As leadership race begins, wholesale renovation needed
By Bruce A Stewart
Today, the Liberal Party of Canada executive meets to kick off their party’s leadership race. The one Liberal not allowed to run — Bob Rae — will be formally allowed to do so.
Inside the Queensway, the political cognoscenti are alive with the possibilities. Outside it, a great yawn responds.
That, of course, is the Liberals’ problem. Like the pundits, they’re focused on the leader: a fabulous horse race, followed by an exciting vote in 2013, and then the public will flock back to the party.
That script — and it’s an old one — won’t work this time.
The new leader can’t take the Liberals from third to first simply by being the anti-Harper. You can thank Jack Layton for that.
When Jack knew he was dying, he appointed a true caretaker, one with no ambition to lead. His party then built on his work by designing a leadership campaign that would allow for real policy to be debated, give time for the party to build its ground forces in ridings it had never held before the breakthrough of 2011 (and their neighbours still to be won), and to keep the costs down so that the party could afford a three year run to the next election.
Thomas Mulcair’s victory was then followed up by Mulcair staking out policy ground. You don’t have to agree with him to recognize that he’s done that — and that the polls say he and his party are being rewarded for doing so.
The Liberals have practically no riding-level organization worthy of the name — they’ve been running on the same old policies since the original Red Book in 1993 — and the party is riven with past leadership wars. It’s also financially in the hole, and leadership candidates from 2006 are still trying to pay off their debts, with every dollar sucked into that morass one the party doesn’t get to go forward with.
The Liberals need a leadership campaign that rebuilds the party as opposed to crowning the head of a faction. It needs to be done on the cheap, it needs to get seriously into building a new Liberal suite of policies, and it needs to push the now-closed gap where Harper’s Conservatives meet Mulcair’s New Democrats aside. By the time of their leadership vote, whomever wins should have money in the bank, forces on the ground committed to the party (not their candidates), and a set of policies they’ll have to live by, hammered out in the campaigning process.
That’s what getting this party up off the mat will entail. Nothing less will do.
Liberals who think otherwise are dreaming in 3D — and the resulting storyline will be about as entertaining as that piranha movie from earlier this month was.
The moment of truth is here. Can this self-satisfied party shake off its myths and face reality?
If not, cue Steam: na-na-hey-hey-goodbye. Who wins this race won’t matter, except as a footnote to history.
Bruce Stewart is a consultant, educator and philosopher with a passion for public affairs currently located in Toronto. He is well known across the Internet for his blogs on management (Getting Value from IT) and social affairs (Just a Jump to the Left, then a Step to the Right) and for his daily stream of commentary on Facebook, Twitter and Google+. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.