Tuesday, June 21, 2011

What to expect in the Liberal leadership marathon

The best way to think about the Liberal leadership race is like those velodrome cycling races you see at the Olympics. The gun sounds and two cyclists crawl around the track, quietly jockeying for position and looking over their shoulder to see where the field sits. Then, out of the blue, one racer starts sprinting and everyone is forced to join in on the mad dash to the finish line.

With the decision to put off the naming of a new leader for up to two years, the Liberal Party is now in to the "phony war" part of the cycling race. The starting gun has sounded, and the prospective candidates are quietly pushing and shoving for position as they slowly cycle the track, not wanting to break free. Sometime towards the end of 2012, one of them will start sprinting, and then the race will be on in full swing. When the candidates break remains to be seen, but keep in mind that anyone purchasing a membership form after October 1st, 2012 will be eligible to vote. My guess is most serious candidates will therefore spend next summer laying the groundwork for a Fall 2012 launch.

Then again, this sort of leadership timeline is unprecedented, so it's hard to know what to expect. But here are a few leadership rules that I believe will apply to this contest:

Rule 1: Don't look like you're running. The prevalent attitude among Liberals is that the party must rebuild before turning its attention to leadership. As such, potential candidates will need to be quiet when assembling their campaign teams. When asked if they might run, answers will range from "I don't think the party should be focusing on leadership now" (translation: "of course") to "I would sooner be beaten to death with live sea otters" (translation: "I'm thinking about it").

Rule 2: The early battles will be fought in cyberspace. In the end, it comes down to memberships sold on the ground. But until the floodgates open October 1st, 2012, the phony war will be fought online.

That's where trial candidacies will be floated, "draft Hellyer" websites will be launched, and "buzz" will be generated. A time will come when the media and LPC members decide who's a serious candidate and who isn't - that call is going to be mostly based on who seems to have the most momentum online.

Rule 3: Play nice. There was a time when Liberals could savagely tear themselves apart on everything from leadership to PEI Young Liberal Policy Chair elections. As a third place party, that luxury is gone. This is going to be a long leadership, and it might very well come down to members' second and third place choices. Any candidate seen to be playing dirty or taking cheap shots at the rest of the field is going to suffer for it.

Rule 3 Corollary: Candidates are responsible for their supporters. I know it sounds petty and it is, but many Liberals will base their vote on whose supporters have pissed them off the least. Candidates will need to keep their more overzealous supporters in check. And that includes "anonymous Senior Liberals" who are obviously spinning for a candidate.

Rule 4: The "establishment" matters less than ever before. The new leadership rules have stripped ex-officios of their power, and the end of delegated conventions means you don't have to find fanatics willing to put down $1000 to go vote at the convention. Sure, party stalwarts are still useful because they'll put in the time and influence others, but their impact will be muted compared to conventions past.

Moreover, I feel like there's a strong anti-establishment mood with the grassroots right now, to the point where having a lot of public "old guard" support might do candidates more harm than good.

Rule 5: Rural ridings rule. In this leadership race, each riding gets 100 points. And as mentioned above, you don't even have to find live bodies from the riding to fly to the convention. What that means is that signing up 10 Liberals in Crowfoot might very well be as good as signing up 400 Liberals in Toronto Centre.

Sure, you need Toronto Liberals for fundraising, but if I were running a leadership campaign, I'd have my candidate spend the bulk of his or her time barnstorming rural ridings. That's where this thing is going to be won.

Rule 6: Ignore the polls. As Prime Minister Ken Dryden will tell you, leadership race polls should be ignored 19 times out of 20.

Rule 7: The media may be off-base, but they can't be ignored. Media perceptions of the race may not always match membership sales, but these perceptions will still help shape the race.

Rule 8: You can't win by endorsing. If I were a candidate for leadership and I dropped out, I wouldn't endorse anyone else. Quite simply, it's a Kobayashi Maru.

In 2006, people blamed Gerard Kennedy for everything Stephane Dion said, even though Rae's decision to not back his old roommate was just as important in Dion's victory. I know supporters of Dominic Leblanc's aborted 2008 run still bitter about his decision to support the Iggy coronation.

By supporting another candidate, you inevitably alienate someone - better to just thank your supporters and tell them to follow their hearts.



  • So give us some of your thoughts on potential candidates Dan.

    By Blogger Progressive Tory, at 9:46 a.m.  

  • Dan Arnold for Liberal Leader?

    By Blogger UWHabs, at 10:12 a.m.  

  • The Draft Richard Diamond team is already meeting. WEBSITE TO FOLLOW SOON.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 10:36 a.m.  

  • The gun sounds and two cyclists crawl around the track, quietly jockeying for position and looking over their shoulder to see where the field sits. Then, out of the blue, one racer starts sprinting and everyone is forced to join in on the mad dash to the finish line.

    And then Gerard Kennedy jumps out and tackles one of the cyclists.

    By Anonymous Deb, at 11:47 a.m.  

  • PT - Still too early to tell, and I'm sure I'll post on the possible candidates a fair amount over the next two years.

    At this point, my quick one-line thoughts:

    Dominic: I supported him in 2008, so I'm obviously impressed with the guy. He's a guy who could make the party relevant outside its traditional base.

    Justin: He might be better served waiting, but he's certainly an impressive politician. Very charismatic.

    Bob: I was leading the charge to name him interim leader, but I feel that disqualifies him from permanent leadership.

    Brison: Charismatic politician who really personifies the "fiscal conservative, socially progressive" spot on the spectrum most Canadians find themselves in.

    David McGuinty: A lot will depend on how the McGuinty name sounds after this October.

    Garneau: Would be an interesting candidate - I'd need to hear more from him before passing judgement.

    Those are the most commonly cited names, but if this thing doesn't get going for over a year, there's ample opportunity for defeated candidates or provincial politicians to make bids. I think a competitive contest would be good for the LPC.

    By Blogger calgarygrit, at 12:03 p.m.  

  • "In the end, it comes down to memberships sold on the ground."

    Not to pick on the LPC, since everyone does this, but I've thought this was bizarre (to put it nicely) as it is open to incredible abuse.

    Does it really make sense to give such power to large quantities of newly minted party members when the vast majority probably have no real interest in the party?

    In BC, we've recently been witness to the spectacle of members of a certain community being courted by both BC Liberals and BC NDP for their respective leadership races, with bulk membership admissions being common. Post-race interviews with a number of these folks indicated that they supported a particular candidate because someone in their community indicated that they should. Additionally, many of these people joined *both* the NDP and the Liberals and participated in both races. WTF.

    I've never understood how signing up new members for the express purpose of voting in a leadership race made sense. It's open to abuse, it means the eventual winner could win on the basis of something that has little to do with real leadership ability, and, quite frankly, it's an insult to the real members who've been there thru thick and thin and actually care about who leads the party.

    To me it would make sense to limit voting to members who had at least some minimum number of months (6?) standing in the party. Obviously, I'm in a tiny minority on this.

    By Anonymous Jim R, at 12:44 p.m.  

  • Rule Five opens the door to anti-abortion groups taking over a lot of ridings. It will be interesting.

    By Anonymous Nuna D. Above, at 12:55 p.m.  

  • I'm confused. If it's not a delegated convention, how can endorsements have any effect at all? Are there going to be multiple votes?

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 4:43 p.m.  

  • RULE 9:









    If the federation's Oldest and Malest Old Boy's Club can't come up with a woman who at least comes close then I'm sorry but that's just an EPIC FAIL

    I know I'm a broken record (and my comment has absolutely nothing to do with CalgaryGrit), but the Liberals are the only federal party never to have had a female leader.

    Draft Kim Campbell (Charest's a Liberal).

    Draft Louise Arbour.

    Draft Samantha Bee.

    No viable female contender means failure. Even if she loses, a Hillary Clinton moment is long overdue in the "natural governing party".

    Rule 4: The "establishment" matters less than ever before.
    Thank goddess.
    There's no Old Boys' Club like it in Canada. I agree with this point, CG, and hope it means more room for a lady.

    By Blogger Jacques Beau Vert, at 4:00 p.m.  

  • who is richard dimond??

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 4:08 p.m.  

  • A few things to keep in mind: if you refuse to endorse any of the other candidates, what does that say about your ability to lead? Why are you considering running for the Leadership in the first place if you fail to demonstrate any leadership at the very first opportunity?

    For the next year and a half, though, keep in mind that it is illegal for anyone to spend even a dime (or to raise any funds) for a leadership candidate until he or she is formally registered in the contest. You know the people will be watching, so if you see a button, a website, printed matter, whatever you should be sure to report the spending to Elections Canada.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 5:58 p.m.  

  • if you refuse to endorse any of the other candidates, what does that say about your ability to lead?

    It doesn't say anything. You're framing the question is all.

    By Blogger Jacques Beau Vert, at 7:29 p.m.  

  • Maybe Sandra Pupatello is planning a leadership bid. She's leaving provincial politics, and her husband was expected to be nominated as a candidate again in Newfounldand and Labrador on Wednesday but for some reason the nomination in the district closed and the Liberals don't appear to have nominated anyone.

    Draft Sandra!

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 11:29 p.m.  

  • JBV: They should choose the best candidate regardless of sex.

    In their history did someone ever lose to an inferior candidate because they were a woman? No.

    Rule 9 is actually "Baseless Frank McKenna Rumours Throughout!"

    By Blogger Robert Vollman, at 10:30 a.m.  

  • JBV: They should choose the best candidate regardless of sex.

    That's echoing what I said Robert, so obviously, I agree.

    I'll repeat myself for you:
    >>if they can't come up with a viable female candidate who at least comes close, that's an EPIC FAIL
    >>Even if she loses, a Hillary Clinton moment is long overdue

    The Liberal Party is an old boy's club and must clear that hurdle to be taken seriously by my personal self in a voting both ever again

    By Blogger Jacques Beau Vert, at 11:22 a.m.  

  • All leaders of the Liberal party have also been right-handed ... is that automatically an epic fail?

    They have yet to elect an atheist leader ... is that automatically an epic fail?

    There are lots of arbitrary characteristics that have been lacking among Liberal leadership, that doesn't necessarily mean they are biased against women, left-handers, or atheists.

    Of course, it doesn't mean they aren't biased, either. What would help are some tangible examples where women (or left-handers, or atheists) have been held back in favour of someone inferior.

    By Blogger Robert Vollman, at 3:16 p.m.  

  • I dunno… sounds like NBC or GM or GE or P&G in 1957

    Atheism (has been around forever yet) is pretty new on the political scene... I don't demand that a party has a queer leader, bc queer rights is relatively new and out-and-out queer people are a slim minority (like left-handed). Women have been around forever and have been on the political scene for decades and decades, and constitute a majority. I don't think atheism and lefties compare.

    By Blogger Jacques Beau Vert, at 7:34 p.m.  

  • Ah, yes. We'll force "equity" on everyone else, but when it comes to governing our own affairs, BUG OFF!

    True Liberals!

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 8:18 p.m.  

  • Do your best all throughout the competition! Others may have a strategy to give a tough fight towards the end. Well, that's acceptable but risky. Leaders do their best right from the start! :D

    By Anonymous Alexander Tiedemann, at 4:03 p.m.  

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