Friday, January 06, 2006

Wanted: Intelligent Leadership

One of the geekier gifts I received for Christmas this year was Stephen Clarkson's latest book Big Red Machine: How the Liberal Party Dominates Canadian Politics. I started reading it last night, and made it up to the end of his analysis of the 1974 federal election. (For those who haven't seen the book, after an introduction that covers 1867-1972, each chapter analyzes the Liberal strategy in the nine federal elections from 1974 to 2004.)

Reading about the 1974 campaign, when the Liberals under Pierre Trudeau learned from their mistakes in the 1972 campaign and got their act together - partly on the basis of campaigning on their leader's personal popularity - I found myself reflecting on how depressing the past three years of federal politics have been. I was never one who believed that Paul Martin was the great red saviour-in-waiting of Canada, and found the predictions that not only would be bring Quebec back into the fold, but also win a majority of seats in Alberta, to be a bit far-fetched. Still, it's hard to believe that so much hype could be built up around a man who has been such a disappointment. Certainly, his team doesn't seem to have learned any lessons in the past two years.

The 2005-6 campaign has been a disaster for the Liberals, which depresses me as a centre-left voter. Heck, if I can understand why "average Canadians" are thinking of voting for Stephen Harper, you know that the Liberals have gone horribly astray. I'm just glad that I'm not in a swing riding where I might have to figure out how (or if) to vote strategically to prevent the Conservatives from coming into office. Although Paul Wells is right that the prospect of "Stockwell Day, Foreign Affairs Minister" is chilling, the Conservatives have managed to highlight some of their more credible (and less terrifying) potential ministers, including people like Monte Solberg, Rona Ambrose, Peter McKay and James Moore. I still fundamentally disagree with their policy direction, but they seem more competent and articulate than much of the Liberal team.

What is even more dismaying is the absence of indicators that the Liberals are ready for some serious renewal. Where are the great hopes for a successor to Martin? No-one in the cabinet jumps to mind (except for Stephane Dion, who won't run). Martin has done a very effective job of eliminating potential rivals, which also means that he's running a weak team. There are no shades of the 1968 leadership race, when a solid half-dozen credible people made a run for the leadership of the party.

It's very hard for me not to see echoes of the 1957-8 period in this campaign. Punished by the voters for their arrogance in 1957, who elected a Conservative minority under John Diefenbaker, the Liberals showed in 1958 that they had learned nothing from the experience. It took the 1958 pummelling at the polls for serious change to begin in the party, which was banished to the wilderness and had to start again. I can't help but think that it's time for the Liberals to be sent to the woodshed again to think about what they did wrong. I'm just worried about what could happen to the country in the intervening time.

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At 10:16 am, Anonymous catherine said...

Glad to support the geekhood.

It's a damn shame that every time I've heard Layton campaign quotes on the CBC it's for some asinine, mud-slinging or small i issue. Merde.


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