What's a leftie Liberal to do?
With all of the excitement surrounding the Liberal leadership race, I feel like I have been conspicuously silent on this issue. Part of that can be attributed to end-of-term marking, which is now done. I suspect, though, that part of why I have been so quiet here is that I'm still waiting to see how this leadership race is going to play out, and how that might affect my future voting intentions.
As I've mentioned before, I've been a member of the Ontario Provincial Liberals, and a member of the federal NDP whilst in Quebec. I let my membership in the first lapse after the leadership convention that brought McGuinty to power, my formal membership in the second lapsed after the 2004 election. I have never been fully comfortable in either party. The Liberals started cruising towards the right around the same time I came of voting age, and the NDP has always seemed a little too idealistic for my hard-nosed pragmatism. I'm also nearing my 30th birthday, and I suspect that my cynicism is going to affect my voting habits more and more often as I age.
One of the reasons I switched party allegiances was disgust with the Martin junta that took power in the federal Liberal party. I was parking my vote on the left with the NDP, but never felt able to work up a solid endorsement of the party's aims. I would donate money come campaign time, but I couldn't bring myself to do door-to-door campaigning, because there were enough aspects of the platform that I disagreed with to make it a potential disaster were I to engage in a conversation on a doorstep. Part of me has been contemplating a return to Liberal voting, depending on the outcome of the next leadership race. Like others, I have been following the race with some interest. But, as this morning's Globe observed, each prospective serious candidate has some major problems. Here's my take on the big names:
Bob Rae: I have a soft spot for Premier Bob. I think that he inherited governance of Ontario at the worst possible time, and nobody was more surprised than he to find himself governing the Pink Palace. His governing style, though heavilly criticized by NDP diehards, was actually fairly consistent with left-wing Liberalism. He's done a lot of interesting work as an academic and on royal commissions since 1995. I think he'd be a good leader. Unfortunately, his name is mud in Ontario. I was only in high school at the time, and even I associate his name with "Rae Days". Picking him would mean disaster outside of Toronto.
Michael Ignatieff: As an academic, I get really upset at the criticisms lobbed at Michael Ignatieff for his long stint outside of Canada. Any academic worth their salt would kill for the opportunity to teach at Harvard (or Yale, or Oxford, or Cambridge). The fact that Harvard thinks so highly of him should be an asset, not the cause of accusations of him being alienated from his country. Frankly, his work deals directly with Canada, and he's probably got a more nuanced sense of some of the national unity issues than most of the long-sitting MPs. What could be an issue is his past positions on Iraq and the use of torture. I have been lax in my reading on this front, and hope to do some first-hand reading before passing judgement. I'm reading Blood and Belonging at the moment, to dispell the election-time controversy on the Ukraine question. Recommendations for good readings on the other hot-button issues would be welcomed here!
Gerard Kennedy: Watching Dalton McGuinty, Joe Cordiano, Dwight Duncan and Gerard Kennedy fight it out at Maple Leaf Gardens for the leadership of the Liberal leadership turned me off partisan politics for several years. Very nasty things were said about Kennedy at that convention. Rumours were thick on the convention floor that it was his delegates and scrutineers that were holding up the registration and voting process, and that they were responsible for the interminable convention. His entire riding executive resigned at the outset of the convention, and he had a reputation for not being a team player. I moved out of Ontario just before the provincial Liberals were elected, and so have not had direct experience of his ministerial skills. His Western roots, left-wing creds, and bilingualism are all assets. His lack of name recognition is not, but that could be overcome. Hopefully the issues that plagued him in the mid-90s have passed.
Stephane Dion: Again, I'm sympathetic to academics who make the jump into politics. Dion is sharp as a tack, and his editorials as Intergovernmental Affairs minister were a breath of fresh air in the rhetoric wars over the strengths and weaknesses of Canadian federalism. I fear, however, that Dion might be the Robert Stanfield of this race: decent, intelligent, and devoid of charisma. I have heard him speak at conferences, in both official languages, and was not particularly impressed in either language. He has a firm grasp of both languages, to be sure, but little passion when speaking in either. He also has a version of Bob Rae's problem in that he is hated by many in Quebec. I think many are hoping that he can pull a Trudeau and be hated but respected. I'm not sure if it's worth gambling the farm on that.
All of this to say that the big contenders so far all tack to the left of the Liberal party, and I could see voting for any of them (Ignatieff depending on my required reading) without holding my nose, especially in a swing riding. But I'm not certain that any of them have what it takes to revitalize the Liberal brand. I do suspect that any of them could have avoided Martin's fate at the polls in 2004 and 2006. But it is a very different game to come from behind than it is to carry on and/or modify a legacy. My own vote is still very much in the air on this one, and it will be interesting to see how the NDP position themselves relative to the new leader. Recommend this Post