Sunday, November 23, 2008

A Point Of Clarification

Yesterday, a person I respect left a comment on one of my posts, which raises an issue that everyone involved in the Liberal leadership should keep in mind. In reference to a quote, detailing Ignatieff's organizational prowess, and how that machine has grown in the past two years, Gayle left this thought:
"He had a strong ground organization in 2006 and he has grown it impressively over the last two years."

Which is why I will not support him, and exactly why he cannot stand for renewal.

The premise being, it is hard to support someone who is guilty of duplicity, hard to reconcile backroom maneuvering while the Liberals had a leader. I share the frustration, as I'm sure many others do, and I've made my opinion known several times. The Liberal Party is inherently flawed in this regard, it seems people are forever planning for the next leadership, and this dynamic has gone on for literally decades. "Camps", a reference entirely synonymous with the Liberal reality, standard practice, an institutional constant.

I would submit the following, when people are persuing the various candidates, using past loyalty to influence their eventually preference- all of these contenders are the same. We all know that Ignatieff supporters were working behind the scenes, during the Dion reign, although in fairness, the man himself did much work to help the leader and the party. However, the same criticism applies to many Rae supporters, it's common knowledge that a whisper campaign was afoot for some time. In addition, and this may surprise some entertaining LeBlanc, he has been testing the waters for months, the organizational support he has today didn't just materalize the day after Dion resigned. In fact, LeBlanc, in many ways is the ultimate backroom operator, which means the mantle of "renewal" and something different, is a challenged assumption. It is correct to proceed with the knowledge that all three men are in the position they are today, because they, or more correctly their supporters, have a keen understanding of how the Liberal Party works. It isn't right, in fact in many ways quite disheartening, but there it is, that's the reality, nobody's hands are clean, divided loyalties a pre-requisite for the current crop of contenders.

I don't blame these men necessarily, because after all, they didn't invent the rules, merely a statement on who best able to understand the condition and exploit it. You operate within the rules you find yourself, any idealist sense quickly evaporates because of practical circumstance. The Liberal Party is such, that anyone with purity on the "renewal" front is handicapped, because the backroom doesn't allow a natural process, it forever pulls and prods from the shadows. Further, if you believe people are products of their environment, then it is hard to lay blame on the backroom, it is just the way of things, and it's bigger than the sum of its parts.

The problem is the culture, it has little to do with the current candidates themselves, they are just another by-product of a dysfunctional entity. What Dion experienced is nothing unique, the intensity just as much a reflection on his own inabilities to instill confidence, as it is dubious motivations. I'm treating all these candidates the same in terms of "loyalty", nobody gets to the claim the high ground, three peas in a Liberal pod. To suggest anything else, is simply a factual fallacy. Three good men, supported by good people, tainted by the necessity of process.


CuriosityCat said...

Your dismay at the infighting in Liberal senior ranks is understandable, and justified. However, rather than say a pox on all three their houses, I suggest you adopt as one of the principles you will use in deciding whom to support this time around, the presence or absence of a detailed, pragmatic and effective plan put forward by the three contenders regarding measures to increase democracy within the party, and reorganize it by dragging it into the twenty first century, instituting plans to increase membership and raise finances.
Only that will bring victory for the party.
Let the three candidates show us that they can properly organize the party, not just their own election campaigns.

Steve V said...

Agreed. That is sort of my point, don't let how we got here, influence where we are going.

B-Cas said...

True, but the Ignatieff people (at least here in Quebec) were undermining the party and actively wishing failure on Dion and the LPC.

There's a difference between laying the groundwork for a run and self-sabotage (which we saw in Outremont and in a few other areas).

burlivespipe said...

Those of us who remember Turner's early days recall that there was much grumbling and even spurring on of a 'dump Turner' movement. But what he had that Dion didn't - and it was groomed over decades of party activity - were strong support from the base to the tip of the party. Dion unfortunately never was immersed in party politics as a young man, didn't become a member until nearly 40 from what i understand.
The caucus support wasn't there, and more importantly, the hierarchy, those traditionally involved in the major party decisions, did not find it within them to back him.
As you noted, it is in the party's dna to always be grooming the next leader.
Chretien wasn't happy under Turner, to the point where he left parliament rather than serve. He understood that, despite having 'won the hearts' of Liberals, he would have to bide his time. His time came. Is it Ignatieff's time? Rae? Leblanc?
What is also apparent that it will also require Harper to become unpopular within his own core -- as usually governments defeat themselves -- and who ever we select will benefit from that timing.

Anonymous said...

Good post, Steve. I think your clarification is good, just to make sure folks understand your rationale. You make excellent points.

Having observed US politics much longer than Canadian politics (though I'm catching up ; ), the one difference I would point out to the US favor (which is unusual) is that the major parties there don't tend to have as much visible infighting during the years in which any given individual is NOT the party leader. It certainly doesn't get played as much, which might be more of a difference in journalism though . . . still trying to figure that one out.

I have no doubt the organizational backscratching and aligning is occurring constantly and even to a larger degree in the US, but it doesn't seem to dominate as it does here. I suspect that may have to do with the fact that at the end of the day, US voters on a larger scale still determine the "party leader" nominee (via primaries and caucuses) whereas in Canada it is still very much an internal party exercise.

I would NEVER advocate Canada be more like the US political format - the longer US cycles are horrible and becoming worse. They are now at the point of having not even inaugurated one President yet "initial steps" on the "interim" election in 2010 or positioning for 2012 are dominating news cycles. How stupid is that during a period of nearly unprecedented economic and foreign disarray?

But I would like there to be a better recognition that there is only "one leader at a time" and some respect for that fact. That has to come not only from the potential leaders themselves but their greatest cheerleaders - otherwise known as the nameless sources in G&M articles and the like who seem more dedicated to weakening the current leader than anything else.

I'd love to see the party kick out a couple of high-level operatives within the party next time it becomes clear someone is putting the next leadership race ahead of the interests of the party and Canada.

Harsh, I know, but it appears to me these players move on with immunity. I lived in Washington, DC for a number of years and did observe how some of the party mechanisms work from friends and associates in bot parties. Politics for all its perceived vastness tends to be a rather small gathering. I find it impossible to believe there are "nameless mystery players" who are pulling things off in secret. Other party members at that level know who is going too far and know when moves are afoot.

There will always be allies and boosters, and low-level testings and maneuverings. But the excessive rooting for failure of an individual without recognition that means party failure as well should change. The Party should demand it of its members. Is there any oath or code of ethics for the Liberal Party? If so, could it be strengthened in this area? Even if more of a gesture to provoke a discussion of the topic, I think it would be good for party renewal.

It may be naive, but I tend to believe you have to start with something. That might be a place to start.

catherine said...

Steve, thanks for addressing this openly.

I have been disappointed in actions of all 3 men (I was taken aback by LeBlanc announcing on CTV his interest in running for leader before Dion even decided to step down). However, I am not going to write any of them off based on one or two actions and I would be careful about assuming who did more organizing over the last two years.

By jumping to conclusions on partial information, one may be wrong about who did the least behind the scenes. A good politician may simply have fewer leaks. Better to focus on how each candidate would lead and rebuild the party.

Anonymous said...

It is for exactly these reasons that I will work against Count Iggula and his merry gang of bandits at LPCQ. After 2 years of undermining the sitting leader these individuals shall not succeed by default.
Bob Rae will be benefit.

Anonymous said...

Here's the deal. We have to hit the ground running to get rid of this clown and his government. An October 2009 election will likely happen.

JimmE said...

Winning is everything. Had M. Dion won, he'd have attracted the broker/manager class. Joe Clark who won a similar leadership to Dion's hung so long because he won an election.
As my first & second choices are out I'm now undecided - except I will NEVER EVER support LeBlanc. This is due to his comments slaging the Green Shift during the campaign. This breaks Rule #1 & for me is unforgivable. If LeBlanc is leader I will spend the next election in Colorado.

Anonymous said...

Mr.Dion is a better choice than the three that we have to chose from...the conservative pundits and story tellers are trying to push Bob Rae down our throats because with him at the helm...they stay in power....we need a saviour.....the pollmaster liars are trying to tell us the polls say he is the better man in ontario....well we all know polls are bull@@it and this crazy polling should be was a disgrace with those rolling polls in the last election...each one copying off the other. The day Mr.Dion waltzed out in ontario with bob rae doing the talking..I knew it was over.

Anonymous said...

On QP, Flaherty suggested that he'd probably run a small operating surplus next year. Ahem. Does that mean that the deficit will be closer to $33 billion or so that the govt spends on debt charges?

Boy, wouldn't that explain the "Great Depression" harperbole this week, and wouldn't that literally blow Rae's campaign to bits?

Gayle said...

"There's a difference between laying the groundwork for a run and self-sabotage (which we saw in Outremont and in a few other areas)."

Exactly. From what I saw during the election it was not just Iggy's people who did this. I noticed small things from the man himself, like telling a journalist Dion was putting his career on the line with the Green Shift. We all know that is true, but speaking about that during a campaign was not particularly helpful.

That just seems to be the liberal legacy. One of the reasons Martin's 2006 campaign was so terrible was that Chretien's people were sabotaging him.

My concern is if anyone but Iggy wins, are the LPC in for more of this behaviour, and if so, will people support him to prevent that from happening?

Personally I just want Harper gone, and so will accept any leader the party chooses, but I do not equate acceptance with support.

It is not like the NDP can defeat Harper, and Layton is hardly inspiring when his sole purpose seems to be to destroy the LPC.

Any chance anyone can recruit Duceppe to the federalist cause and get him to run as leader? :)

Anyway, good post Steve - and I am flattered. ;)

900 ft Jesus said...

good post, thanks for bringing out what many of us are struggling with.

I'm still undecided, bothered by the backroom plotting,worried about selecting a leader who may put his own interests before party and country, but like anonymous, I want Harper out before all else.

Anonymous said...

I think it's a little naive to not realize that they all had plans, just in case, to get ready for a leadership race.

Do you think Obama got his team ready just after he announced his candidacy? It takes time to build a team and they have all done it - all 3 of them.

I wasn't aware Leblanc spoke negatively prior to Dion making his decision to step down - he loses 10 points immediately from me.

They didn't derail Dion - he did it to himself. As fine and smart a guy as he is - he was stubborn and wouldn't listen.

Do you not think there are those in the CPC and NDP who are planning? Maybe Mulcair? Prentice?

Ted said...


Excellent post. We can harbour bitterness for organizing while Dion was leader, but they were all doing it. Iggy's Quebec team was probably most active. Rae's team never shut down and Rae himself criticized Dion and contra-dicted Dion policy publicly at least twice maybe three times (eg. he criticized Dion and the Liberals for opposing Harper's attempt to extend certain portions of civil rights limiting provisions of security legislation), something no other caucus member ever did. LeBlanc was campaigning during the campaign.

OK. So they all start from the same place. Chretien's team were undermining Turner even as he won ("first in our hearts") and tried to dump him in the middle of an election where Turner had brought the Liberals back from nothing. Anyone going to question Chretien's loyalty to the party? Politics can be a nasty business. Doesn't excuse it, but like Steve astutely says, we can't pretend that Liberal winners and renewers in the past had clean hands.

So if you are deciding to support or oppose any candidate because of "disloyalty" to Dion, then I think you extending that tradition of infighting and camps rather than helping the party renew.

To focus on policies and priorities, for the party and the country, rather than "camps" and media stunts and ancient history, that is how you regenerate a party and a political movement.

Ted said...


burlivespipe said...

Ted, I agree.
We've got ourselves a leadership race. It's up to us to choose wisely and do our part to get Harper back to study 'economics'...

Möbius said...

One of the reasons Martin's 2006 campaign was so terrible was that Chretien's people were sabotaging him.

It was one of the worst campaigns I've seen, before the last one. I'm not sure how Chretien (as much as I dislike him) wears it, though. Martin always looked like he was panicking, and he lost a huge amount of the respect I once had for him.

Iggy was simply doing the pragmatic thing, on being prepared for the post-Dion era. If he was actively undermining him, I, for one, didn't see it. Dion chose to run on the Green Shift, and lost seats to it.

Gayle said...

"To focus on policies and priorities, for the party and the country, rather than "camps" and media stunts and ancient history, that is how you regenerate a party and a political movement."

See, I "get" this. My problem is that I donated a hell of a lot of money to the liberals this year, and while I was doing that some liberals were spitting in my face by publicly undermining the leader, and by extension the party, in order to ensure failure during the election so that they can have another shot at the leadership. (And by failure I do not mean the election loss, which was pretty much inevitable, but rather the reduced seats and reduced popular vote).

So I am not happy at all with the choices for leadership, and I do not think the fact "Chretien did it too" makes it OK. In fact, I DO question Chretien's loyalty to party and country after some of his stunts came to light.

I am not a liberal, so I do not suppose what I think matters, particularly since I am forced to support the liberals by default. But as someone on the outside looking in I do not see how any of these candidates are the answer to the LPC's systemic problems.

The only thing I can do is stop sending them my money, and while I doubt they are going to miss my 1100 dollars next year, I certainly miss the 1100 dollars I sent them this year.

Gayle said...

"I'm not sure how Chretien (as much as I dislike him) wears it, though."

I never said he wore it, just that his people played a role. It made the party appear to be divided - which clearly it is.

How do you think Ezra Levant got a copy of the LPC election platform?

Möbius said...

I never said he wore it, just that his people played a role.

Would Chretien have preferred to see Martin lose, even if it coincidentally would hurt the Liberal Party? Anyone think he would not?

That said, it's the leader who sets the tone, and Martin ran a terrible campaign.

Gayle said...

Mobius - I am not sure why you find it so hard to address what was actually said.

Antonio said...

They didnt lose a squeaker in outremont. They lost by 20%. You dont sabotage 20%, especially when the Bloc loses half their vote and it all goes to another party. Can any of the "sabotage" accusers explain how the iggy people managed to send half of the BQ's vote to the NDP?

This is why "Amateur Hour in the OLO" didnt last very long...

Möbius said...

Mobius - I am not sure why you find it so hard to address what was actually said.

I didn't even think we were disagreeing. You said one of the reasons Martin's campaign tanked was because of Chretien sabotage. Agreed. Another reason was Martin himself, and whoever was running his campaign.