Friday, October 31, 2008

"The fundamentals are sound" and other Liberal self-delusions

Although I was clenching my fists on election night, praying that we wouldn't get a Conservative majority, a bit of time to watch the post-election fallout has convinced me that such an outcome might at least have been good in terms of allowing - or perhaps forcing - the other parties to rebuild and rethink their positions on several issues. With that introduction, here are some thoughts on what we've seen in the last two weeks.

Cabinet shuffle: Let's start with Canada's new new government. I think that the shuffle shows a few signs that Harper is being intelligent (at least in some limited ways). He's moved his pitbull from the sensitive Environment dossier and replaced the anti-safe-injection site crusader in Health. I'm hoping that the appointment of Jim Prentice to Environment is a sign that we're going to see some constructive action on that file. Likewise, I'm pleased to see James Moore get a promotion to Heritage. I don't know why I keep seeing commentators praise the "great wisdom" of Jason Kenney - I don't think he needs any more clout than he already has.

Liberal leadership: Anyone who thought that the pummeling of the Liberals on election day would lead to some, er, sober second thoughts will have their hopes dashed. I spent time at a political science/history conference last weekend with a number of Liberal political scientists, historians, senators and party activists (I'd call them "Liberal insiders", but I would prefer to avoid becoming the Jane Taber of the blogging world), and was very disillusioned with the general discourse of the weekend.

The gist of the collective wisdom of most delegates was that "the fundamentals are sound", both with the Liberal party and its brand, and with Canada's electoral system more broadly. Panelist after panelist decried the regionalization of Canada's political parties and the rise of minority governments. When I suggested that perhaps some form of electoral reform might be needed, the panel turned on me like a pack of wolves. Their response: "Majority governments are good and bring stability. Liberal majority governments are good for Canada. When Canadians are thinking right, and not being 'tricked', they vote the way they should - for a Liberal majority." There was no acknowledgment that our current set-up came within a hair's breadth of producing a Conservative majority.

Moreover, the consensus seemed to be that the problem with the last several years has been the personal failings of Paul Martin and Stephane Dion. People at the conference - many of whom are warriors from the Meech Lake days - seemed to think that if the party could just find the "right" leader and the "right" platform, they would be rewarded with a majority. What I didn't hear much of was discussion of how that platform should be crafted, or what values it should reflect.

Beyond the academic world, I think we're seeing this same malaise in the leadership race itself. I'm not seeing any fresh faces in the race. I don't think that a new face is necessarily what the Liberals need, or that this would be a magic bullet. But the fact that we aren't seeing these faces could be a sign of the lack of vitality and enthusiasm for the party. Domenic Leblanc is far from an injection of new blood, as the scion of an old Liberal family in New Brunswick. When the great hope and speculation is whether Frank McKenna or John "Beaker" Manley might run, you know that the party is grasping at straws.

It's time for a more serious reflection than we're seeing. It might mean that the next election is a rebuilding election which results in another minority. But the Liberals need to realize that their house of cards is tumbling.

NDP/Greens: I should probably say a word or two about the other parties. Kudos to the NDP for increasing their vote and seat share (albeit slightly) despite having the Green party nipping at their heels. I am wondering if Jack Layton has done all he can to bring his party along, and if it might be time for someone with a bit more gravitas. That being said, I'm not sure who that would be, so he may well be safe for a while longer, unless the party really wants to gamble on Thomas Mulcair. I happen to think that the path to growth runs through Western Canada, but I could be proven wrong.

As for the Greens, I think that Elizabeth May's days are numbered. I found her to be a fresh voice on the national scene. However, she demonstrated the strategic sense of a toaster on too many fronts. Specifically, she violated several of my basic rules for riding selection for a representative of an outsider party:
1) Don't run against an incumbent in the Maritimes.
2) Don't run against a cabinet minister.
3) Don't run against a favoured son of an established Maritime family.

May managed to break all these rules, and in a remarkable combination - running against an incumbent Cabinet minister in the Maritimes who is a favoured son, and moreover, the son of a former Cabinet minister from the Maritimes from the same riding. Had she chosen another riding - even my own riding of Guelph - she might well have been in the House of Commons.

We now return you to your regularly scheduled Parliamentary gong show.

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At 10:37 am, Anonymous Anonymous said...

What sort of electoral reform are you proposing?

At 10:41 am, Blogger Matt said...

I'm open to a number of options. Either Mixed Member Proportional or a Single Transferable Vote system are preferable to First Past the Post, in my opinion.

At 2:40 pm, Blogger Idealistic Pragmatist said...

Majority governments are good and bring stability.

Any of the two possible forms of proportional representation would be far more likely to bring a majority government than the current system. It would just be a majority government of more than one party. (Oh no! People of different political persuasions working together! How horrifying!)

At 1:48 pm, Anonymous Eamon said...

I agree completely with you in terms of Liberal leadership... I've told people, without hesitation, that the Liberal Party is in for at least 5 very difficult years. I don't know who can be the leader, I think I already told you that I would support Ken Dryden, but that has more to do with party maintenance than moving it forward.

After watching the American election coverage last night I began to yearn for someone as intelligent, eloquent, and dynamic at Barack Obama. Although its probably dangerous to assume he'll do exactly what he says, I still wish politicians in Canada used the word "consensus".

Canada doesn't have a Barack Obama (though I have heard some good things about Ruby Dallah)... I'm inclined to believe that it isn't the Liberal Party that needs someone to step forward; Canada as a whole needs a leader that can remind Canadians about what they have in common rather than what they don't.


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