Tuesday, November 25, 2008

What would Laurier do?

Last week I slipped down to Montreal, lively with Grey Cup banners and election posters, for a Laurier's-birthday discussion on the question "What Would Laurier Do?"

André Pratte, provocative editorial writer for La Presse, argued Laurier's tolerance for compromise in search of accomodation stands out, even today, against a certain fondness in his home province for absolute positions that dismiss compromise as unacceptable. John Duffy mused on negative campaigning then and now and described how in 1896 Laurier refused to be defined as too French, too liberal, too pro-American, and made his opponents look weak for making the suggestion. Senator Serge Joyal, late of the Trudeau cabinet, came in with a heap of leather volumes from what must be his own personal Bibliotheca Laurieriana. He pondered the rigidities the fluid and flexible Laurier had to confront from Orangemen and ultramontanes alike. For my part, I suggested one of the strengths of Laurier lay in his accountability; unlike today's party leaders, he actually had to lead his caucus by persuasion and example -- and sometimes by yielding to it.

John Duffy, who in another part of his life is advising Bob Rae's campaign for the Liberal leadership (that ought to be decided by the caucus, if you ask me, not that they do, not that they do!) mused at the pleasures of spending an afternoon talking about the politics of 100 years ago. He's right. The Dominion Institute, instigator of much of all this, now has a lively Macdonald-Laurier website that will run from Laurier's birthday in November to Macdonald's in January: worth the look. (Full disclosure: I had a hand in the quiz; don't ask for clues.)
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