Thursday, June 08, 2006

Rebuilding the Big Red Machine - 4

Cerberus asks a very good question on his site about whether Liberals should pick the most electable leader or the one best able to renew the party. Before I jump into this question, I should add that I also think that the pillars of policy and experience are just as crucial. After all, having a Liberal Prime Minister doesn't do any good if he or she doesn't bring in liberal policy. But as for the question at hand...

...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.


  • Frankly,

    I'm looking for an opposition leader who could be Prime Minister.

    The Messiah isn't going to just emerge and lead us back to entitlements.

    Liberals have an obligation to act as a principled, hard working pan-Canadian opposition.

    Lucien Bouchard's BQ did it. If we can't, we don't deserve to win any election.

    There are a couple of candidates who can do that. We must pick form that list.

    By Blogger C4SR, at 11:30 p.m.  

  • Mr. Grit, your blog is broken. Please republish...

    By Blogger The Invisible Hand, at 9:49 a.m.  

  • Whoever "wins" the Liberal leadership in Dec is going to be in a horrible place. It's likely the Liberals will lose seats in the next election, and the Liberal leader will have close to a dozen people thinking they could have done a better job, plus all the A-Team guys who sat out this race waiting for their chance if Harper outwears his welcome. And if Belinda works on her French, watch out.

    By Blogger nuna d. above, at 10:03 a.m.  

  • Who is running for President of the Liberal Party?

    You're right, as in some ways electing the right President is just as important for renewal as is the Leader. I'd argue more important for the structure of the current party in Ottawa in terms of day-to-day work. You could have the most 'electable' leader in Canada but if the administration behind him is inept, the message will not get out. If there is no fundraising or no way to get money into the party, then there is no way the Liberal Party will win the next election.

    By Blogger Bailey, at 10:55 a.m.  

  • The growing concern of bloggers that there is a lack of policy and performance in the Liberal party is nice to see.

    It means that the grass roots of the party is not satisfied with our leadership. Those at the top should be listening to these words from CG and others and take note that more and more people are voicing their concerns.

    Putting a new face on our party is not going to solve anything. Our party needs to stand for something more than "not-Harper"....

    When CG interviewed Bennett and asked what policy she'd be first to implement, she dragged on about "democracy" and "engaging people". I think we're tired of that rhetoric and want to hear the "how" rather than the "what". How is she going to engage? How will the Liberal party change the country? We need the full sentence "this is WHAT I want to fix, and this is HOW I'm going to do it". Until the grass roots starts to hear the end of that sentence, I think we'll continue to be concerned.

    By Blogger Forward Looking Canadian, at 11:04 a.m.  

  • CG, While I agree with almost all you said, especially in the terms of fundraising and riding organization. I can't give up on the next election.
    I don't think it will be easy and I don't think Harper is weak but I do believe that we as Liberals can't abandon the country to the Harper agenda. We have to try to save the things like the CBC and the CPP that Harper will desroty if given a majority.
    The country can't afford a Harper majority, not economically, not socially, not politically. We as Liberals need to be aware that a century of progress is on the line here.
    As much as we need desperatly to do all the rejuevenation you speak of, and we do the party is seriously screwed up, we more desperatly need to stop Harper.

    By Blogger Aristo, at 11:23 a.m.  

  • Aristo,

    You're falling into the 'Harper the Destroyer' category again.

    We need to be about what we want to accomplish, not what we fear he will destroy.

    People just won't buy the argument that he will "turn back a century of progress". It sounds far too "We desperately need to stop Harper".

    By Blogger Forward Looking Canadian, at 11:31 a.m.  

  • We're in different places on so many issues, CG, but I respect you so much for saying things like this. It's hard to be the one who says the hard things that need to be said, but your party will be stronger for having you around.

    By Blogger Idealistic Pragmatist, at 1:26 p.m.  

  • This is a very interesting topic. I have a few thougts on it. I hope you Liberals don't mind it coming from a knuckle-dragger such as myself.

    First, the Liberals might never achieve equality in fundraising with the Conservatives.

    For one thing, it has been the party of corporate Canada -- a reality that seems to have escaped the notice of most Canadians.

    It's also never been a grassroots party.

    Even if it can overcome that history, Conservative donors are probably more numerous and have more money to give than Liberal donors -- as is the case with Republican donors south of the border.

    Without big corporate donations, the Liberals will never be able to level the playing field.

    Jean Chretien's legacy.

    As for what direction the party ought to take in the upcoming election, I am becoming increasingly convinced that the Bob Rae candidacy is all about not winning the next time around.

    He has the experience to run the party and keep it together. He was actually very good in opposition at Queen's Park. And he'll lay the groundwork for marginalizing the NDP even further on the left. Rae will use his time in opposition to build credibility as a leader, then either go for victory in the future, or leave a party to the next guy -- with perhaps a united leftist movement in the works at that point. But no way he can win an election this time unless Harper stumbles badly. And I think his backers know this. Just my hunch.

    By Blogger Dennis (Second Thots), at 4:05 p.m.  

  • Bailey; I've heard people talk about Martin Cauchon, Bob Nault, Akaash Maharaj, and a few Senators for the party presidency so far.

    By Blogger calgarygrit, at 5:01 p.m.  

  • I like Akaasha Maharaj. I'd love to see him become party president. He'd be first on my list and give some fresh policy ideas to the party. I really hope he does run for president.

    Cauchon and Nault would be interesting as well as presidents. It would keep Cauchon's name in the public if he wanted in the next election or for the next leadership, whenever that might be.

    By Blogger Bailey, at 7:00 p.m.  

  • Yeah, I think the renewal/electability question is outright silly. The Leader of te Opposition, or Prime Minister, has enough to do without having to worry about the infrastructure of his party, too. We need to give that job to the people that can actually do it, the national party executive.

    Unfortunately, the Leader is given so much authority over the party right now that you need a leader who is aware of the problems and the solutions, and is willing to let go of enough power to let the party executive fix them.

    That's why that's been one of the questions that I've had for all of the leaders: how much power are you willing to give up for the good of the party.

    Ignatieff had an interesting segment in his last podcast about this. He says that the party needs to renew its policy process, but at the same time we need to be realistic about how that's going to translate into government action. The caucus still has to be allowed to make the tough choices, he says.

    It's an important point. We need to have realistic expectations of what this party renewal will and will not get us.

    By Blogger Gauntlet, at 7:33 p.m.  

  • Riley
    I dont think I am falling into anything. I am not saying we campaign on those issues, I am merly stating what I believe to be reality, and as someone who has dealt a great deal with conservative politicians and talked to Harper more than just a "Hi Hello" these are things I believe about him. It may, okay does sound overly dramatic but I feel it to be true and I feel it to be true precisly becuase I have talked to Harper and have heard him discuss what he really wants to acheive. It is not hidden stuff it out in all of his writings.
    I believe that the party truly needs renewal and we need policy conventions to be more then just noise which is what they have become, I just am really really afraid of what Harper can and will do with 4 to 5 years of majority government. I just do not think the times allow for too much navel gazing as needed as it is.

    By Blogger Aristo, at 8:25 p.m.  

  • The Liberal bagmen will finally have to go out and raise money from hard working Canadian families who pay the taxes.

    No more just following the trail of government grants to anointed companies and individuals.

    By Blogger godot10, at 8:52 p.m.  

  • "I'll put 100$ on Harper in the next election right now"

    I can never quite figure out if CGs love of all things Harper is because Harper is from Calgary or because Harper beat Paul Martin in the last election.

    By Blogger Psychols, at 12:37 a.m.  

  • Cycles needs to learn the difference between "loving someone" and "thinking that they'll win".

    By Blogger The Invisible Hand, at 6:49 a.m.  

  • Cyber Menace: "Even if it can overcome that history, Conservative donors are probably more numerous and have more money to give than Liberal donors -- as is the case with Republican donors south of the border."

    1) The Republican party is the corporate party in the States.

    2) In 2004 the Democratic party raised more money than any party had in one year and the vast majority of that was grassroots money. (The Dean phenoma) By campaigns end, the Democrats had nearly caught the Republicans and when contributions to 527s were counted the Democrats actually raised more money.

    3) Vitrually all the richest zip codes in the US go Democratic and the richest states go Democratic.
    In Canada you have the makings of a similar pattern. Indeed, if you look at the richest postal codes in Canada, outside of Alberta of course, you see that they are either trending Liberal or remain Liberal.

    By Blogger Koby, at 11:21 p.m.  

  • Invisible Hand needs to learn to look past the obvious before posting his pithy remarks.

    CGs Harper is intelligent/smarter than anyone else/stategically brilliant/going to win is nothing new.

    By Blogger Psychols, at 1:28 a.m.  

  • Koby: "The Republican party is the corporate party in the States."

    That's the liberal spin.

    Corporate contributions aren't allowed. The 2004 elections were an exception for the Democrats, given they threw everything but the kitchen sink at Bush to try and turf him from office.

    Current fundraising efforts still put the Republicans in the lead -- where they'll usually be.

    Democrats get corporate support just like Republicans do.

    In fact 527 money is essentially soft corporate cash. So, if the Democrats did better in this regard, you're just proving my point for me.

    Which you also do by claiming Democrats do better among more wealthy donors. Yes, that's precisely the point. Campaign financing rules level the playing field, so that rich elitist bagmen don't have the advantage over middle class donors.

    To win fundraising efforts under the current financing rules, you need to attract money from people who aren't super-wealthy, but who do have money to spend on politics. And, as much as this defies the image liberlas have of themselves, conservatives usually do better in this battle.

    It's why I believe the Liberals will never regain the advantage in campaign financing. Given their history, I don't even think they'll be competetive for some time to come.

    By Blogger Dennis (Second Thots), at 1:45 p.m.  

  • I can never quite figure out if CGs love of all things Harper is because Harper is from Calgary or because Harper beat Paul Martin in the last election.

    I don't think it's unreasonable to think Harper will win the next election. He's checking the priorities off his list one at a time, and has a well organized party and caucus behind him.

    I've been fairly critical of Harper at times, but I do still think he's got a good political mind.

    By Blogger calgarygrit, at 7:18 p.m.  

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