Rebuilding the Big Red Machine - 4
...I tend to come down on the renewal side of the debate. At almost every single event I go to, I get the sense that Liberals feel Harper is self-destructing and that the Liberal Party will be returned to it's god given place in power next spring. I know people are generally positive at these sorts of events and, truth be told, I don't exactly say what I want to say ("I'll put 100$ on Harper in the next election right now"). But the growing sense that a messiah will rise from the leadership convention and return the Liberals to power is, to me, a very dangerous mind frame to have. It would be a fatal mistake to ignore the shape the party is in which, truth be told, isn't great. Consider:
-The party is in debt and the Tories are still light years ahead of us on the fundraising side of things. This party has still not moved from corporate to grassroots for fundraising. In fairness, the party can't fundraise during a leadership race but I'd like to get a sense that come 2007, there will be a new, fresh approach to fundraising.
-Riding associations are still weak across the country. Back in January, some Calgary ridings had as few as a dozen paid members. The rural scene in Alberta is even worse and I understand Quebec is in shambles. A party is only as strong as it's foundation and something needs to be done to re-engage the grass roots.
-While I like the vision and policies some candidates are putting forward, the Liberals will need something fresh to win an election. We cannot fight another election on "Stephen Harper is going to eat your babies" because, after a year in power, people are going to realize that while Harper may not like babies, he certainly won't eat them.
-Even though there is a immense desire to come together and sing kum ba ya, the Chretien/Martin feud still lingers in everyone's mind. Old scars don't heal overnight.
Because of this, I think the renewal of the Liberal Party should be a key focus in the leadership race. That's one of the reasons I decided to pick a candidate who is young, energetic, has deeps roots in the party, and can rebuild it from coast to coast. That's not to say that electability should be overlooked. There are at least five candidates in this race (including two of the big names) who I honestly can't see winning a federal election baring extreme circumstances. And I'd have a very hard time voting for any of them at the leadership convention. On top of this, "electability" is a very difficult thing to predict. Kim Campbell was "electable". So was Paul Martin. So was Stockwell Day.
I really do think there needs to be a focus on renewing and rebuilding the Liberal Party because a weak party makes it very difficult for any candidate to be electable. The leader isn't the only person responsible for this which is why the party presidency will take on huge importance in Montreal as well. But Liberals need a leader committed ensuring to the long term health of the Liberal Party.
Update: Paul Wells talks about the state of the Liberal Party here.