In Saturday’s Globe and Mail, Newman explains his theory of how Liberals choose their leaders:
If history doesn't exactly repeat itself, it sets significant patterns, such as the astonishing fact that the carpetbagging Mr. Ignatieff, after an absence from Canada for 30 years, finds himself after the briefest of apprenticeships in contention for the country's top political post.
Curiously, this has been the rule, not the exception. All of the Liberal leaders who became prime minister during the six decades between the 1920s and 1980s were also carpetbaggers - in the sense that they wrested the leadership from the party's veteran worthies, who were shoved aside for the newcomers.
Newman goes on to explain how Liberal leaders – from King to Martin, have fit into this outsider mould. And, at first glance, he does have a certain point. Like Ignatieff, St. Laurent, Pearson, and Trudeau were all recruited into politics and none of them were what you would call "typical" politicians. And in the case of Trudeau, like King, Newman's characterization of them wrestling the crown away from the “party’s veteran worthies” is certainly apt.
However, St. Laurent and Pearson were about as establishment as you can get. St. Laurent had 7 years in Cabinet before winning the party’s leadership in 1948, while Pearson had a decade as a Cabinet Minister before being anointed a decade later. These were not newcomers on the scene – rather, they’d been groomed as leaders-in-waiting for years.
Where Newman’s theory really hits pot holes though, is in recent times. Although he admits that Dion was a break from the pattern, he takes great pains to portray Turner, Chretien, and Martin as outsiders due to their brief breaks outside of the party (or, in Martin’s case, outside of Cabinet) before taking on the leadership. Yet all three were the embodiment of “veteran worthies” – lifelong Liberals, forever viewed as the party dauphin, who had 50 years in Ottawa between them prior to winning their respective leadership races. A few years at a Toronto law firm or on the party backbenches doesn’t change that in the least.
I also question how distinctly "Liberal" this leadership philosophy is. Stephen Harper and Newman's buddy Brian Mulroney were political outsiders when they inherited the Tory crown, while Kim Campbell and Joe Clark had only been MPs for four years when they took over. Sifting through the dust-bin of Tory leaders, you’ll also find that party’s habit of selecting provincial politicians over established Ottawa veterans.
But let’s put all that aside, and let Newman explain why this strategy has been successful:
All this hocus-pocus has been political sorcery of the highest order because instead of having to defend their predecessors' records, each freshly minted leader could innocently protest, "Who, me? I wasn't even there ..."
Again, portraying Louis St. Laurent as an agent of change after the King years seems like a bit of a stretch. And, hell, when you’re in power for 22 consecutive years and are considered the natural governing party, defending your predecessor’s record isn’t that hard to do. Yes, Paul Martin did try the “I wasn’t even there” line a few times, but that didn’t turn out so hot for him, now did it?
So, what’s the moral of all this? Ignatieff may mark a bit of a return to the party’s habit of recruiting from outside of its own ranks, but there’s no “secret Liberal recipe” to finding a good leader.