To my friends in the Liberal Party, it’s been a rough few years hasn’t it? A bitter family feud between the Martins and the Chretiens made Hatfield vs. McCoy look like the Brady Bunch vs. the Partridge Family and the accidental election of a third-rate leader bent on control and unnameable to caucus advice has lead to your worst popular vote share in your party’s long history. The NDP is resurgent and the Greens have become a temporary home for your base as they recoiled with shame as the party of Trudeau, Pearson and Laurier became the party of the clueless, the ambitious and the corrupt. True, you may have truly found your basement of support this election, but the foundation is cracked and some nice red paint and roses won’t cover the mold.
From the time of Trudeau, your party has had an unhealthy fixation on personality over policy, indeed style over substance. Turner and Dion were short hiccups for your party but Martin’s tragically ironic countless priorities and Chretien’s empty record (not going into Iraq is not the same as real constructive accomplishment) will, unfortunately for your partisans, provide a high enough dose of the addictive drug that is power. In Stephane Dion, the aberration is not solely based on his failure to obtain power, it is also rooted in his attempt to introduce a bold policy and for you this provided terrible symptoms of withdrawal.
And, now you sit at a familiar crossroads that looks like December 2006. Nothing has progressed. Indeed, you are arguably further behind now that Canadians have reaffirmed what was at first a flirtation with a Harper-led Conservative government but one that now has a firm legitimacy in the minds of the electorate. Is your hunger and perceived entitlement to power enough for you to latch onto the peripheral distraction of personality, or is it time to figure out what your party stands for?
Just minutes after Mr. Dion conceded defeat on election night, the knives came out. In truth, you’ve never in recent Liberal history had a more honest and sincere politician lead your party. Unfortunately for you, any ruthlessness of his political instinct focused inward on your caucus that he could barely control rather than outwards towards Stephen Harper in not only a policy-based direction, but along a shrewd political path to remove him from that top office that you covet.
But then again, for at least my lifetime, your party has been about power despite policy. Yet the political landscape has changed and as you charge and foolishly dismiss your right-wing opponents as ideologues, they come to the arena ready to do battle, and they fundamentally do so with ideas.
For a party that has reached the depths of intellectual bankruptcy, the tendency is to attack on the unsubstantial, on a raft of policies that do not exist in a hidden agenda, and on fear of the unknown. To be sure, such tactics were employed by the Conservatives as they fought to retain power, yet they did so on a strong foundation of their ideas that you decry as ideology.
In Dion, you finally had a leader who stood for more than fear, you had a leader who stood for an idea. Dion’s Green Shift policy was a real though flawed plan, with the policy benefit of bridging the ideologies — at least on the surface and despite the increased spending — of fiscal conservatism and environmental protectionism. Given the right leader and the proper political circumstances, the plan could have been a winner for a Liberal government in waiting. Blessed with a charming silver-tongued salesman of a leader, your transition team would have been aiding with the formation of a cabinet this week, instead you hit rock bottom on leadership and you’re about to go back to the cold comfort of a slick huckster without a product to sell.
The Liberal Party of Canada needed a Conservative majority more than the Conservative Party did. At first glance, you seem to be keeping the Tories close to but short of real power. In truth, the advantage here is Harper’s. The Prime Minister will keep a penniless Liberal Party on the verge of electoral war, as you prepare most of your efforts on election readiness rather than policy development and an exhaustive thorough leadership search. In the next few months, you will be rushed in selecting a leader and preparing for the next campaign. Saddled with financial debt and a deficit of policy, your Liberal Party is a starved beast; vicious and hungry but unfit for the long game.
Political pundits of all stripes have said that minority governments are now the norm. With four parties in the House of Commons, three of which are on the left, Canadians — depending on their view — are either blessed or condemned by this fortuitous circumstance or frustrating stalemate. On this, where you stand is where you sit and for Harper and his caucus that comfortably crowds the government benches, he has minority advantage and you will bleed without opportunity to heal.
What should you do? How to stop the ouroborosian process of urgency followed by poor results followed by urgency, disaster, debt and self-consumption? Break the cycle yourself and go into self-imposed exile. Typical wisdom suggests that governments defeat themselves and you are certainly not in a position to play the futile role of the ignorant to this rule. The Conservative Party found its genesis after a right-of-centre period of introspection, autolytic destruction, and the reformation of policies, communications and politics. Indeed, the Reform Party helped break down the big-C Conservative institution, return it to the crucible of the movement and temper it with a grassroots approach to policy. Reform didn’t destroy conservatism, it helped it get its soul back. My Liberal friends, you need to leave the political arena, and start a process to rediscover what it is that you stand for. The Conservative Party is rooted in the conservative movement whereas the Liberal movement, if it exists, is rooted in the Liberal Party. If Canadians are to give your party a serious look and return it to power, it must rebuild its foundation first.