Joyce Murray is the Best Choice for the 

Liberals and the Rest of Us


By Peter Russell

As a non-Liberal but someone who is concerned about the sorry state of our parliamentary democracy, I find Vancouver MP, Joyce Murray, by far the most impressive candidate for leadership of the Liberal Party of Canada.

Murray has staked out thoughtful positions on many of the important policy issues facing the country.

This is precisely what the leading candidate, Justin Trudeau, refuses to do.

Trudeau’s supporters tell me that instead of putting forward his own ideas he is listening to members and supporters of the Party.

His platform will emerge after they elect him leader.

That is a wrong-headed approach that flies in the face of what we should expect from democratic leadership.

Democratic leaders should always be responsive to the views of party members as well as those of the general public.

But within political parties, especially big-tent parties like the Liberals, as well, of course, as within the citizenry at large, there is a wide range of views on any given issue. Responsible democratic leadership requires a want-to-be leader to explain where and why he or she wants to lead the party.

Trudeau senior certainly did that. Trudeau junior refuses to do so.

I am particularly impressed with Joyce Murray’s understanding of climate change issues and her commitment to develop effective policies to reduce Canada’s carbon emissions. 

As a minister in the British Columbia government, Murray helped to develop and implement that province’s climate change policies, which lead the country in this field.

Among other ideas she puts forward is appointment of a Canada/US Climate Envoy to explore joint efforts and build continental cost-effective collaboration in reducing North America’s carbon emissions.

I note that she also recognizes the emerging crisis in ensuring a sustainable, safe and secure food-supply for Canadians.

In this and other policy areas, Murray does not spell out detailed policies but gives a strong idea of what a party she leads can offer Canadians.

Equally impressive is Murray’s grasp of the key structural problem behind the sagging performance of our parliamentary democracy – the increasing irrelevance of parliament and the decline of citizen engagement, especially among the youngest eligible voters.

She is fully committed to reforming the electoral system so that the distribution of seats in the House of Commons is closer to the distribution of voters’ preferences across the country.

The simple plurality system that rewards a party like Mr. Harper’s Conservatives which gets 40 percent of the votes with over 50% of the seats must be reformed.

But she understands that reform of the electoral system will take a while.

In the meantime, Murray stands out as the only Liberal candidate willing to consider the kind of electoral co-operation with the Greens and the NDP that might be necessary to ensure that the 60% of Canadians who reject the principles and policies of the Harper Conservatives will not have to endure four more years of rule by the Conservative minority after the 2015 election.

Murray supports nomination of Liberal candidates in all ridings, but proposes a process of riding-by-riding co-operation with the Green Party and the NDP to support a candidate who has a good chance of defeating the Conservative candidate.

This approach would focus on ridings where Conservatives are in a minority position and their candidate can win only by more progressive parties splitting the opposition vote.

It takes both common sense and courage to take this position.

It is surely a sensible way of protecting Canada from government by a party whose policies and principles are not supported by a majority of its people.

But at the same time it is courageous because it goes against putting one’s own party first above all else. And it is that partisan passion which tends to infect the party faithful that Murray will have to overcome.

For the sake of her party and our country, I hope she succeeds.

About Peter Russell

Peter H. Russell is Professor Emeritus of Political Science at the University of Toronto. He is one of Canada’s leading constitutional scholars, has published widely in the fields of aboriginal policy, the judiciary and parliamentary democracy, and is a frequent commentator on Canadian government and politics. He is the founding Principal of Senior College at the University of Toronto. Peter Russell is an Officer of the Order of Canada and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada.
Posted date : March 04, 2013

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