Monday, December 12, 2011

Stakes Are High For Liberal Convention

"Renewal", the key buzzword heading into the Liberal Convention next month. Given the current predicament, I see this gathering taking on particular importance, providing clear signals about our future direction, but it will also serve as a testament to whether Liberals have that internal reform spirit. Talk to people outside Liberal partisan circles and there is a certain clarity, within, remains to be seen if the gravity is fully incorporated.

A Tandt column states the obvious to my mind, Liberals need a "intellectual reboot":
Most importantly, there’s this: the Liberal policy kit, supposedly the reason for the party’s existence. Between Jan. 13 and 15, Liberals are to gather in Ottawa for their biennial convention. This is billed as an opportunity for renewal, for testing and discussion of a new U.S. primary-style leadership selection process, and for debating and honing new policies.

But as the Liberal party’s nifty interactive website makes painfully clear, there are few new ideas on offer. Early drafts of resolutions mainly read like re-treads of “red books” of the recent past: Bring back the Kelowna Accord; fight global climate change; restore Canada’s peacekeeping tradition, and the like.

Nowhere in the collection of resolutions on offer — except perhaps in the discussion of electoral reform, which shows promise — is there a hint that the Liberals realize they need an intellectual reboot. Underlying this is the assumption that lousy leadership explains their collapse.

When people attack, Liberals tend to act defensively, circle the wagons, stand up for the tribe and it's glorious past. That instinct is noble in one sense, as is that "rallying" spirit we've witnessed over the past few months. However, that mentality also tends to offer a comfort blanket, and in so doing doesn't quite grasp the outside reality for what it is, favours tinkering over a true revolutionary mindset. If there is one danger for Liberals moving forward, it is finding strength in each other and then erroneously projecting that fighting spirit onto an already rejected landscape.

Tandt is right, there is a certain reinvention that must take place, armed with cutting edge ideas, "everything is on the table", traditional liberal ideals updated and transformed so that ingredients together create an entirely new expression. It is here that one of the first "tests" for the Liberal Party will be this convention, not make or break, but a concrete step that will tell Canadians what we've digested and where we want to go.

I respect everyone's decisions, thought processes, in choosing whomever for the elections at this coming Convention. Whatever the outcome, Liberals will get behind and support the people chosen. However, it is also true that this Convention has a optical imperative, it must say to Canadians that a fresh approach is coming, this isn't the Liberal Party you've already decimated. A step further, when you have one candidate with NATIONAL recognition, you must choose carefully, knowing full well that the decision goes beyond "nuts and bolts" of the party, but very much a FACE consideration. Do Liberals really want to come out of Ottawa preaching renewal, rebirth, new directions, a fresh start, with a face that reminds everyone of another era? Is it really wise to continually remind people of the past, say nothing's changed, same old, same old, is that the visual we want leaving Ottawa? There will be no turning back, "controversial" the middle name and a FACE the media will continually seek out, for obvious reasons.

The Liberal Party gathers in Ottawa, with their future relevance very much unclear, in desperate need of new ideas and direction, and they look to the distant past for inspiration? That's it, that's all you could come up with, that's your prescription, that's what you want to tell Canadians, "the rat pack is back baby!". Like I said, I'll get behind whatever, but to be frank, the very idea is maddening on a host of levels, makes no sense to me whatsoever, a complete lost opportunity, and there are few of those left.

You see many columns like the Tandt one, people looking for signs of true renewal and unsure of its existence behind lofty language. This convention is very much about sending a message, it is more than clapping our hands in defiance of those who wish us dead, it's about clean slates, it's about a process that helps rehabilitate the Liberal brand. Again, for myself, this Convention will be a testament to whether a political entity is capable of correcting diagnosing it's own predicament internally, or will it understate the challenges with mutually misguided reaffirmation. The "headliner" moment within that tension will be the Party president selection, it will send the biggest and clearest signal. The canary in the coal mine so to speak....


rockfish said...

So true. However, with such lofty expectations and pressure and the realities of a convention-type gathering, it's legitimately possible that this 'reboot' won't be a 'eureka' moment.
While we were edged back by a party that promoted no new ideas and had nothing revolutionary about its message they did surge ahead of us with leadership (a huge sympathy factor, too). What the columnist and others knock about the Liberal platform is its lack of innovation, freshness but I think the last 2 general elections had both of those -- true, they were rejected by the general populace; or was it the leaders that were rejected?
Then you consider what can be accomplished when you have a convention of this size; it will be people from a lot of different backgrounds but likely a majority will be politically intuned people who've been fighting these battles before. Will really new ideas get passed -- palpable, digestible ones? The legendary Kingston conference wasn't a gathering of the general membership, but of elites who philosphized about the prescription for the future. We've had some big conventions over hte last 4 years, with the biggest producing Stephane Dion as leader (and i will support those who suggest Dion is a great Canadian)... While I really believe in the major policies that were promoted in the past 2 elections, i think what we need to demonstrate is not just innovation but introspection and a healthy heartbeat. We must show that we can attract the great minds, the future leaders to our cause.

Steve V said...

Well said.

Leadership does matter, that is the person that will articulate your vision, policies, if they aren't compelling, well...