to stimulate, such thinking and the very fact of the conference and its theme drives that weight of expectation.

But there's a bit too much of a frenzied worry, almost, permeating this analysis. I don't think anyone here thinks this weekend is a determinative policy moment for the Liberal party. It's a milestone along the way and a necessary one. The policy, the vision, the positions are coming, there's plenty of discussion this weekend that's going to supplement ongoing debates that are happening within the party. Pension reform is a good example of an issue on which there's been a year or more of work by many within the party (and which I heard about in the hall yesterday). Putting the conference into that kind of ongoing perspective might be a bit frustrating for those seeking instant gratification and an immediate alternative to the Conservatives. Jeffrey Simpson put it well today:
Two days of high-minded ideas in Montreal does not a party platform make. Ahead lies the task of crafting something on which the Liberals can run and win, which likely means forgetting all the hard messages of the weekend and plucking from among them those with soft political appeal.
The bigger question seems to me is what Ignatieff put his finger on yesterday during his press conference, whether our political system can address the problems facing the country. That political system includes Parliament in which debate theoretically takes place. It includes the dialogue among political parties which can be vicious and ultra-competitive these days and which is not kind to legitimate substantive issues that are brought forth for consideration. It includes the media lens that is applied and that is thriving, day to day, on the highs and lows of Ottawa intrigue. It includes an active polling industry that is always on hand to lock in the perceptions of Canadians and sometimes contribute to stifling debate. All of this makes it tough, but not impossible, to be truth telling, to be legitimately inspiring, to break out and grab people's imaginations.

Can big ideas survive in this atmosphere, inspire people like the big ideas of old? Open questions, maybe not so new. But this latter aspect, the quality of our discourse and our political system's ability to let ideas that may come out of such endeavours as this weekend actually breathe and get some life, that is the big question.