Red Book (Liberal Party of Canada)

From Academic Kids

The Red Book, officially titled Creating Opportunity: The Liberal Plan for Canada was the platform of the Liberal Party of Canada in the 1993 federal election. It earned its name from its bright red cover, red being the official colour of the Liberals.

It was exceptional in how specific it was, while platforms before and since contained a few substantive promises and many vague statements of principle, the Red Book lay out a long list of changes the Liberals would make if brought to power.

It was also rare in Canada to have an entire platform released at once. Generally, a party would release a policy idea wait for it to gather as much media attention as possible and then release another. Those ideas had also been released during speeches by the party leader, not printed in unbending prose.

Perhaps most central was that the Liberal Red Book gave costs for each of their promises and summed them. Never before had a party attempted to clearly prove that its promises were fiscally responsible and practical.

The Liberals, out of power since 1984, were widely expected to win the 1993 election based on the great pan-Canadian dislike for the Progressive Conservative government of Brian Mulroney. The Liberals under Jean Chrétien were worried by a jump in Tory support with the selection of new leader Kim Campbell.

A larger concern was the general Canadian antipathy towards politicians after the tumultuous and scandal plagued Mulroney years. The 1992 referendum on the Charlottetown Accord was widely interpreted of a rejection of Canada's political elite by the general population.

To attempt to break through the cynicism and distrust the Liberals felt that being more specific and making many promises would help ensure a victory, thus the Red Book was created. It was one of the first contract with the public type platforms, an idea used by the United States Republicans in their 1994 Contract with America and Mike Harris's 1995 Common Sense Revolution in Ontario.

The Red Book was drafted mainly by Paul Martin, future Minister of Finance, and today Prime Minister, and Chaviva Hosek a top policy official with the Liberals.

The product was a 112 page booklet; many thousands of copies of it were printed, and it was widely distributed. There was even talk of trying to mail a copy to each Canadian household, but it was decided this would be too expensive.

The Liberals won the 1993 election with one of the largest majorities ever, and the governing Conservatives were all but obliterated.

The specificity of the Red Book came back to haunt the Liberals, however, and much of the next few years were spent defending broken promises. The most notable of these was the Goods and Services Tax, which the Liberals had promised to replace but did not. Critics also said that the Liberals had broken their promises to increase the power of individual Members of Parliament and introducing a national childcare program.

The majority of the promises were kept, however. Chrétien famously argued that 78% were honoured, a mark he could live with. Others contest whether some of these promises were kept or not. Some of the most notable promises from the Red Book that were kept was the pledge to cancel the purchase of new naval helicopters, canceling the sale of Pearson Airport, reforming Unemployment Insurance, more gun control, and reducing the size of the armed forces with the end of the Cold War. Perhaps the most important pledge kept was that of returning Canada to fiscal solvency.

The 1997 and 2000 elections saw new Liberal Red Books. These contained far fewer specifics and more generalities. The Liberals were worried about the danger of more broken promises and were also running low on new ideas. By 2000, many pundits felt it would be better named the "Red Pamphlet" due to its brevity.

In the 2004 election, the Red Book model was rejected as Paul Martin, ironically one of the primary authors of the original, attempted to distance himself from Chrétien’s legacy.

Other parties have also started to copy the Red Book, and today every party publishes a large policy platform near the start of the election.

See also: Election promise


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