Course Correct

  • National Newswatch

By the time the federal Liberal caucus left their meetings in London, Ontario, last week, it was likely they had a bit more spring in their step.  After all, the week had begun with sinking polls and the leader stuck in India with his faulty airplane.  It wasn't a good look.The polls revealed a growing distance between the Trudeau government and the expectations of struggling Canadians.  For months, media stories had effectively chronicled abysmal housing shortages, soaring rental costs, stubbornly high grocery prices, and the overall sense that voters were underwhelmed by government actions.Well into their London gathering, there was a growing sense that something was rousing within the party, and, more importantly, in the PMO.  The prime minister eventually arrived, and the caucus, in his absence, had coalesced around the belief that the time had come to course correct.I live in London, Ontario, and it wouldn't be an overstatement to say that the city has been struggling under the combined massive weight of homelessness, a housing shortage, limited affordable housing opportunities, food insecurity, and the fear that it all could take on a more permanent feel.  Within a few days, that began to change.Months earlier, a private $25 million donation to assist city officials in dealing with those most seriously affected by homelessness proved to be a catalyst for a sweeping effort to establish homeless hubs.  Then, during the caucus sessions in the city, Trudeau announced a $74 million dollar Housing Accelerator investment for the city.  He also pronounced his intention to get the grocery store magnates to Ottawa in order to ask them to develop solutions for lowering grocery prices.  The caucus meetings concluded.  The government then announced that London North Centre Liberal MP Peter Fragiskatos would become Parliamentary Secretary to Sean Fraser, Housing, Infrastructure and Communities minister.  All in all, it was a good week for London.For federal Liberals, it wasn't so bad either.  They seemed to be getting some of their groove back in ways the earlier cabinet shuffle failed to do.  Would it be enough to reverse their slide in the polls?  It's too early to tell.A deeper drama was playing out in London that had far greater implications: the future of liberalism itself.  At a time when conservatives were moving further right, liberals were being transformed into “neo-liberals” by their increasing acceptance of unfettered markets as the best means of delivering the goods for Canadians.  For a time, it worked, just as it had for conservatives.By the time Justin Trudeau and his caucus arrived in London, it was clear that neo-liberalism had outstretched itself.  As time moved on, the structural inequities of that system were glaring.  It could no longer produce the kind of economy effective for all Canadians.  Neo-liberals were, ironically, victims of their own success, producing generations of citizens who had grown complacent about their own responsibilities to the greater good.  The country was waking up to a growing sense of its structural inadequacies, and it wasn't pretty.It was also proving politically costly, opening the door for other alternatives that threatened to divide Canadians even further.  It has taken perhaps too long for Trudeau's Liberals to come to terms with this transformation.  Author Alan Moore pointedly described this moment of awareness in his book Watchmen: “We have laboured long to build a heaven, only to find it populated with horrors.”It's never easy for any government to realize it has a goal much greater than reversing the polls.  In the Trudeau government's case, the task is now to redefine liberalism once again: not only to broaden accessibility to wealth but to empower Canadians to take more individual responsibility in conjunction with that accessibility.  These were the essentials of classic liberalism before it got swallowed up in a world of consumerism.  The federal Liberals can no longer get by with highlighting the inconsistencies of their opponents.  It worked for a time, but they must now produce an effective government that can improve opportunity for all while forging a new social compact that is adequate for a more challenging future.Should the Liberals successfully navigate that difficult political passage, it might look back at its time in London, Ontario as the moment when it found the will to take that journey, to substantially course correct.  The policy decisions of the next few months will tell the tale.Glen Pearson was a career professional firefighter and is a former Member of Parliament from southwestern Ontario. He and his wife adopted three children from South Sudan and reside in London, Ontario. He has been the co-director of the London Food Bank for 35 years. He writes regularly for the London Free Press and also shares his views on a blog entitled “The Parallel Parliament“. Follow him on twitter @GlenPearson.