Thursday, December 01, 2011

Preliminary Thoughts on the LPC Presidential Race

Elections for Liberal Party President have tended to be mundane affairs in recent years. In 2008, Alf Apps was the only candidate - either because the powers-that-be made it known he would win, or because everyone else was too lazy to run. In 2006, the presidency was overshadowed by the excitement of the leadership race. Before that we were in power, so no one really cared who the party president was, perhaps explaining how Stephen LeDrew found himself holding that office.

But this year, there's a veritable buzz in Liberal circles about the contest. Maybe it's because Liberals have bought into the renewal talk. Maybe it's because Borys Wrzesnewskyj seems to be the only person interested in the party's leadership. Maybe it's because there's a diverse and high-profile field of candidates for President.

I had my first opportunity to seriously size up the contenders on Monday, at an Edward Blake Society event, recapped here, here, and here. I'll be posting candidate profiles in the coming weeks, including their answers to a short questionnaire I sent them - today I offer my preliminary run-down of the field.

Full disclosure: I have nothing to disclose, because I'm still genuinely undecided on who to support. I am, however, quite impressed with the entire field. While I've offered a few gentle critiques of each candidate, in each case their strengths far outweigh their weaknesses, which is why I haven't ruled anyone out at this point.

Sheila Copps: Sheila is loud, proud, and can still fire up a crowd. I'd likely prefer a "behind the scenes" president who will build the party and stay out of the limelight, but there is something to be said for a president who will rally the troops and energize the base.

Behind the flash, there's also substance. I share her desire to open the party, and she showed the strongest understanding at Monday's Q & A of what the party needs to do to reach out to new Canadians. All that said, her incessant talk of "letting" Bob Rae run for leader has injected leadership politics into a convention that should have stayed clear of the topic.

Copps is a polarizing figure, but it's a first-past-the-post vote, so you have to consider her the front runner at this point.

Mike Crawley: I generally share Crawley's view on the state of the Liberal "brand" and where the party needs to go; his Star op-ed on this topic was fantastic. The man is energetic, thoughtful, and well spoken.

While Crawley has the vision thing down, I'd be more impressed with a few unsexy nuts and bolts proposals to make the party more efficient than by speeches about what the party stands for.

Ron Hartling: Hartling, meanwhile, is all nuts and bolts. His website contains a detailed platform, full of flowcharts and graphs, and his speech Monday was all about the need for a plan.

His record as Kingston and the Islands riding president is impressive, but his message often sounds like "if all ridings did what we did in Kingston, we'd be in government", which ignores the millions of other factors that go into play during an election. Similarly, blaming Mike Crawley for the Liberals losing Ontario seats is an unfair attack Hartling should have avoided.

Alexandra Mendes: If the voting system favoured a consensus candidate, Mendes would probably win. There's nothing about her campaign that especially stands out, but she has a lot going for her - she's likable, has a good understanding of the challenges facing the party, and has experience as an MP, organizer, and in running non-political organizations.

Charles Ward: Charles is an Alberta Liberal, which gets him a few marks in my books. Beyond that, I know absolutely nothing about him.

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