It is, therefore, perhaps appropriate that Murphy's oddly extremist anti-Liberal, anti-democratic distortions are published in The Post. After all, this was the newspaper that triggered Andrew Coyne's, a right-winger with a certain measure of integrity, resignation. You can read about that here. What confuses me, of course, is exactly what Murphy is doing writing what amounts to an ill-informed, at times silly, anti-Liberal diatribe such as he did. He is a respected commentator. Why sink to this level?
I am, I hasten to add, not trying to simply critique Murphy. He is more than entitled to his views. The problem, of course, is that when a respected individual offers views, they have an unusual weight. He might deny that, but it would be disingenuous. After all, my work will not appear on CBC or in a national newspaper. Thus, I would argue, that there is a responsibility that comes with being a serious public commentator; that is: if one wants to be something more than a Fox News north. That responsibility is accuracy, balance, advocacy based on reason, and the provision of evidence. In effect, what Murphy does in this column is to attack the Liberal party for things that it has not done but -- according to him but no one else -- might do. In the process he intuits a great deal of intention to the current government without providing a single shred evidence.
This is, I will eventually argue, more broadly important because it illustrates, I think, how conservative Canadians are going to respond to the Liberal government of Justin Trudeau. I had hoped, in previous blogs, that changes in the character of Canadian culture and public life had made the conservative approach to electioneering -- to attaining government -- outdated. Indeed, I tried to argue that one of the reasons that the CPC lost the election was that they did not realize that this change had taken place (in part, I suspect, because they interacted only with their own true believers and not the wider Canadian public). Murphy's column -- along with a series of other public statements by Conservatives and conservatively-minded media outlets, suggests that (a) this is not the case and (b) that they intend to continue their negative, attack at all costs, approach in an effort to convince Canadians that there is something morally degenerate about Liberals (and, in this way, ideally winning back power). More on this later, let me leave off this issue right now to return to my original point: what does all this have to do with Rex Murphy? Murphy's column, I think, is emblematic of the type of discourse that conservatives will seek to forge over the next four years in their effort to disable a government they don't like.
For those who have read this column, I am sure you already know that this is not one of Murphy's finer efforts. Murphy may or may not be a Conservative (I didn't know Mike Duffy and Pamela Wallin were until they were appointed to the Senate). He might just be contrarian (I'll comment more on this in a future blog, too). But, what he should know is that his piece was published as one of a series of pieces (other examples here and here) that are thinly disguised anti-Liberal pieces masquerading as journalism. In other words, whether knowingly or not (and I sincerely hope not) he lent his voice to a partisan activity. In the process, he is part of an effort -- that we will see over and over and over again in the coming weeks and months -- to discredit the Liberal Party, to cast it as an elitist anti-democratic organization, and to suggest that the conservatives are a good alternative and should be voted back in. In the process, the Conservatives will claim that they are champions of "the people," while the Liberals are "corrupt," etc. Moreover, there is more than a little mystification here.
Now, at this point, I hasten to add that I am not a Liberal. I say this frequently and, periodically, someone accuses me of such a political leaning. Here is my bias and my only statement with regard to the current government. I did not vote for them. I believe only that they should be given a chance to govern, like any other political party that wins should be given a chance to govern. Their policies can be and should be criticized. That is part of the democratic process but we should know what those policies are before we criticize them. That is it. After a year, for instance, I am less than happy with the provincial Liberal government we have here in NB, but that is after a year where we have had a chance to see what these folks are doing. Likewise, people who have read this blog for a while will know that I was initially optimistic about the PC government that predated our current provincial one here in NB. As time went by, there were an increasing number of policies with which I disagreed and I supported a different political party in the provincial election that brought the Liberals to power. But, in each instance, I waited until the "ink was dry" on the new letterhead before suggesting that there were things wrong with the government. In the case of Murphy, however, the simple fact that he's joined a Conservative partisan rush to create a negative impression of a new government's first days in power should be a telling sign. This government might be good; it might be bad. The truth is that right now, we don't know. (And, I'll say more about the generally positive views of the new government in a future blog as well).
My first concern with Murphy, then -- and what his piece illustrates about the conservative discourse we will see developing in the near future -- is that he decided to ditch what is the better sense of public commentary -- find out what is going on before one comments -- and perhaps unknowingly let his work appear in a series of anti-Liberal op-eds. I suspect, then, that we will see more of this "quick and dirty" public commentary offered through venues like The Post in the future.
There are, however, other problems, too. What are these? Let me highlight a few. First, they start with Murphy's title, which he might or might not have picked himself:
"The Liberal government does not have the right to unilaterally change our voting system"The title slants the argument he wants to make against the Liberal Party because it makes it seem like the Liberal Party is trying to something illicit to someone else's property. Those Liberals are not a government, elected on a platform of democratic and progressive reform, but something else: a meddling bunch who have no mandate but are doing something nefarious to something of "ours". Murphy follows this up by demanding an referendum and stating that this is a matter of "right." He re-emphasizes this point at the end of this piece:
"So the idea of unilaterally making a decision to change our voting system without a full debate and a referendum is just simply wrong. It is not a government’s choice to make. It is the people’s choice."