Former Liberal MP Dan McTeague Photo by Deborah Gyapong

Ousted Liberal MP Dan McTeague hopes for party renewal

By 
  • January 17, 2012

OTTAWA - Dan McTeague, one of about a dozen staunchly pro-life Liberals who lost their seats in the May 2011 federal election, looks forward to the revitalization of the once powerful Liberal Party.

As one of more than 3,100 delegates at the Liberal Biennial Convention here Jan. 13-15, McTeague said he hoped the party will be able to reach out to all Canadians, including the Catholic and ethnic voters who were the former pillars of party support.

Political scientists have credited the Liberal defeats in 2006 and 2008 to a growing collapse of Catholic and ethnic voter support. Last May, the Liberals were demoted to third party status behind the NDP and the governing Conservatives. The Liberals elected only 34 MPs, though their numbers have grown by one with the recent defection of a Quebec NDP MP to the Liberal ranks.

“I think it’s important to bring in and include all religions including mine, which is Roman Catholic,” said McTeague, who added he still thinks the Liberals are the “natural party” for Catholic voters.

“We try not to mix church and state but there are some very important issues that always have to be considered by all parties including mine,” said the former MP of the Pickering-Scarborough East riding.

But McTeague, who was first elected in 1993 and served various Parliaments for 18 years, stresses his pro-life stance was not responsible for his defeat. Fellow pro-life Liberals were “here in force” at the convention, he pointed out. McTeague continues to believe the Liberal Party, despite having a pro-abortion “rights” official policy, has room for people like himself.

“If it wants to be an open and dynamic party and wants to restore its support, it has to include all Canadians, not just some,” he said. “I’m very comfortable with what I’m seeing.”

McTeague said it is not a matter of trying to bring one religion over another into the party, but to recognize the diversity of Canada and religion as one of the building blocks of the country that gave rise to the desire to help people.

There has never been a better time for the Liberal Party’s original message, he said, “something that we’ve lost in years of translation.”

“The Liberal Party is a party of the centre,” he said. “It means that people who are for or against something find themselves in the same organization, under the same tent.”

The Ottawa Convention was a sea of red t-shirts, balloons and posters as a notably young crowd of delegates — one-third were 30 or under — roamed the facility, queued to ride the escalators, passed out Timbits and held chanting wars with youthful delegates supporting different candidates for Liberal Party President. Former Ontario wing head Mike Crawley won over former Liberal cabinet minister Sheila Copps by a mere 26 votes.

Young Liberals were successful in getting a resolution passed to legalize marijuana, something that may not appeal to Catholic voters or ethnic voters who tend to be more socially conservative. The youth were not as successful with a push to legalize euthanasia. Most of the resolutions, however, concerned party governance and structural ways to attract new members, including allowing non-party members to vote for the Liberal Leader.

In his closing remarks, interim leader Bob Rae did not refer to religious voters, but stressed the party’s openness, diversity and embrace of change. He also applauded the party’s role in the creation of the Charter and in bringing in same-sex marriage, “which gives Canadians the freedom to marry whomever they want.” Freedom, fairness, openness and change were his key messages.

McTeague consistently voted his conscience, often against party policy, on life and family issues in accordance with Catholic teaching, but he also saw room for supporting life in other areas, such as providing more support for women who might find themselves facing an unwanted pregnancy, or in the consular work he did and continues to do now, helping Canadians who have a loved one stranded or in difficulty abroad.

Nick Sharratt, 22, a Young Liberal originally from Guelph, Ont., but now living in Ottawa, who volunteered at the convention, credits the Conservative victory to the hard work it did courting minority voters in targeted ridings, especially in the Greater Toronto Area.

“The Liberal Party, especially on the issue of ethnic voters, became a bit too comfortable and a lot of these voters became displaced,” said Sharratt, who called the May election a “wake-up call.”

“We’ve become too comfortable,” he said. “We need to reassess our base. It’s not always going to be there; it can be liquidated and spread among the other parties.”

Sharratt hopes the Liberals will borrow from the Conservative methods, especially those of Immigration Minister Jason Kenney, who has actively wooed ethnic communities.

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