Thursday, March 02, 2006

The Renaissance of the Liberal Party

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper got the Top Job but he didn't get the majority he needs to wield any power, so Steve is lying doggo, biding his time, quietly plotting how to win the next election.

Meantime we lost our last Liberal leader, and now we have to decide what to do. I hope that there is more to this process than finding a new personality. I would like to see a Renaissance in the Liberal party, a serious discussion of principles and process.

For example, the Liberals should reconsider this overused practice of parachuting candidates into ridings. This issue might be seen as an embarrassment to Michael Ignatieff, who was parachuted into his riding a few months ago, but he could turn that around by saying that the uproar in his riding has taught him how counterproductive the practice can be.

The Liberals should have an open discussion of policy. The same-sex marriage issue really tore at the fabric of the party. I see same-sex marriage as a basic human right that should be fully protected by law. Since the Supreme Court also feels that way, it will take a Harper majority and the notwithstanding clause to strip Canadians of this right. (And if we aren't careful that's exactly what's going to happen.) However, it's a bitterly divisive issue in the Liberal party and there needs to be a sense that it was decided by consensus, and not forced on the party from the top.

We need to address regional issues: how to broaden the geographic scope of the party. We need to build a new party platform, consensus, and commitment.

The Liberals didn't lose the last election because of mistakes in the campaign. We lost because at the 1990 leadership convention Paul Martin narrowly lost to Jean Chretien and the party has been split in two ever since. I am by no means a party insider, but the result of that rift is evident all over the place. In the recent election former Liberal cabinet ministers were even urging voters not to vote Liberal. We need to heal this rift.

So back to the personality. It seems to me that the new leader has to be someone who isn't in either camp. I don't know if Michael Ignatieff can do it. Maybe he'll be brilliant; he hasn't proved himself yet. Ditto Ken Dryden. Bob Rae is one of the greatest politicians our country has produced, but it's unclear whether he can make the transition to Liberal (and leave his Big Labor nay-sayers behind). So let's have a leadership race that gives candidates a chance to show us what they can do. Take some time; take the process across the country. Have town hall forums. Create a big complicated time-consuming process that deals with substantive issues that are important to Canadians. Keep it civil and keep it non-combative. Promote everyone and not just the winner. And please, please, whoever comes in second, take defeat gracefully.

See also:
If I Ran the Zoo


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