The next leader of the Liberal Party has to be bilingual to connect with Quebeckers and francophones across the country, influential Quebec MPs say.
Echoing concerns expressed by many Liberals in private, Pablo Rodriguez, an MP and past Quebec wing president, said a unilingual anglophone cannot take the helm of the party that built Canada's official-languages policy.
"In my view, to become leader of the Liberal Party of Canada, the person must be bilingual," he said. "The leader must not only be bilingual but be able to understand the cultural reality of Quebec and of francophones outside Quebec.
No surprise, that francophones would view bilingualism as a prerequisite for any Liberal leader. The question is whether from a national perspective, do Liberal leaders have to pass this litmus test? If you took a survey of the western provinces, you could assume that bilingual credentials would not be the paramount concern. Does a regional requirement dictate national considerations?
I would argue that one, a bilingual candidate would be preferred, but two, this ideal should not slant the selection process to favor Quebecers. Obviously, if you require language duality it presupposes a prefence for francophones from a practical point of view. However, one of the main challenges the Liberal Party faces moving forward, is it most broaden its appeal beyond its traditional powerbase. A never ending parade of leaders from Quebec has lead to the impression that the Liberal Party is not truly national in scope. Attempts to appease Quebec, have concurrently alienated other regions. What is the solution?
In an ideal scenario, I would favor a new leader that is bilingual, but resides outside of Quebec. No one can question that there has been a disproportionate percentage of leaders residing from one province and this has led to problems. It is time to change the equation somewhat as a matter of political survival. I don't suggest this tone as a snub to Quebec, but merely an accurate reading of the political landscape. This time around, the Liberal Party needs to send a signal of compromise.
One lesson of this past campaign is that Quebecers will respond to a geographic stranger if the message is right. Despite the fact that Harper was completely unappealing on social matters, his overtures to Quebec were welcomed. The Liberals should heed this signal when they discuss litmus tests for leadership contenders. Message is as important, if not moreso than the messenger. The unpopularity of native sons Chretien and Martin also serve as proof to back up this argument. A kneejerk preference for a candidate, based on his superficial "credentials", doesn't guarantee anything and coupled with the outside reactions, may do more harm than good.
A leader must be able to convey his ideas through language, to all the people. This requirement leaves people like Stronach and Brison with a serious handicap, for valid reasons. However, eliminating unilingual candidates shouldn't translate into a decided advantageous for a Quebecer, as it has in the past. Dion shouldn't instantly become a frontrunner based on one consideration. Instead, the person's vision and ideas should be given paramount consideration, followed by a discussion of appeal. I realize this argument is awkwardly presented, maybe it is best just to simply say language is merely one component, not the starting point.