Saturday, June 18, 2011

The Liberal Think Tank

Liberals don't need a think tank, they need to think.

In various Liberal discussions there has been an idea circulating, a proposition that the Liberal Party should create a think tank or a policy institute that is built around liberal principles. The idea of such a body is not invalid, however the idea of the Liberal Party creating it, is.

Liberals had been discussing the creation of a policy institute for the last few weeks with the intention it would compete with similar conservative organizations. The idea will most likely gain momentum with last Friday's announcement by Ed Broadbent of an NDP think tank that seeks to offer long-term policies advocating "social democratic principles".

Proponents of a Liberal think tank argue for its creation by citing the existence of conservative or right-leaning organizations of a similar nature and the need to counter them, however this argument misses one key point, the Conservative Party never created these organizations. The National Citizens' Coalition, the Fraser Institute, and others, were not born out of the Conservative Party but from individual Canadians who had conservative values. It was not a top down decision, it was a private initiative separate from any party. If the Liberal Party were to create a think tank it would be doing the exact opposite of what any conservative did.

Creating a Liberal think tank or policy institute is also strategically a waste of resources. Small "C" conservatives created think tanks to make inroads into academia, something the left was and continues to be superior in. It is said by partisans that science and research has a bias to the left, and when looking at party affiliations of those with higher education this appears to have at least some validity. It is almost senseless strategically to follow conservatives into a realm we already are more influential in. If anything, to counter conservative academic organizations making forays into progressive-held territory, we should create social organizations to make inroads into traditional conservative-held territory.

An underlying and unspoken motivation for creating think tanks, or relying on them, is that they attempt to make politics simple, and in such a complex sphere, where so much is uncertain, the compartmentalization that think tanks bring is appealing. A policy institute is easy, it puts everything in nice organized boxes. Sure everything is separate, policy over there, membership over here, but everything is made nice and tidy.

A political party, and politics for that matter, however do not enjoy the luxuries of separation, nor do they survive in compartments. Ideas may originate from outside the party, but for the long-term no healthy political organization can sustain itself relying on a few academics while ignoring the ideas and policies of it's general membership. The Liberal Party would not be in the position it is today if it had heeded such words.

The Liberal Party should not create a Laurier Institute or an organization of Trudeau, it should simply create a political party. An entity where policy is developed through members interacting with other members, with the public, with experts, and with other parties. For liberals of any capitalization to create a think tank, they do so ignoring the lessons learned from Michael Ignatieff’s tenure, that Canadians have an unfavouring view of the appearance of academia and elitism in politics.

Liberals don't need to rely on think tanks, they need to rely on their own thoughts, and from there, to rely on their own actions.


WesternGrit said...

What we're looking at is not a think-tank created by the party. We are liberal (small l) minded folks looking to change Canada.

The one key is media perception. People don't give a flying "f" about a party's comments in the media (for the most part). A Fraser Institute, however, can create any effect they want with a study or proposal, get it into the media, and get the public buzzing on it long before they ever consider the source.

That is the key. A fifth column into our target audience's minds. It's been happening for years over on that side. said...

WesternGrit, individuals thinking about policy is always grand and I wouldn't oppose it by any measure. I would oppose the Liberal Party giving funds, influence, powers, etc to such individuals however.