Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Visionless Liberals?

Quite alot of debate surrounding the relatively "early" Liberal leadership convention. Some argue that the Liberals should have postponed a leadership race, and instead focused on re-inventing the party. Others argue that it is essential for the party to act soon on the leadership question to present a face for the party and prepare for an early election. Two articles highlight the varying opinions:

The positive:
Unwilling to let Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his new Conservative government dominate the political arena for an entire year, the Liberal Party of Canada has wisely chosen to compete for the attention of Canadians by speeding up the process for choosing a new Liberal leader...

The goal is to generate public interest in the contest through serious debates on the directions the country needs to follow to ensure its success on the global economic and political stage in the coming years

The negative:
At the moment, Liberals are utterly lost. After careening through two years and two elections with Paul Martin, a party that once boasted it was the western world's most successful no longer dominates the political centre, is out of fresh ideas and has no obvious leadership light to follow out of darkness.

So what's the Liberal response? It's to declare that Stephen Harper is making such a horrendous start that they must be ready to fight an election now forecast for next spring.

What self-deluding nonsense...

A short, sharp leadership contest favors style over substance, organization over personal potential, pragmatism over growth. That, and the bravado assumption that voters will consider Liberals rehabilitated by next spring, inflates the spectre of a Conservative majority.

Liberals are wisely recognizing this contest must be transparently more honest. They are foolishly ignoring that the party needs more time to find itself. A party obsessed with power is now hurtling toward nowhere.

After the election, I argued that it was essential for the Liberals to abandon a quick leadership race. The Party desperately needed to focus on internal policy matters and re-energize without the distraction of ambition and naked politics. I also felt the Harper government had a clear two year window, given the electoral mood of the country, and this allowed for a slow process.

However, I have now come to the conclusion that the Liberals are best served with a relatively early race. The lack of a clear frontrunner has opened up the race to allow for a more substantive debate. If soundbites are any indication, potential candidates clearly recognize the need for the Liberal Party to re-define itself. Brison has spoke to a desperate need for vision, so too Dryden. Ignatieff welcomed Rae into the race, saying "the more the merrier". According to Ignatieff, the leadership race is primarily an exercise in:
"A great party engaging in a full borne renewal. A really searching debate deep inside itself."

My point? From all indications, many of these contenders understand the stakes and embrace the opportunity to provide a clear vision. This leadership debate can easily morph into the debate the Liberals require to provide a new, positive agenda. Through these candidates, if they hold true to their commitment, all the questions can be addressed in a forum that allows clear distinctions. These candidates are all in consultations with local people and the grassroots. Obviously, the feedback conveys the desire for a real debate and not the usual slogans and style. I think the race, on a substantive level, is shaping up quite well- everyone is ready to engage.

In addition, I have now abandoned the "two year" window argument for the Harper government. Harper has already used up so much political capital in such order that it has no historical precedent. The early signs show a government that's own rigidity may cause more friction that anyone bargained. Harper's political tin ear and his preference for little advice suggests a disastrous miscalculation waiting to happen.

No one would argue that it isn't in the opposition's best interest to have clear, forceful leadership. If Liberals can embrace renewal through the leadership race, then it is a positive to have a leader in place as soon as possible. This is not to say an election is imminent, but why not have the ability to move if opportunity arises. Harper is already fighting the next election, as evidence by his massive offensive in Quebec. I am not sure the Liberals can essentially stay on the sidelines for a long period and hope to recover.

The early signs suggest a leadership race that recognizes the imperative of substance. If Liberals can accomplish renewal in relatively short order, it will undoubtedly provide more flexibility in dealing with the Conservatives. I must admit I am pleasantly surprised at the tone of most of the leadership hopefuls- they seem to get it.


Woman Mile 0 said...

I agree that the earlier call on the Leadership race was the best thing. I think there will be pleny of opportunity for the party to find itself and where it needs to go through this process. Why do they need two years of yammering about who they are and what it all means? The arguments for this always seemed extremely poor to me. Let's get on with it and may be the best man/woman win!

Anonymous said...

The short timeframe does favor candidates with name recognition. A longer process allows lesser knowns a better chance to be heard.

Wpman Mile 0 said...

So perhaps the argument is how can we best ensure that all the candidates are heard and can get their message and ideas across? I really liked the idea of one membership, one vote to increase public participation and interest in the process. I guess a few people may make up their minds immediately but I am guessing many people will wait to hear the speeches and the arguments on the leadership campaign trail. I know I certainly have no idea who I would favour at this point. I guess I could be in the minority but I don't feel like I am.

Steve V said...


The lack of a clear frontrunner should give more opportunity for different voices. Imagine if McKenna declared, the race would have been quite different.

woman mile 0

From all indications, there does seem to be a wait and see attitude, which should place a premium on substance.