Get liberal, Liberals

There’s a tall, mature maple tree about 100 metres off to one side and behind the house here at Hope Ness.

Underneath it is a large area of rough ground covered with wild grass and underbrush, and a thin layer of soil and moss. Only by venturing in, pushing aside the many small branches, would you discover the old rock pile. We started digging there for rocks last week to make a border for the new flower garden beside the house and discovered buried treasure.

I wonder if it takes a certain inclination of mind, and even spirit, to see what interesting things rocks are, each one in its own way. Did the Greigs and the Butcharts, the pioneer homestead families that cleared this land many years ago, stop as we did to marvel at the different patterns and textures? 

It would be an offense to their spirits to suggest in any way they did not. They were remarkable in many ways, these strong, adventurous people who struggled against great odds to clear enough of this rugged landscape to plant crops and raise families. So, yes, I could easily imagine the hands of a man, woman or child reaching for the next rock to throw into the wagon, but being moved to pause for a moment to wonder about the origins of its interesting shape, texture and patterns. No wonder some people choose to make a life’s work, a labour of love, studying rocks. They have so much to tell us about the history of an area, about life in general, and that’s just scratching the surface.

I’m no geologist, so I stand to be corrected; but nowadays we know during the last ice age the immense weight of towering glaciers scraped hard, igneous rocks off the primeval Canadian Shield as they advanced relentless southward. Then, as the glaciers retreated those rocks were left behind, scattered over the ground across southern Ontario and other places reached by the ice. I found lots of examples of igneous rock in the pile under the maple. Many glistened with some sort of metallic content that only melting down might reveal. We also found examples of much softer, younger, fossil-bearing sedimentary rock, mostly sandstone, possibly from the ancient seabed of what we now call the Michigan Basin.

People picking rocks from a field, or digging them out of an old rock pile, might find their imaginations stimulated to go in different directions. Strangely enough, the rocks somehow got mixed up with my interest in current events and history, and the news of the day, to get me thinking about the present troubled state of the Liberal Party of Canada.

Were some of these rocks picked and piled here when Sir Wilfrid Laurier was Canada’s Liberal Prime Minister from 1896 to 1911? No doubt. Some may go even further back, to 1873-78, when Alexander Mackenzie was our first Liberal PM. In those days even the Tories, like for PM Sir John A. MacDonald, called themselves Liberal-Conservatives.

Wendy Mesley is one of the most well-respected journalists in the country. So who am I to question her news earlier this week, based largely on unnamed sources in the party, that Liberal “insiders” are talking about a possible merger with the NDP.

The Liberals were in power through so much of the 20th century that they came to be called “Canada’s natural governing party” at least by the pundits. But no more. Such is the sorry state of the Liberals under their current leader Michael Ignatieff that they’re flirting with fringe-party status. That’s according to Warren Kinsella, Mesley’s only named source for her story. He’s a former adviser to former Liberal Prime Minister Jean Chretien. There’s was even a story a few days earlier about the 76- year-old Chretien coming back as interim leader of the party.

The most likely next leader of the Liberal Party is Ontario’s former NDP Premier, and current Liberal MP, Bob Rae. He poured cold water on Mesley’s NDP-Liberal merger story. He said it had “no substance” and suggested the media “get a grip.” Not a bad idea. These things tend to take on a life of their own, and the demise of the Liberal Party would be a tragedy for Canada.

Socialism is a spent force, a 150-year aberration. The natural fault lines in politics are liberal versus conservative, and all that entails. Confusion ensues when one tries to masquerade as the other. Mackenzie King, Canada’s longest serving Prime Minister, was in many ways a small-c conservative and so was his Liberal government. Now, the Conservative Party and government under Stephen Harper is trying to look liberal, while occasionally revealing its deep, social-conservative, reactionary roots.

The Liberal Party needs to embrace its true identity, and not be ashamed of being liberal. Instead, wave that banner high. A world awash in small-minded, neo-conservatism needs to see it, and see how well liberalism works in this multicultural garden called Canada.

Might I suggest Liberal insiders spend some time on the old Liberal rock pile unearthing buried treasure? Acknowledge what speaks of the King legacy, but set it aside after due consideration and treasure above all what glistens with the true liberalism of Laurier, and the late and former PM, Pierre Trudeau. Take those precious rocks into the light of a new day in a new garden, and get this country moving in the right direction again.

Originally published in The Sun Times in 2010.

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