Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Rebuilding the Big Red Machine

While a lot of Liberals are no doubt upset about losing last night, the party now has a golden opportunity to rebuild itself. With Harper only winning a minority, the timeline will need to be sped up, but I still think the party needs to use a three stage approach:

1. Leadership Race
2. Policy Conference
3. Fundraising and Riding Rebuilding

Since the Liberals can keep Harper afloat as long they want, I'd budget about two years for this, which would set us up for a leadership race this fall. If Martin wants to stay on as leader until then, then let him. If he wants to step aside and let Dion or Graham be the interim leader, that'd be acceptable too. The important thing is to start the leadership race soon, since the new leader needs to be the one who participates in the rebuilding of the party. Ideally, it will be a wide open race with 8 or 9 candidates which will generate excitement on the ground, and in the media. While it may be a bit naive to think so, I do hope this race will bring Liberals together, rather than tear them apart. It won't be decided on the first ballot so the key players will have to "play nice" with the other candidates and their supporters, in order to ensure their support on the second ballot. Warren Kinsella has said he will sit the race out, and I would hope that Herle and the Board take his lead and do likewise, to prevent old wounds from opening up. I also hope that the eventual winner will reach out to his (or her I suppose...) opponents afterwards, giving them and their supporters prominent positions in the party. Yes, there will be some blood spilled along the way, but with a common enemy now, I suspect things won't be as ugly as last time.

The second stage is the policy conference. The "Kingston Conference" of 1960 was considered a watershed moment for the Liberal Party and the Aylmer Conference in 1991 was the most recent version of this. Hopefully some new ideas will be put forward during the leadership race, but the Liberals need to go outside their ranks to get others. Hold a massive policy conference, for members and non-partisan thinkers, and use it to start work on the next election platform. Harper showed the value of an opposition party having a clear policy platform (as did the Red Book in 1993).

Finally, the party needs rebuilding on the ground. The new leader will have to suck it up and go to spaghetti dinner after spaghetti dinner in ridings across the country, to boost the morale of party members and volunteers. He'll also need to recruit star candidates and fundraise, two things which are a lot more difficult in opposition than in government. This party is terrible at fundraising and it's in a big hole financially right now. That's why it's important to look like a party on the move, and hopefully a new leader and a policy conference will do just that.

The Liberals need to resist the urge for a "quick fix" or the "Joe Clark scenario". Let Harper govern for at least two years while we get our act together. It's going to take a lot of work from people willing to put aside past differences and divisions in order to rebuild the Liberal Party. This party is in serious need of repair and the rebuilding starts today.


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