Seamanship Quotation

“In political activity, then, men sail a boundless and bottomless sea; there is neither harbour for shelter nor floor for anchorage, neither starting-place nor appointed destination.”
— from Michael Oakeshott's
Political Education” (1951)

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Utopian liberalism for a natural-governing party?

The outgoing president of the Liberal Party of Canada Alfred Apps offered a bold idea to put Canadian liberals back on their feet. As when he went to Harvard to find Michael Ignatieff, however, Mr. Apps found his idea somewhere else.

The central policy proposal in his address to Toronto’s prestigious Empire Club was to campaign to include in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms a set of long-term positive social and economic rights, including “a living wage, clean water, decent education, and quality health care for all Canadians.”

This is, to be fair, a big idea. Indeed, being a lawyer and president of Canada’s most successful old school political machine, he must have known that many would think he was crazy. Yet, his defense of his big idea was pedestrian opportunism: “Liberalism is always in danger of running out of gas or becoming a victim of its own success,” he said. “There’s always got to be a new frontier of reform.”

The liberalism that has been practiced in Canada has never been about the freedom to pursue perfection or about compulsive change or about protecting progressive ideas from the careless masses by entrenching them in the Constitution. Individuals come first, not because they are capable of greatness but because of their inherent worth. The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms protects language minorities and individuals from abusive majorities and governments. It leaves the majority responsible to pursue progress goals through representative democracy.

Apps’s proposal would place a vast array of complex, constantly changing, and contending aspirations in the hands of appointed judges. They would have to figure out how fast and how far these goals would be advanced, prioritized, and, presumably, paid for. Politics would be reduced to guessing what the courts, not what the people want—and fighting over who to appoint to the bench.

Rather than burnishing his liberalism by pushing Harper to be more liberal in pursing an elected and equal Senate, Apps would pursue a more perfect Canada by greatly aggrandizing the power of another appointed institution.

1 comment:

  1. Les: The concept of courts protecting and asserting the rights of disdvantaged minorities from the tyranny, or even benign neglect, of majorities (i.e. legislatures) is hardly new for liberal democracies. Our aboriginal population is the classic example of that. If you don't think our aboriginal citizens should have an equal right to public education, quality health care and clean drinking water, for example, than you and I are definitely on opposite sides of some key questions. Alfred Apps