Why the Liberals need to lose this election

By Harold Jansen on Sep 30, 2008

As I've watched the Liberals sputter through this and the previous two elections, I've reached a conclusion: it would be good for the Liberals to lose this election. And I mean really lose it, as in a Conservative majority government. This is not a judgment about whether the Liberals would do a good job in government. That might or might not be the case. But for the Liberal party as a party, it would be healthy to have a break where they aren't in government and have no prospect of getting there for four years.

When the Liberals are in government, they get preoccupied with the task of governing and tend to forget that they are also a political party and that that organization needs to be nurtured and updated to keep up with the times. Flash back to 1984: the party had come off of an extended period in power, interrupted only by Joe Clark's 1979-80 minority Conservative government. The party was a mess. Its membership was disengaged; it had neglected its fundraising; it hadn't updated its policies to deal with the new economic realities; it was beset by conflicts over leadership. That nine year break in opposition helped the party to reestablish itself and retool for the Chretien years.

Although I certainly wouldn't argue that the Liberals are in as dire shape now as they were in 1984, I still believe a break would serve the party well. This just ended Parliament wasn't really a break because the fact that the Conservatives were a minority meant that power was just a confidence vote away in the minds of many Liberals. A four-year break would allow the party to get over the Chretien-Martin divisions, which still fester. The party would have an opportunity to get behind a leader. The party could also develop the infrastructure to try to narrow the fundraising gap with the Conservatives. The party would be free to actually vote against the government on issues before the House of Commons; Liberal MPs would not have to sit on their hands for fear of plunging the country into an election that the party was ill-prepared to fight. On policy, the party is in better shape. Whether you agree with it or not, the Green Shift is an audacious reorientation of public policy. Two things need to be pointed out about it. First, this is a product of a party in opposition; the Liberals never (and I would argue never would have) proposed anything like this in government. Second, the policy seems to much to be the product of its leader and not something that has been wholeheartedly embraced by the party. Four years of solid thinking about how to be relevant in 2012 would serve the party well.

The increasingly possible election outcome of a Conservative majority likely fills the Liberals with some dread. But it might be a blessing in disguise for the party.

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