Does the Liberal Party Have to Lose in Order to Win?

By Greg Farries on Oct 5, 2009

The Hill Times recently published an interesting editorial, very similar incidentally to a posting her at MLW by Harold Jansen, titled, Ignatieff’s committing political euthanasia - If a party has to commit political suicide to defend its credibility, it means there’s not much of it left in the party. In the article Andelo Persichilla comments:

I see two major problems afflicting the Liberals. First is their evident desire to get back into government too soon and at all costs. Second, the divisions within their ranks.

When ambitions are not met with substance, ridicule steps in. Shortcuts like Stéphane Dion’s coalition last year or Ignatieff’s kamikaze vote like last week’s will take the Liberals nowhere. Canadians are tired of experiments and acts of faith for people who still have to show their leadership. And this takes me to the second reason why the Liberals are in this comatose status: they are divided and they don’t trust each other (and I’m tempted to use the verb “hate”).

I agree with Harold’s and Andelo’s positions, before the Liberal Party can even think about governing again, it must accept it’s losses at the polls and rebuilt the party from the ground up. The Liberals can only do that if they focus on being an effective opposition, rather than being the next government in waiting - with their eager fingers on the election trigger. Whether they actually have to “throw” the next election (doubtful!), or step back and focus on themselves (rather than the Conservatives) is the next step to getting this country back to stable majority governments.

However, the biggest question Liberals have to ask themselves, is Micheal Ignatieff the man to accomplish this careful rebuilding of the Liberal Party?

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Way worse than that ...

I think the Liberal Party has destroyed itself. It doesn't matter what it does, it doesn't have the horses, it doesn't have the policies, it doesn't know what it represents, it only knows that it opposes ...

Let me explain. The Liberal Party used to be the place where the deals were brokered between the regions and language groups of the country. Fundamentally, it was the place where ten provinces became two peoples, and where the leadership was, behind the scenes, a partnership. Mackenzie King's Liberals were the embodiment of that partnership.

That party doesn't exist anymore. First, Trudeau fundamentally ended parts of the partnership by uniting English-speaking and French-speaking wings of the party in one person. (He never had a CD Howe figure, an Anglo lieutenant.) Second, the party has no real roots in French-speaking Quebec, and hasn't, ever since the Bloc was formed. Third, the public has had enough expansion of the welfare state. And fourth, and perhaps most importantly, separatism is fading from the scene, and the young people aren't going for it. (They may still be 'patriotes', but now more quebecois see more clearly that they'd likely do better as a major part of a 30+ million nation than as a nation of 5 million on their own.)

The animating spirit of the Liberal Party is already dead. In a strange way, the only part of it that still works is the vote-getting apparatus. As they say, 'the brand' still has pulling power. But the skeletal remains are occupied by outsiders to the Liberal Party. (In that sense, Bob Rae is as much an outsider as Ignatieff.)

The next generation will not inherit the legacy of the classic Liberal Party.

What remains of the rank and file have the wrong reflexes for our times. They are still back, fighting separatism, and even provoking it if they have to, to make themselves relevant.

The Liberal Party is an anachronism. What we are watching is the birth of a new party out of the elements on the ground ... Can these outsiders do it? Yes, probably. As bad as they are, they still get a quarter of the votes in Canada. Will it be the Liberal Party as we have known it? Not a chance.

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