Sometime between 1996, when I left journalism, and 2008 when I returned to it, I must have written a cheque to an Ontario Liberal candidate. I can’t remember who or when, but I know I did somewhere along the line, based on the deluge of fundraising emails I started getting starting from the party this past summer and reaching a crescendo on New Year’s Eve.
At first it would be one or two emails a week, but the frequency began to build as New Year’s approached. New Year’s you see is the deadline for persons who want to claim a political donation as a tax deduction of 75 cents on the dollar. That’s right, the taxpayer foots the bill to the tune of 75 percent of all political donations by individuals, plus it provides the parties with more than $13 Million to divvy up based on votes received, (although Doug Ford is talking about scrapping the whole scheme).
So for me it started in earnest on Saturday December 29th with an email from former Provincial Treasurer Greg Sorbara asking for $10. Wrote Greg, “The mission will take some time. And it will require important choices to be made, drawn from our values as Liberals. It will mean electing a new leader and developing new policies. And it will mean raising enough money to re-establish a lean, well-organized party.” I always liked Greg Sorbara, and it seems to me that if the party had fielded more candidates with his moderate views last year, they would be sitting with more than seven members now.
The next morning it was former Premier David Peterson, who I actually know a little bit. (He was a year ahead of me at Western). Mr. Peterson reminded me that he was the one that ended 43 years of Tory rule, writing, “rebuilding our party this time will take every single one of us working as hard as we can to win back the trust of the people of this province. But I believe the sun will rise over our party again.” Reading between the lines again, Peterson appears to be acknowledging that the party got off the rails ideologically, and has to get back to the centre that he and Sorbara occupied when they were in office.
Later that day the Liberal Fundraising Team, acknowledging that these emails are probably getting to be a pain in the ass wrote, “we’d rather fill your inbox up with questions for your feedback and news about how supporters like you are rebuilding the party. I tried to reply to this email, telling them about Mssrs. Sorbara and Peterson, and the desirability of the party re-connecting with real Ontarians but got a form reply. I’m not sure these people really want feedback.
The following morning it was interim party leader John Fraser, an Ottawa MPP saying, “We lost an election and a government that did a lot of good for families, only to be replaced by one hell-bent on tearing down our province and its people. Polls show our party is regaining the trust of the people of Ontario. Our party is being rebuilt and modernized so we’re ready to compete in the next election.” Not so fast, John, the fact that Ontarians took a chance on Ford, untested as he was, shows how desperate they were to get rid of your party. For these voters, the unknown was better than what was in front of them. You are not ready for a comeback just yet.
New Year’s Eve day, 2:05 pm, comes word from somebody named Brian that the Liberals are just $10,000 short of their $100,000 fundraising goal. Three hours later Acting Executive Director Deb Roberts advised, “Something incredible just happened. Another 162 people have chipped in since Brian’s email a few hours ago to help us surge to the finish line.”
Mercifully the Ball dropped in Times Square and it turns out the party did make its fundraising goal. A lot of work for such a pittance. It shows how far the party has fallen from the times when people would pay $1200 to be in the same room with a cabinet minister. Whether you are a Liberal supporter or not, and in my voting lifetime, I have probably voted for them more often than the other parties, not out of any tribal loyalty; but simply because they tended to more closely reflect a generally moderate world view; the fact is that this party lost its way, and in so doing became unrecognizable to many former supporters. It is not simply a matter of Ontario Voters coming to their senses and going back to the party fold next time. The task is for the party to return to the voters it used to attract. I’m not sure the people who are left in this rump of a political movement get that.