At this point, I'm more concerned about process than personalities.
Is it in the best long-term interest of the party to replace Dion? Part of the answer has to do with how we choose a new leader and who we choose. But the main criterion for deciding if/how/who has to be the good administration of the party.
The Big Lights in the party have spent the last three years raising money for their leadership campaigns or paying off their leadership campaign debts. The party needs $$$$.
It needs a huge war chest to counter Harper, and it needs to spend it not just during a campaign, but as preparation for a campaign. We can't endure another two years of attack ads without responding. Harper has to know that when he hits us, we hit back. More - we need to go on the attack before the election: not in nasty personality-driven ways as he does, but on all the legitimate scandals of his administration.
We also need to be much better prepared for the next election, and that means, in part, we need a lot of money. Money + PR Firm = Votes. It's that simple. In my riding, where the long-term incumbent Liberal, Andrew Telegdi, was defeated by the Conservative by 75 votes, I got a glossy flyer in the mail at least once a week during the campaign. One side belittled and mocked the Dion. The other side described the happy family life of the local Conservative candidate. It was awful, but it won the election.
Another big issue is to avoid splitting the party over personalities. The last leadership campaign was awful that way. In an attempt to create thrilling TV and to time the results for the six o'clock news, they even delayed the final vote for an unnecessary hour and left Mike Ignatieff in the fishbowl with the TV cameras on him, trying to look confident.
The convention left the supporters of losing candidates feeling awful. For example, when Dion won, he should have immediately embraced Rae and Ignatieff and made their supporters feel that they would have a good place in the party. Giving a senior appointment to Hall-Finlay before giving one to Rae was a slap in the face to Rae supporters. Just when Dion needed to pull us in, he left us out.
But the disunity-creation started long before the convention. Candidates said things about other candidates that the Conservatives were able to use against us. Forced to campaign against each other for half a year, frictions arose that were then blown out of all proportion. There were reports that life-long friends Rae and Ignatieff had become bitter enemies. Untrue, but destructive.
The bitterness came down to the grass roots, as well. Supporters of some candidates wrote terrible things in the comments sections of blogs. I was particularly troubled by the antics of Kennedy supporters, who were a mean bunch of young men. I supported Rae in the leadership race, and was the butt of a lot of abuse on my blog.
Now, after a fall to record lows in yesterday's election, we have to be very worried about bleeding more support. I was so energized by Elizabeth May during the campaign that I already have a foot in the Green camp, and I have met dozens of other Liberals who feel the same. We don't need bickering. We don't need finger-pointing. We need to rebuild. We need to feel that there is someone steering the course with a responsible hand.
I think it's clear to everyone that the most articulate and effective member of the Liberal party is Bob Rae. If Dion quits, I suggest that he be made interim leader.
After that, the party needs to plan how to pick a successor. We should try to find solutions to the following problems, even if we can't completely solve them:
* Most people who run for leader are not qualified to win and do not have the support to win; they run to jump-start their careers. If we can't keep them out of the race, then we should limit debates to the people with the most support.
* The leadership race should be as unfractious as possible. The race should not be designed so that contenders have to stand up and badmouth each other. Supporters should not be pitted against each other. We should have a sense of moving towards a common goal, not furthering the ambitions of a handful of powerful men.
* Whoever wins, all the front-runners should immediately be made part of a management team.
Finally, the party can't sit idle while we wait for a new leader. We need to start doing some things we've been neglecting:
* Forge all alliances possible. Forge alliances with premiers. Support premiers on disagreements with Harper when we agree with the premier. Forge alliances with other parties; with indigenous groups; with the food inspection people; and on and on.
* Energize the grass roots. Involve people. This is no joke - it has always been the weakness of the Liberal party (in my experience) that riding associations are cliquey and don't welcome new volunteers.
* Policy, policy, policy. What were we doing letting our leader be chosen in the arbitrary way that Dion got in and then letting him influence the direction of the party so strongly? Most of the party wasn't even sure they supported the Green Shift.
* Reform the leadership selection process. End the delegate system and adopt a one member-one vote approach.
* Start preparing, tomorrow, for the next election. It could happen any time. Liberal unpreparedness for this election was shameful and should not happen again. We need money, policy, and a local machine in every riding - including Quebec.
Update: Scott's DiaTribes fleshes out a plan for picking a new leader here.