Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Liberal Leadership Woes

Echoing many of my thoughts on the current state of the Liberal party, James Bow weighs in on the long-overdue need for renewal in the National Governing Party:

Paul Martin’s government echoes that of John Turner in 1984 and of Robert Bourassa in 1976. The Liberals have been too long in power. Worse still, they’ve spent too long facing an opposition that couldn’t get its act together. If they win the next election, it won’t be on their own merits, it will be because the voters thought the alternatives were worse. They’ve become lazy and arrogant, and Canadians just don’t deserve that bad a government.

So, it’s time: the Liberals need to be sent to the opposition benches for their own sake as much as for Canada’s. They need to be taught humility. They need to dump Paul Martin. They need to sort out their internal differences and elect a charismatic and savvy new leader in a cathartic leadership convention echoing the one they had in 1968 (when Trudeau became Prime Minister). They need to soap out the stain of corruption and reassess their policies. In short, they need to get hungry again.

Exactly. Bow then goes on to speculate on future leadership candidates and the timing of such a campaign, mentioning Stephan Dion and Michael Ignatieff in particular. Both represent intriguing and sound choices, but they are far from the only strong candidates. I cannot imagine Martin stepping aside as easily as Bow thinks possible, but do agree that it is going to be increasingly difficult for PM to ever recover from the negative position that he now finds himself trapped in.

For my part, I am shocked at the adamant suggestions of some in the Liberal party, like my friend Jason, that no other worthy successors seem to exist:
"...people just sort of assume that we can lose one election, pick a new leader, then win the next one and get rid of Harper. The problem is that we have no other leaders. I cannot emphasise this enough. I personally think the Brison, Cotler or Dion would do a great job, but none of them have a real chance to win. Maybe someone like Ignatieff is the right way to go, but he will almost certainly lose one first. When all is said and done, all we have left is McKenna as a caretaker to rebuild the party. The worst part - this is a standard conversation between grassroots Liberals! None of us see a leader in the wings."

Manley, Tobin, Rock, McKenna, Cotler, Dion, Ignatieff, Cauchon, Coderre... and more names could be added to this list (Brison must be ruled out as an all-too-recent turncoat). The critical point IS exactly that no one leader waits in the wings, no one person who has wrapped up support and pledges of allegiance across the country. So, this would not necessarily be a leadership race dominated and pre-determined by loyalty, but instead run on ideas, policy, and the future direction of the party.

The outcome's uncertainty is precisely what will allow it to succeed. Martin suffered terribly due to the slow, methodical, and organizational take-over of the Liberals without a corresponding campaign platform that represented his opinions. He consistently avoided taking principled positions on critical issues so as not to offend anyone, envisioning a massive electoral victory. Too late he discovered that you cannot be all things to all people in the top job. Just as McCain made Bush a better candidate in 2000 and Dean helped make Kerry competitive in 2004, Martin needed someone stronger than Sheila Copps to challenge his pursuit of the Prime Minister's job. Now, in midst of the sponsorship mess, he is finding it increasingly difficult to identify the bold vision of "achievement" that would give reason for Canadians to keep him in office.

I think Liberals should be enthusiastic about the upcoming opportunity to redefine the party via substantive internal debate. When will this occur - that's really the question.


Blogger Jason Cherniak said...

You make some good points and give me some hope for the future without Martin (although you should scratch off your first three names on the list). That being said, we have to remember that Martin was one of the best Leaders of the Opposition that Canada has seen. I expect him to stick around through a Harper minority and remind people why they used to like him.

12:48 PM  
Blogger James MacDuff said...

Rock I can see staying out of the race, but Tobin is surely gearing up for it at some point - who else would have the moxy to entitle his autobiography "All in Good Time"!

As for Manley, he's another guy definitely interested. Neither option excites me (Dion emerging as a plausible candidate does though) but I don't see how you can speculate on a Liberal leadership race without putting them in the top tier of potentials.

1:12 PM  

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