Frank McKenna has some sobering counsel for federal Liberals: They could be in opposition for a long time and there is no Messianic leader who can lead them quickly out of the wilderness.
The advice from a man once thought to be the party's best hope for a speedy return to power...
"I never thought it would be easy and I never thought I was a Messiah," he said.
Indeed, his decision to stay on the sidelines was at least partly due to his realization that rebuilding the party would take years of painstaking, relentless work.
"When you've been in power for a long stretch, the tide goes out and it goes out a long way," he says now.
The next messiah rejects the messiah scenario. Perfect.
I appreciate the "years of painstaking, relentless work", because accepting that probable reality will put the focus where it needs to be, rather than short sighted strategies that are mostly opportunistic, not particularly substantive.
For the Liberals to win the next election, we will need a certain amount of luck that works to our timely advantage. That's the realistic landscape, the "odds" will never be in our favor, at least not for some time. Appreciating the gravity of the challenge, without waving the white flag, that's the trick for the Liberals.
I firmly believe the Liberals should adopt a "five year plan" style strategy, a two election template to put together a winning coalition. A simple review of the electoral map, the margins, the intangibles, natural incumbent advantages, it's hard to see a full return in one fell swoop. A return to 2006 seat breakdowns should be a quiet goal, let the unpredictability of campaigns allow for more optimism.
When Ignatieff first took the helm, I thought he was correct to reach out to the less fertile Canadian subsets. Somewhere along the way, decisions were made to mostly abandon the "308" mentality, election fever undercut a slow, plodding vision. Maybe it was the recognition that it would take years, whatever, it was a mistake. Sacrifing a sound logic, on the basis of immediate dividends, the minority mentality wins out. Accepting the fact that Liberals face a tough road, then we start to get to the core problems that haunt the brand. In some respects, a Conservative majority last election was probably the best outcome, because it would allow the Liberals to breathe and re-energize themselves, without the hopeful lure of a quick return.
A solid first step, is to use what you have to advantage. Ignatieff isn't part of the Liberal lineage, so let's stop inserting all these great fawning tributes to past leadership. Ignatieff needs to be a vehicle for a changed identity, and this is never achieved by reminding everyone about the tired brand. Liberals might like it, the public sees it all as STALE. No more rehashed policy positions, no more nostalgia, Ignatieff needs to break from the succession. The good news, Ignatieff isn't part of the old order, he actually possesses the pedigree to frame as the outsider, with a new vision. Embrace his political "rookie" status, people don't like slick, career politicos, it's actually attractive to speak FREELY. Be controversial, step on some toes, stop pandering like Paul Martin, stop taking so much advice you render yourself a two dimensional, TYPICAL politician. Above all else, the leader's primary goal now is to set the tone, that there's something new or different about the Liberal Party, post governance. Almost four years out, and we still haven't made the transition.
Accept the wilderness, get a route back and know it's laborious and long. If the time is shorter, accept the fruits of your fortune, but don't operate with that "hope" polluting your decisions.