The ideology of liberals has changed so much over the last thirty years that some progressives now consider the term an insult
There was a time back in my youth when I was proud to consider myself a liberal. I grew up with a political conscious thanks to my upbringing, the music I listened to and my curiosity as to how the world around me works.
Before I went to school every morning I would watch an hour of news to stay informed. My teen years were spent overlooking the conservative revolutions in Canada, the United States and United Kingdom. Thatcher, Reagan and Mulroney, oh my!
Not much you can do about when you’re a kid, but I did what I could. With the encouragement of my mother, I made my first political donation at the age of 17 while working part-time in a gift shop. I gave my money to Liberal Party candidate Clifford Lincoln and later voted for him a few months after I turned 18.
That year saw the election of Jean Chretien as Prime Minister and one of the biggest victories in Liberal Party history. Coupled with the victory of Bill Clinton a year earlier, I figured the era of conservatism was over. I continued to support Chretien’s Liberals for the better part of a decade.
I adopted liberal ideology and I was proud of who I’d become. When given the chance, I always referred to myself as a liberal. To this day my Facebook profile still says “very liberal” under politics. Trouble is, the word liberal doesn’t mean what it used to (neither does conservative for that matter).
Someone asked me the other day what my political leanings were. In Canada, if I had replied liberal, not only would my answer have instantly associated myself with the Liberal Party, my answer would also have defined me as the type of liberal we have in society today. I simply responded that I was a progressive.
When it comes to social issues like gay marriage, safety nets and women’s rights, liberals are still liberals for the most part. When it comes to economics, free trade, taxes, labor and even free speech however, real liberals should change their name.
Chretien, Clinton, Blair and Obama are all considered liberals, but they all support big business, free trade, low taxes and place high importance on corporations driving the economy instead of the people. Reagan may have “turned the bull loose,” but these men have allowed it to run wild.
Americans like to think that big money in politics is responsible for this ideological change, but this isn’t the entire truth. Currently, political parties in Canada are both privately and publicly funded (to even the playing field). Either way, Elections Canada sets the limit on what parties can spend on an election. In 2011, that limit was $21 million. Hard to imagine huge corporate influence with these kinds of limits.
The truth is liberal ideology has just changed. Growing corporate power is the single biggest threat to our democracies and our livelihoods. Whether you’re in the United States, Canada or Great Britain, corporate power continues to rise and our liberal parties are a major reason why. As a result, income inequality is at levels not seen in 85 years.
Modern day liberals no longer fight corporate greed or influence, they embrace it. They have essentially adopted a lessor form of Reaganomics. Deregulation, low taxes and free trade have all become part of their ideology. Regardless, Democrats, Liberals and Labour have somehow retained the support of private and public sector unions despite the fact they are a contributing factor in their decline.
The North American Free Trade Agreement for example was signed into law in Mexico, Canada and the US by liberal leaders (previously negotiated under conservative governments). This terrible trade agreement has contributed to growing income inequality, lower wages, job loss and corporate attacks on environmental laws.
No real liberal in their right mind would have signed on to NAFTA. But here we are, President Obama has fast tracked the Trans Pacific Partnership through congress. A trade deal some label as NAFTA on steroids.
Canada has one of the lowest corporate tax rates in the world thanks to Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper who cut corporate taxes in half to 15%. The tax cut has not created more jobs, just added to the stockpiles of corporate cash. Still, Liberal Party Leader Justin Trudeau has already stated he would not raise it back up, nor would he raise taxes on the wealthy. Trudeau also supports the Keystone XL Pipeline and foreign ownership of Canada’s natural resources. These policies used to be contrary to liberal policies.
Tens of thousands of people took to the streets of Montreal (without media coverage again) to protest the Liberal Government of Quebec’s austerity measures, which include severe cuts to education and healthcare. Quebec enjoys one of the lowest corporate tax rates of any province and state in North America, at the same time Quebec has one of the highest tax rates for individuals. Again, these policies used to be contrary to liberal policies.
These are only a few examples of how the definition of liberalism has changed over the years. And in my opinion they are among the most important issues. The distribution of wealth drives the world we live in more than any other factor and it sickens me how “liberal” leaders in the US, UK and Canada are now rolling out the red carpet for corporations.
For these reasons, among others, I have given up referring to myself as a liberal. I’m beginning to find it insulting and it is impossible to take the term back to what it was. For now, I’ll keep referring to myself as a progressive. I believe that is one term that can never be changed.