Give the federal Liberals credit. Despite the wishful thinking of some conservative commentators who have been gleefully predicting the demise of the party, the Liberals are maintaining their visibility, and despite their third place status in Parliament, with just 35 seats, remain as significant as the Opposition New Democrats. Even more so.
It is not the first time that a major political party has been decimated and has come back. Given the way the media have reported the Liberal loss, it is almost as if they don’t remember the election results after the defeat of Conservative Prime Minister Kim Campbell and the then Progressive Conservatives. The Conservatives lost all but two seats in 1993. Two seats!!!
The idea that the Liberals, once defeated, would slink off into the history books is unrealistic at best. On the contrary, the Progressive Conservatives reemerged by finding an alliance with the Reform Party, most of whom were disenchanted former PCs anyway.
Talk along similar lines for the Liberals has come from, among others, former Liberal PM Jean Chrétien. Not that the much-discussed Liberal/New Democratic Party merger is even on the table for Liberal Party members at this point. Nor should it be.
What will be instructive is how the party will proceed and how its process – and success – will compare to the Conservatives’ strategy in that party’s rebuilding.
We can expect that it will take some time, maybe a couple of terms, but the Liberals will be back, likely when people get tired of King Stephen. Or should that be Emperor?
The Liberals, having received a strong message from voters, must find ways to be relevant.
At their recent convention, the choice members made, for instance, to wisely elect Mike Crawley as the new party president over former deputy prime minister, Sheila Copps – a figure tied more to a bygone era – is certainly one indication that they are looking forward rather than in the rearview mirror.
Another indication that the Liberals aim to cast a wide net is their support for the legalization of marijuana. We see it as just a shout out to the youth delegates who made up a third of those at the convention, but it also shows a willingness to be open to the kind of change that is necessary. We doubt, however, that it would, nor should it, be in any future platform.
Where they would likely get support, although perhaps not from the Conservatives, would be for their proposal to adopt preferential balloting as opposed to the current first-past-the-post system. Having lost seats because of the current system, the Liberals now seem to be converts where, previously, there had been only weak support.
On the other hand, we consider the notion of allowing non-members to help make decisions for the party as desperate. What do they realistically think will be the result if they try to pour so much water into their wine? Membership is only $10, for crying out loud.
In an attempt to pull disparate interests under the ‘Big Red Tent’, the proposal to cut ties with the British monarchy was raised at the convention. It was, however, rejected. Is that a battle they should be gearing up to fight now when there are so many more important and relevant issues to consider?
In one aspect, the Liberals are holding to a pattern, which has only deepened over time, of emphasis on the party leader. As for interim leader, Bob Rae, staying on as the permanent leader of the party, they could do worse. The Liberals have a habit of choosing leaders that make sense only to themselves, as was the case with John Turner, Stephane Dion and Michael Ignatieff. Yet, Rae, although a shrewd politician, does have a lot of baggage and he is part of the old guard. Also, there is some concern about his age since, by the time the next federal election comes around, due in 2015, he will be 70 years old.
Then there is that little matter of the agreement he made not to contest for the leadership once chosen interim leader.
Liberals really should look for a new, fresh face. For their sakes and the electorate’s, they must choose prudently.
There is no rush, though. They have between five and eight years, at least, before they have a realistic chance of regaining power.