Sunday, January 29, 2006

Admitting You Have a Problem

If you share my opinion that the Liberal Party is hampered by factionalism, internal politics and a general disconnect, then this development offers some encouragement:
Thomas Axworthy, the one-time principal secretary to Pierre Trudeau, has confirmed the federal Liberals want him to head a "party review commission" to look at "healing the rift" in its ranks and examine how to prepare for the next election...

In the article, Axworthy wrote: "The mantra of the party must be inclusion. Before the party again flies apart into various leadership coups, Liberals of all stripes, regions and generations should once again learn to work together. The way to do this is not to engage in recrimination, but instead to look at strengthening assets ... The Liberal party now has a time-out from government; it must use this time to include, not exclude, and to think deeply rather than pointing fingers."

Axworthy seems to have a handle on what the central theme should be moving forward. The spirit of inclusiveness is paramount, if the Liberal Party is too re-establish any credibility with the Canadian public. I would hope that Axworthy realizes that an inclusive approach should extend beyond bringing together various entrenched factions and also reach outside the current power structure. Fresh blood, fresh ideas should take precedent over reconnecting the old guard.

I think Axworthy is right in attempting to move the discussion outside of any potential leadership race. Logistically, and practically, it may be wishful thinking to expect all the players to act in good faith with a leadership battle looming, but it is important to recognize that the problems run deeper than a simple leadership question.

Any attempt to go around the country and get important feedback from the "locals" can only help the Liberals in the long run. This presupposes that the exercise is a serious attempt to reform and not merely a feel good exercise with little substance. Axworthy seems to realize that the Liberals have a grassroots deficit and this represents a good first step.

I would suggest, that if the priority is policy over new leadership, it might be advantageous to delay a leadership convention for a year to give the process some breathing space, without the inevitable jockeying from the ambitious. Despite good intentions, inevitably as this process moves forward the leadership angle would increasingly distract from Axworthy's goals. The Liberal Party has plenty of time too settle the leadership question, the country is no mood for an election any time soon. In the long run, it is important to take this time now, admit you have problems and emerge with a united message.

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