Published on Friday, 13 July 2012 10:28
Written by Steve Val
The Liberals are staking out the "middle ground" as it relates to the oilsands. With strong options on boths sides, the Liberal position is part default, part natural predisposition, but I'm not sure the "third way" will be particularly compelling. Truth be told, the Liberals are largely nowhere within a debate that looks to be centerpiece topic moving forward. There are so many tenticles to this debate over the tarsands, bleeding into a fundamental economic discussion, encapulating a deep philosophical debate revolving around our relationship with our environment.
The idea that polarization allows for a reasonable alternative to bridge the gap is nice in theory, but within this particular debate, it risks appearing vanilla and bland, even if logically sound. The fact the NDP do not oppose ANY oilsand development narrows the Liberal window that much more, there is wiggle room for Mulcair to avoid a completely "reckless" accusation. On many scores, people are taking sides, leaving the "mushy middle" almost neutral and by extension largely irrelevant.
The NDP have taken strong stands and within that an attractive electoral coalition, as long as national unity questions are mitigated, I see a potential winning combination, the math is there. Rather than backing off, Mulcair has largely been rewarded for steadfast conviction, agree or not, there is an inherent optical strength conveyed and that is attractive.
And, herein lies the problem with the Liberal position. Sure, people can see merit in both sides of the arguments. But, in reality many of us do agree or disagree, we are for a pipeline or against, we believe the environment must be protected or not, there are black and white considerations. One only has to look at how the provincial NDP have staked out a clear position and gained traction, relative to the "fence sitting" B.C. Liberals on the pipeline issue, and we see both how polarization works and a compromised position can look quite weak.
People appreciate stances, taking a stand, fighting your ground, within that a certain risk, but a sense of conviction. I worry that the Liberals, while entirely reasonable and "adult" in perspective, gets lost within an increasingly polarized debate, perhaps a natural state, given the issues surrounding. We may appreciate the careful arguments from the Liberals, but if there is to be a pitched battle between two diametrically opposed ideologies, will hushed tones be heard above the sound and fury? I tend to think not, I'm not convinced, although I'm also not sure the Liberals really have a spectral choice.
Time will tell if the middle ground is the ultimately preferred ground. I tend to think the positions may find some sympathy, but wonder if there is any motivation at the ballot box, when compared with the more fiery alternatives. At this point, the Liberals fight an uphill battle just to remain part of the conversation, within an issue which will be a primary point of distinction during the next election, of that I have no doubt.
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