Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Identity Crisis?

The fundraising figures, detailed in today’s Globe and Mail, paint a “frightening” picture according to Martha Hall Findlay. What the numbers tell me- the Liberal Party of Canada is not a grassroots organization. Donor fatigue, paying off candidate debt, blah, blah, blah- those excuses only mask the real problem.

Party apologists point to the 19 000 donors in the last quarter of 2006, as though that puts this quarter’s embarrassing 4300 donors into perspective. I wouldn’t be bragging about NDP-like donor numbers, barely 40% of Conservative donors, in a quarter where you had a high-profile leadership race, that full engaged Liberals across the country. If anything, the 19 000 donors was a temporary, still relatively unimpressive, blip, borne out of circumstance, instead of the more accurate reading the defenders suggest. I’m also not buying the “we need time to adapt” to the new rules, particularly when many of them were brought in by a Liberal government, years ago.

The real story, the only story, in these numbers to my mind, the Liberal Party has failed to generate any enthusiasm with ordinary Canadians. What the Liberal Party really needs, apart from the obvious tactics employed by the Conservatives, is some policy that stirs people to engage. I’m not blaming Dion, because I think the Martin era was were the Liberal Party seemed to lose its identity, through the mish mash of endless pandering and political expediency. What I do mean, what are the singular, slogan-like positions that people “on the street” can identify with? The answers are easy if you think of the NDP and Conservatives, but with the Liberals the answer doesn’t readily come to mind.

What I like about the Liberal Party is the lack of dogmatism, the pragmatic quality that comes to decisions based on evidence presented, rather than pre-described rigidity. Having said that, there is an abstract flare to that posture that doesn’t necessarily lend itself to practical motivations. If the Liberal Party is going to morph into a grassroots movement, the way the new financing rules dictate, then it must articulate some overall vision to draw attention. The poor contribution totals might just be a reflection of lack of identity, rather than the other excuses I’ve heard to date.

29 comments:

Anonymous said...

very well stated.
take the time to define and tell us what you stand for, the last word we got from Paul Martin was 'everything', and now we're hearing nothing.
and "Not American" doesn't cut it anymore.

Scott Tribe said...

Advocating something a tad out of the ordinary (from the Liberals at any rate) might be a start.

For instance..as an example, endorsing Mixed Member Proportional Representation as an electoral reform; that would be an eye-opener for a lot of the public, if the Liberals would come something as daring as that. It would show they are willing to be different from the "Natural Governing Party" attitude a lot of the old-guard Liberals still have, and that they no longer presume the public will automatically return them to power.

Mushroom said...

Steve,

You have been tagged courtesy of myself, Mile 0, and Dave from the Galloping Beaver. So please play along.

Have a good day.

knb said...

You make a good point Steve.

Was there a time line given by Rae and/or Kennedy? They were to develop policy were they not?

Mushroom said...

knb,

As far as I know, Rae and Brison were given the role of policy co-chairs for the next election. Rae has gone on record that the Liberals do not need to produce a Red Book. He feels that Dion can make traction running on the so-called "Three Pillars": A richer Canada, a greener Canada, and a fairer Canada.

This is based on Diebel's recent book on Dion. There are also some Liberals I talked to, who believe that a policy platform incorporated into a Red Book may not be necessary. I respectfully disagree with them.

knb said...

Thanks mushroom, I read the book but don't recall that bit.

You may be right about Brison. Wasn't Kennedy charged with something too?

Mushroom said...

Kennedy is the special advisor to Dion for election readiness and renewal. I don't know what this job entails, renewal is a generic word that we are still figuring out.

Markus D. said...

I too like the lack of dogmatism in the Liberal party. I hope Dion can successfully instill his vision for a richer, greener, fairer Canada on the general public. It is a big task, but I really think, of anyone, Stephane Dion is the one who could do it.

To make this task even greater he also has to get people to donate. Perhaps the Liberal strategy could be positive with regard to vision and negative with regard to donations (read: if you really want Harper gone, please donate).

I dread the thought that the Conservatives successfully 'swiftboat' (attacking your opponents strength by any means necessary)Dion in the next election.

If proportional representation were to be included as a part of the fairer Canada pillar, I would be pleasantly surprised.

Joseph said...

Question for those of you who would have a better sense.

These are figures from the 1st Qtr, which was actually a rough period for the party and the newly installed leader.

Have efforts at fundraising increased as the year has gone on - in other words, is there any reason to believe the numbers from the second quarter might be better.

It seems to me that, as much as this might mean a lot for how the party ought to advance in policy matters, I keep getting the sense (and hearing) that first priority ought to be to learn how to actually ask for money. I've even heard people say they went to events thinking they would be asked for donations (which they would have given), but were never even asked to donate.

That's just stupid. Seems like that ought to be a priority in itself.

Steve V said...

"These are figures from the 1st Qtr, which was actually a rough period for the party and the newly installed leader."

While that might be true, you could easily counter that we were in FULL pre-election mode, which should motivate people to donate shouldn't it? Also, negative ads do tend to generate a backlash with partisans.

I've heard a lot of talk about the national membership list, and I did get a call about three weeks ago directly from Ottawa, asking for donations. I ended up peppering the caller with questions, who did admit that donations were still less than overwhelming.

knb said...

I've even heard people say they went to events thinking they would be asked for donations (which they would have given), but were never even asked to donate.

Now, that is dumb.

Our number is unlisted, so I don't get called, but I do get a couple of e-mails a month...and yes I do donate.

I've never received my membership card, but I do get receipts for donating.

I wonder how many Libloggers have donated?

Steve, I'm not up on the rules of donations, is the Youth wing allowed to solicit donations?

Steve V said...

"Steve, I'm not up on the rules of donations, is the Youth wing allowed to solicit donations?"

I have no idea knb. You would think all the Libloggers have donated.

Joseph said...

Steve,

I really had not intended my comment to imply it was an excuse. I was actually just sort of thrown that the reported figures were for the 1st Qtr. I mean, the US candidates are reporting for the second quarter RIGHT NOW. So it seems bizarre to me that the figures are for the 1st Qtr.

But when I considered that fact, it just struck me that it wasn't the smoothest time, quite a bit of adjustment from the exhilirating but ultimately confusing leadership convention.

I agree with you completely there is no excuse for not having donations efforts going full speed at that point in time.

But it is what it is / was. I just wanted to pulse to see if there appears to be any real effort underway to fix the situation now. Attention is needed on the process to tap ready donors, as well as the policy efforts to generate enthusiasm the donors.

I hope and pray the efforts are there, because these numbers in themselves will burn the party in an election.

You don't have to always be at parity, but you just can't be at 10% of your opponents tally. You'll get crushed by the negative personal attacks with that kind of disparity. Just look south at the past few elections before last autumn, when the pendelum finally swung back. I'm talking the money race there - not the voting race.

Steve V said...

joseph

Those points you raised were valid, I was just playing devils advocate :)

Calgary Junkie said...

I think Dion should spend a lot more time advocating his policies and a lot less time criticizing whatever position Harper takes. After all, Dion is auditioning for Prime Minister, and that's what PMs do--they advocate and explain their policies. Dion should leave most of the bashing to the NDP, BLOC and the media.

His orginal "three pillars" was a good start. But he had to provide concrete policies to flesh out what he was proposing.

It may be too late, as Dion seems determined to criticize/nit-pick everything Harper does. I can see how that would please the Liberal base (an important thing for any leader to do), but it's not going to do much for non-partisan voters.

As much as you guys hate Harper, you can still learn some valuable lessons from things he has done. For example, the "five priorities" of the last campaign.

Steve V said...

"As much as you guys hate Harper, you can still learn some valuable lessons from things he has done. For example, the "five priorities" of the last campaign."

Valid points, except for this comment, which undercuts your entire premise. Stephen Harper DID NOT get elected because of his priorities, he was elected because he bashed Martin and the Liberals RELENTLESSLY. Harper won because of the "kick the bums out" sentiment, coupled with some timely, mostly unfounded, Liberal controversy and a trainwreck Martin campaign.

Let's keep it real. The Conservatives received donations from less than 50 thousand people, which represents core partisans. Taking shots at the Liberals was the centerpiece of most fundraising exercises. You're right that bashing Harper isn't good enough for Liberal supporters, but it sure as shit was good enough for the Conservative faithful- when you release a party platform, which is supposed to be about ideas, and you start it off with a little Liberal bashing, it speaks volumes about the true nature of the "movement". "We're not them" seemed to be the major rallying cry, to great effect.

Koby said...

I wrote this back in February. “[One] problem is that the Liberal party's aversion to controversy has carried over into its time in opposition. They have continued to come up with middle of the road, offend no one, please no one, interest no one, policies that are utterly incoherent at their core because they are designed to appeal to both sides of any political divide. Not rocking the boat is a sound strategy when one is in power and ahead in the polls. However, it makes no sense whatsoever when one is behind in the polls and in opposition. Indeed, what made such a strategy so appealing before, viz., the lack of attention such policies garnered, is what makes them so unappealing now.”

The Liberals so called three pillars are nothing but fluffy mush brain nonsense. After all, who is not for a “richer Canada, a greener Canada, and a fairer Canada”? The devil is in the details.

Since then my opinion of the party brass has worsened. This is some of what I wrote recently. “What does mean be Liberal these days? According to the Liberal brass it means supporting Martin’s monstrously ill-conceived Atlantic Accord, opposing a tax on income trusts that they wanted to impose themselves but lacked the guts and it means demanding that the government meet the Kyoto targets that they privately admit the government has no hope of meeting. The party is even borrowing slogans from the NDP. To wit: “We Bringing results to the People.”

If the Liberals are going to avoid being forgotten altogether they are going to have embrace polices that going to get people talking. There are a number that come to mind.

1)Propose scrapping the monarchy

2)Propose mandating 4 weeks vacation a year

3)Propose free dental care

4)Propose Legalizing euthanasia

5)Propose Legalizing marijuana

6)Propose abolishing the senate

7)Again propose banning hand guns

8)Mandatory voting.

The Liberals are above all an urban, big urban anyway, party. It is high time they start reflecting the values of their urban base (Montreal, Vancouver, Toronto).

Steve V said...

"The Liberals so called three pillars are nothing but fluffy mush brain nonsense. After all, who is not for a “richer Canada, a greener Canada, and a fairer Canada”? The devil is in the details."

I have to agree here. Although junkies can appreciate the details, I don't see much enthusiam for the concept.

Koby, you raise an relevant point about offending no one. The way I see it, "no risk, no reward", which demands some bold ideas that could alienate some, but also bring a payoff through definition.

Anonymous said...

Globe screwed up. These fundraising numbers were the old ones from 3 months ago. They wrote the same story, three months ago about them too! These numbers were from the period following the convention. This is a big screw up by the globe.

Steve V said...

anon

"These numbers were from the period following the convention."

That's why they say Jan-Mar :)

Manuel said...

My god thats Priceless,

Propose Banning handguns? They have been banned since the 30's, but your other ideas I am leaning with.

lept said...

"I’m not blaming Dion, because I think the Martin era was were the Liberal Party seemed to lose its identity, through the mish mash of endless pandering and political expediency."
I'm surprised you would thus imply that the Liberals under Chretien had an identity other the arrogant belief that they had been anointed to govern. Certainly there was no vision, just a series of lucky concurrencies that made them so electorally successful...

knb said...

While this doesn't negate the premise of your post, it's interesting to note.

Mark Dowling said...

Steve

well said. It seems that the Liberal Party is a big tent party with fewer people under it than Harper's little one-man-tent.

Steve V said...

"However, Ms. Whiting insisted: “Our fundraising activities have increased and we're on track to double our first-quarter revenues.”

I guess that is good news, although a doubling of an entirely meager showing looks like false momentum.

Nice to know there is a surplus :)

lept

I just thought the party reached its zenith of mish mash under Martin.

canuckistanian said...

good post f & w. i concur, and agree with what koby said. in opposition you need to attack the gov't and propose policies that resonate with the populace. the only problem with this strategy is that i don't think the electorate is ready for a return to liberal-rule. everything is fluid so that could change quickly, but my own feeling is a very long minority gov't is in the liberals interests. downside: it is also in harper's interest (i'd say "conservatives", but let's be honest, this is a one-man show) if he can show the maturity and moderation/pragmatism to govern effectively for all canadians. that is a big 'if', and one he has been unable to demonstrate yet...despite however many times the tawdry narrative of "shifting to the centre" is repeated by our lazy punditocracy.


"I think Dion should spend a lot more time advocating his policies and a lot less time criticizing whatever position Harper takes. After all, Dion is auditioning for Prime Minister, and that's what PMs do--they advocate and explain their policies"

well, someone has never heard of the official opposition before ;-).

canuckistanian said...

""I think Dion should spend a lot more time advocating his policies and a lot less time criticizing whatever position Harper takes. After all, Dion is auditioning for Prime Minister, and that's what PMs do--they advocate and explain their policies"

right, is that what harper has been doing when he labels anyone who questions any aspect of the afghan mission as "taliban-huggers" and "terrorist sympathisers"..."advocating and explaining his policies"??? the prime minister would do well if he learned he is no longer the leader of the opposition, and began to act like a prime minister. although, in his own defence, it is pretty hard to advocate and explain his policies when they are so detached from reason and logic.

Anonymous said...

I am 60 years old and retired, living on a small fixed income. I always exercised my right to vote. Prior to 2004, I had never voted Conservative. Neither had I ever paid for a party membership or donated to a political party. Then, I joined the Conservative party and make a small yearly donation.

I was truly devastated by what happened to the Liberal Party, with adscam and other scandals, and the infighting. I truly do not see the party rebounding any time soon. Sorry to say, Dion is not the man who will lead the way back to the former greatness of once proud Liberal Party.

I believe this is why the Conservatives are doing so well on fundraising. Many voters who wanted change, such as myself, have realized parties need money to fund elections and to win. That's what the Liberal Party is up against now. Little people forking out small amounts for what they believe. A time out for Liberals to get their act together. If nothing else, Canada needs and deserves a strong opposition. Living up to this ideal will help heal a lot of wounds.
Louise M.

Steve V said...

Louise

Appreciate the thoughtful insights. I think you serve as an excellent example of what the Conservatives have tapped into, a grassroots desire for change.