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Liberals need not pander to a constituency that will probably never vote for them.

Just a disclaimer with this blogpost; I think Jeff Jedras is a good guy and a good Liberal and generally a progressive fellow. That said, I strongly disagree with this blogpost of his saying we as a party should be abandoning the long-gun portion of the gun registry in an attempt to curry favour with rural voters and which he feels would help get more Liberal MP’s elected in rural ridings.

As I said over there, I grew up and currently live in a rural riding, and the right thing to do is to keep the registry for all guns, whether its unpopular with rural voters or not. We shouldn’t be abandoning the right policy just so we can suck up to the rural ridings, because I believe it won’t work in its objective to get those folks to vote for the Liberals.

As an example, I can guarantee the riding of Oxford (where I grew up and where I currently am now) will NOT suddenly vote Liberal if we were to backtrack on this issue. The constituency is too “blue” and socially conservative on too many other issues, and they’d (correctly) view it as voter-pandering. That will be the same elsewhere – do any Liberals seriously think rural Alberta or rural Saskatchewan will go Liberal if we decide to backtrack on this? I’ll take bets with any of you if you think so.

Heck, why not go a step further? If we’re going to ditch policies that rural ridings dislike us over, why not backtrack on same-sex marriage? Why not go and advocate support for some strict anti-abortion law, or as strict as the Supreme Court will allow? Those 2 policies in particular are loathed by many social conservatives in the rural ridings, and the Liberal Party gets blamed for that… so, if we’re going to pander, we might as well go full-hog, eh?

You know what? Even if the Liberals were to do all of that, I predict it still wouldn’t work. I look at the US as an example. Once upon a time a few years ago, there was a faction in the Democratic Party in the US called the Democratic Leadership Council (or the DLC) that advocated that the Democratic Party needed to shed some more of its “liberal” policies in order to gain or curry favour with “rural” ridings or “red state” Republican areas in order to win elections. Guess what? That policy didn’t work. Voters that long opposed the Democratic party were not going to vote for them because they were pretending to be the Republican Party.

My view for Canadian politics is the same. The Liberals should either find other issues that can gain favour with rural voters, or else, bluntly, you ignore that constituency, who probably will never be persuaded to vote for you anyhow, and focus on winning back suburban votes, to go along with the urban base, and win elections that way.

You want to win rural ridings? I’m all for it, and as you all know, I’m all for the Liberals adopting a 308 riding/10 province strategy to allow us to compete in all provinces, but not at the expense of turning the Liberal Party into a ‘Conservative Lite’ version, and not for abandoning correct good policies due to political optics. Nor do I believe we have to stoop to that to win back those ridings.

UPDATE @ 3:06 pm: Here’s one way to get rural voters to vote for us, as recalled by Kevin Ames over at Jeff’s comment thread from talking to a prominent Liberal:

I recently spoke to a former Liberal Minister of Agriculture who said that the way to win rural votes is with spending on things that all Canadians want like health care, education and infrastructure. He didn’t think that so called rural issues would win the Liberals anymore votes.

Exactly. We’re not going to win them back if we suddenly abandon the long-gun registry, and we’re not going to win them back if we do a 360 on same-sex marriage or abortion. Focus on more general issues as suggested, and focus on good government, like, say Dalton Mcguinty has done in Ontario, and that’s the way you get some rural ridings to vote Liberal, not by trying to pander and pretending you’re a Conservative.

22 comments to Liberals need not pander to a constituency that will probably never vote for them.

  • Gayle

    “It also doesn’t prevent unstable people from obtaining the ability to get legal guns and ammo.”

    What makes you say that?

    Your argument about cars also makes no sense. One reason we register cars is so the police can enforce the law. They input the licence plate in their car computer and find out who owns it, where that person lives, how old that person is and whether that person has had any involvement with the police (not just criminal convictions – any involvement at all). They use this information as a reason to stop a car that is being operated by someone who does not match the owner’s description. They use this to determine if a car has been involved in a hit and run, a drug deal or a drive by shooting.

    They make the same use of the gun registry.

    (And in answer to your first point, many mentally ill people have been denied a permit to own a gun or have had their guns taken away – and we are all safer because of that).

  • “Criminalizing gun owners? What a crock.. now you’re sounding like those 10 percenter ads we were getting in the mail prior to the last election.

    Everything around here needs registering.. including such things as a drivers license.. there should be no difference for a gun owner. ”

    A car is not dangerous if it cannot be and is not used, and a gun is not dangerous in many cases if it is properly stored or is ornamental. Do you think derelict cars should all be registered and tracked by the government? The gun registry is a pie in the sky idea to make big government bigger. Just because it sounds like a Tory talking point doesn’t mean they are wrong.

  • Roll Tide

    Re: Gun Control, Obama did not dare to call for any “Long Gun registry”. The Obama campaign moved to the DLC wing of the Party after the nomination…. had dinner tonite with Krauthammer, Will and a few other Conservatives.

    Ignatieff is abandoning the “Coalition” and will support the budget. A DLC move
    that the late Scoop Jackson would approve of.

  • Goldenhawk

    @Scott Tribe – Hey Scott, you do know that Howard Dean was endorsed several times by the NRA as governor of Vermont? Not sure he’s the best example for this particular issue. See also Brian Schweitzer and Jim Webb as other Democrats the “netroots” like who are also gun-friendly.

  • Since my post has been mentioned here, I’ll briefly follow up. In almost all cases, I’d actually agree with Scott’s logic. But this is a rare case for a couple of important reasons.

    First, this isn’t an area such as draconian prison sentences or retrenching same-sex rights where any move will be met by demands to go further in the same direction. Instead, the point of conflict is limited to a single policy – and one which faces irreparable damage to its reputation due to bungled implementation conceded even by those who agree with its purpose.

    Moreover (and as a result), the policy is one which provokes knee-jerk anger far out of proportion to its practical effect. As I describe in my post, the registry is already of limited and declining utility due to the damage being done to it by the Cons.

    So the real choice is between having it stay around without much utility while giving the Cons a political advantage in perpetuity, or biting the bullet (no pun intended) to close a chapter which works to Harper’s benefit. And while the Libs probably aren’t the first party which would stand to gain in rural ridings, they’d surely be as happy as anybody to make the Cons’ fund-raising and volunteer base less animated than it is now.

  • Ditch it. It’s always been a bureaucratic nightmare, with limited success, primarily targeting people who are law abiding citizens.

    Let’s face facts. This policy was a urban solution, there was little or no input from the rural perspective. Nobody perceives a gun problem in rural Canada, the registry came without “smoke”.

    Scott, nobody is suggesting it’s a path to rural success, nor do I see it as pandering. All it is, a recognition of the rural perspective on this issue, which has validity. The long gun registry was a complete boondoogle, a bureaucratic nightmare, that is now being ignored in large part.

  • Scott: I agree with you absolutely, 100%. Great post.

    We have to “stick to our guns” on this one – or so to speak. I lived in Sask. and AB during the vicious attacks on the gun registry by some very vocal – NRA-backed – people a few years ago.

    Sure, some Liberals are also opposed to it, but for more “selfish” party-based reasons. Sure it will be difficult to sell “us” in the rural West, if there is any haziness on this issue. In the old days we used to take a stand for an issue like this, and thus convince people of the wrongness of something like unregistered guns.

    One MUST keep in mind that 90% of the rural Westerners were extremely pointed in the wedge issues that made them anti-Liberal. I have read and photographed the bumper stickers:
    1) “No to Wheat Board, No to GST, No to Gun Registry” – think this person will vote Liberal if we slightly soften our stance? Doubt it.
    2) “NEP, Gun Registry, Wheat Board – Raised middle finger (insert image)” Think this person would vote for us?

    Scott’s points about just who these people are is very important. These aren’t just average everyday “rural folk” – these are the most vehement Liberal haters out there (the Conservative “base”). They pull 60% + numbers in AB and Sask, but if you take out the urban numbers, their rural support is in the neighborhood of 80+%.

    If we are smart, politically, and want to really win in the Prairies, we need to accentuate the “wedges”, not blur them. Roy Romanow and Grant Devine – both Sask Premieres – one NDP, one Con – both accomplished this to get elected. They galvanized their “base” – Romanow in urban Sask, and with socially conscious and “less corporate” farmers, and Devine with the rich, and most of rural Sask.

    If we can find the issue which resonates with urban Prairie denizens, we too can take advantage of the split. The massive infrastructure programs with “shovels in the ground” right away is one way to implement this.

    By continuously softening our stance on issues in areas where we are far behind, we appear to be saying that, “yes – that must be the correct way of thinking” to people in those regions. If, on the other hand – we can gravitate the national (mostly Eastern-based) media to matters of serious urban concern, we can galvanize support nation-wide, with more positive media spin.

    I’m not advocating “abandoning” rural support, but we need to catch on to the reality of advancing civilization – which is towards urbanization – and resolve those issues. We also need to take a stand on matters important to us.

    Stronger cities and urban areas help the rural areas around them. I used to live around Weyburn Sask – in a small town. Weyburn was a hub of activity, and most of the farmers in the region tripped to Weyburn as part of their daily or weekly activities. The things that mattered to Weyburn residents were similar to those of larger Regina (schools, roads, hospitals, etc.), and surprise, surprise, were the same things that were important to the rural residents as well.

    The Wheat Board is a big issue. There are farmers out there that NEED the Wheat Board. We need to help them. They are “our type” of rural residents. I would hedge a bet that their livelihood (vis-a-vis grain marketing) is more important to them than the minor inconvenience of having to register their “weapons”.

    I was born and raised in rural areas, and was also through all my firearm safety certification in rural areas. I still reside in a “semi-urban” suburb, with farms next door to me. I do a lot of my shopping at the farm next door (he sells organic produce, and organic meats). I am, by no means, someone who would forget “where I came from”.

  • @Ted – Don’t be ridiculous.. The NDP isnt calling for (with the exception of this lone NDP MP) the removal of the long-gun registry, and that’s certainly not the reason the nDP is winning some rural ridings and the Liberal are not. The NDP is as big of a supporter of the registry as the Liberals are, and you well know that… so why your’e trying to use this as an argument for listening to rural voters in NDP held rural ridings is a bit puzzling to me, because that is most certainly not the overriding factor.

    It’s the right policy because I think it gives a valuable aid to the police who know where guns are being kept… ask the police force, Ted. They use the registry, and they support it. I think you’ll find the majority of people in this country also support tight gun laws and control of firearms.

  • @saskboy – Criminalizing gun owners? What a crock.. now you’re sounding like those 10 percenter ads we were getting in the mail prior to the last election.

    Everything around here needs registering.. including such things as a drivers license.. there should be no difference for a gun owner.

  • @saskboy – There’s nothing backward about it, or Anti-Western Saskboy. (What makes you think I’m talking about the west? I’m not.)

    It’s in my view a fact that rural ridings are generally more conservative in social attitudes, and the social conservative element in rural ridings hates the “liberalization” of those 2 laws and/or moral issues for them… and so I believe its pointless for the Liberals to try and appease them on those or other so-called “rural issues” as the anonymous Liberal cabinet minister said.

  • whop., the registry is a testament to failed bureaucratic implementation of an unpopular and divisive policy that focuses on criminalizing law abiding gun owners, while it does nothing to address the enforcement of existing gun laws, and restrict the illegal trade of firearms. It also doesn’t prevent unstable people from obtaining the ability to get legal guns and ammo.

  • Here’s just a quick example of why the registry works. A friend of ours has a nephew who went around telling his friends he was going to steal his grandad’s hunting rifle and bring it to school. Turns out both the kid’s grandfathers had hunting rifles that were registered and luckily both were locked up in gun safes. The RCMP was tipped off and quickly warned both men about the incident. The young man was not able to get the guns and a potential tragedy was averted. Now, in my opinion it would be better if no one had guns period, but if you’re going to let people have guns at least have them registered.

  • Gerry

    I agree wholeheartedly with Scott. Bill C-68 was passed during the first term of the Chrétien Liberals. Rural Liberal MPs were deluged with letters, faxes, emails, and were taken to task by gun owners at every opportunity. They were told that they would never get re-elected but most were in fact re-elected in 1997 and in 2000. Don’t forget that a sizable minority of gun owners support the gun registry and that, among many of the others who oppose it, it is not a ballot question for them. It is ridiculous to think we could win over the remainder, most of whom have other reasons to oppose the Liberals. Also don’t forget that the Liberals gained a lot of votes over C-68, not just in the cities, but in every region of the country.

  • Ted has a more reasoned response than I would have bothered to craft.

    “Heck, why not go a step further? If we’re going to ditch policies that rural ridings dislike us over, why not backtrack on same-sex marriage? Why not go and advocate support for some strict anti-abortion law, or as strict as the Supreme Court will allow?”

    And it’s backward, anti-rural/Western attitudes like that which will never win Liberal seats in hundreds of ridings across the country. Chicken and the egg? Hint, if you insult the rooster, you may not get either.

  • Once upon a time a few years ago, there was a faction in the Democratic Party in the US called the Democratic Leadership Council (or the DLC) that advocated that the Democratic Party needed to shed some more of its “liberal” policies in order to gain or curry favour with “rural” ridings or “red state” Republican areas in order to win elections. Guess what? That policy didn’t work.”

    Uhhh, didn’t that policy get Bill Clinton elected President of the United States??? Twice. Isn’t that policy why most of the major Democrats in the U.S. are current or former DLC members and the whole party has gained popularity in the West and South?

    I’m pretty sure President Clinton and more than half of Obama’s new Cabinet would disagree with you that the DLC “didn’t work”. One could argue that since Obama is the first non-DLC Democratic Presidential candidate to win the Presidency since Clinton (Gore, Lieberman, Kerry and Edwards are all members of the DLC) that this means the DLC is in decline but I’d say their past record is hardly one of failure.

    Here’s a list of some DLC members which I think speaks well of the DLC’s success:

    Evan Bayh, Rahm Emanuel, Dianne Feinstein, Harold Ford, Dick Gephardt, Al Gore, Bob Graham, Terry McAuliffe, Sam Nunn, Janet Napolitano, Lawrence Summers, Tom Vilsack, Ken Salazar…

    • LKO: The US liberal netroots would highly disagree with you. The DLC strategy never never worked in Congress between 1996- 2004. You should check the history of that. It was Howard Dean that turned the party around, not Rahm and the others. There are still triangulating Dems, that’s true.. but if the DLC had had its way, Dean’s 50 state strategy would never have gotten going, and was a big waste of time, according to them.

      It showed how much they knew. That’s what I want to avoid happening up here.

  • Ted

    Two questions Scott:

    1. What makes the long gun registry the “right policy”?

    2. When the NDP are competing in and winning rural ridings that Liberals are not, why is listening to the Liberal base in those ridings called pandering? We’ve ignored those Liberals and I don’t think listening to them is a bad thing. This is not a left-right issue as much as the far left and the far right want to make it out to be.

  • It will be an issue for Ignatieff. How can he position the Liberal Party so that it won’t become a copy of the Conservative Party?

  • I think Accidental Deliberations has a good post on the subject, and why allowing the registry to die completely would benefit the NDP and Liberals.

  • Scott, many rural Liberals also think the long gun registry is bad policy, and their views can’t, and shouldn’t, be dismissed so easily. They’re as Liberal as you or I. This isn’t a Liberal/Conservative issue. It’s a rural/urban issue.

    We’ve also been talking about we get more rural Liberals involved as active party members. A start would be giving their legitimate policy concerns some attention and, instead of dismissing their deeply-held views as rural pandering, take them seriously for a change.

    If there is pandering going on here on gun control, its by the Liberals to their urban base by advocating ineffective policies that have zero-impact on the lives of urban Canadians, but make them feel all warm and fuzzy in Rosedale. It’s the Liberal version of Conservative “get tough on crime” legislation that panders to voter fears with ineffective anti-crime legislation.

    If you want to call revisiting the long-gun registry pandering to rural Canada, fine. It’s high time we diversify our pandering anyways.

  • Mound of Sound

    Scott, don’t be silly. It’s not just the gun registry the Iggyphiles want to use as pandering chips. Don’t forget there’s always Israel. And then there’s burying the carbon tax initiative. Who knows, before long someone might find there’s a vote or two to be had by endorsing capital punishment for twleve year olds.

    I spent the morning poring over some of my collection of books on Pierre Trudeau to reawaken my understanding of his vision of liberalism. Pandering wasn’t one of his guiding principles. that’s the stuff of the neo-liberalism of the new gang.

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