Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Liberal Party arrogance led to historic defeat...Continued infighting will destroy it

I'm still staring at the CBC's Canada Votes 2011 web page, particularly that beautiful map. It's slowly sinking in how far the Liberal Party has fallen. How it literally is staring oblivion in the face. (For if Liberals think 34 seats is the lowest they can go, they are so wrong.)

Liberal arrogance is mostly to blame for the public's rejection of Ignatieff. Here was a man who had lived 30 years outside the country coming home late in life to ask to lead the country. As of 2011, his wife hadn't even become a Canadian citizen yet. For him to overcome these negatives, he had to wow Canadians off their feet. Few outside the Liberal base rose up with enthusiasm. Sadly, the portrait painted by Conservatives in those attack ads seemed to ring true for many voters. I do believe Canadians gave Michael Ignatieff a chance in this election. But the people were obviously unimpressed, although Iggy did manage to convince many in the Liberal base of his campaigning strengths (including this writer.) I'm not sure I blame Iggy for everything. He was also painfully unlucky.

Nobody foresaw the Jack Layton Quebec surge. Once progressive voters saw that voting for the NDP might actually be the best way to challenge the Harper government, the Liberal vote collapsed down to a historic low of 18.9% of the vote and only 34 seats.

In 2015, Layton will be facing either Stephen Harper in his ninth year in office (perhaps voters will be thoroughly sick of him by then) or a new Tory leader. In that election, the Liberals will be lucky just to keep what they have.

That's why it's so important to get the leadership right this time after making mistakes this past decade. I'm going to stay neutral in the race for interim leader and for permanent leader for now. I'm sure the Liberal caucus will make a decision that works best for the party. The Liberals should wait at most one year to select a new leader who can get on to the tough task of rebuilding the Liberal Party in every region of the country. They need a permanent replacement by spring 2012, I'd say.

It was the arrogance that Ignatieff would sell to the country, the top-down, elitist idea that such a thing were possible, that sealed the party's fate.

The Liberals' crushing defeat is the end result of the 2006 leadership race in which the party elite tried to hoist two enormously flawed insiders on the party: Michael Ignatieff and Bob Rae. I, like many in the party's base, liked neither of them and desperately sought an alternative. We found that in Stephane Dion.

After Dion flopped, the party elite told us the democratic approach that elected Stephane Dion was clearly wrong. We had to correct the error of 2006 by anointing Ignatieff in 2008. If Bob Rae was the only other choice (as the party elite ensured), I had to choose Ignatieff.

Ignatieff's choice to seize the interim leadership of his party and essentially push out all other contenders looked power-hungry. It turned out to be an unfortunate omen and possibly inspired the Tory attack ad campaign. In 2011, the general public saw in Ignatieff what many Liberals refused to see in 2008.

For the Liberals to succeed in the future, they need to expel the control of elites and make the party's decision-making hugely democratic. They have to make being a part of the Liberal Party a meaningful exercise for grassroots members between leadership and nomination races. Liberals need to engage Canadians on what it means to be a Liberal in the 21st century and why a balanced approach to government is better than the polarization of the Conservatives and NDP. Liberals are fiscally responsible with a social conscious.

It's far too early to predict how well the Tories and the NDP will do in their new roles as majority and official opposition. The NDP is already having enormous growing pains.

I do think the Liberal Party has the opportunity to come back one day. This time in the wilderness will serve to convince Liberals they don't deserve power, they have to earn it. This will make Liberals more appealing to the public. The next Liberal leader will have to build from the ground up and earn the confidence of Canadians the old-fashioned way. Just like Jack Layton did.

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