Saturday, October 18, 2008

Tom Axworthy: Only re-energized crew can bail out sinking Liberal ship

Tom Axworthy makes some very good points in a Toronto Star column today, that should be carefully considered by all those who think a new leader is all that's needed to right the Liberal ship:

In their preoccupation with leadership, media and party insiders are missing the real issue. The primary challenge for the Liberal party is that its cause is no longer compelling enough to persuade Canadians to give up their leisure time to join its ranks.

Party renewal, therefore, is not some romantic notion pursued by idealists. Renewal demands hard-headed realism that requires a Liberal party overhaul; rebuilding itself brick by brick, riding-by-riding so it is once again competitive on the ground.


Good local campaigns can influence 4 per cent to 5 per cent of the vote; the addition of 100 volunteers shifts votes; signs shift votes and local campaign spending shifts votes. In the 2000 election, for example, Liberal candidates spent only 72 per cent of their allowed local limit. On average, candidates could have spent $19,000 more. If every Liberal candidate had spent to their legal limit, the Liberal vote could have increased by 5 per cent. And since public subsidies give the parties $1.75 per vote, unharvested votes cost the Liberal party millions.

Further, early data show that only three percentage points determined the winners in 25 ridings across the country last Tuesday. In southwestern Ontario, for example, five ridings were separated by 1 per cent. Four of these were won by the Conservative party and, had the Liberal party won them instead, Stephen Harper would be even less satisfied and St├ęphane Dion less worried about the results of Canada's 40th election.

Tom's suggestion?

A reformed policy process should begin with a thinkers conference, preferably in Kingston, to remind Liberals of Lester Pearson's great initiative in 1960; every riding should debate the directions suggested and then there should be a great party rally or mass Internet vote to decide on priorities.

More than a leadership convention, the Liberal party needs a period of self-examination. The good ship Liberal is taking on water and needs to energize her volunteer crew to bail her out.
I agree. At the polls in the riding I worked Tuesday, the amount of manpower the Conservatives and NDP were able to bring out was substantial, and impressive. The Liberals are out there, but we're not giving them a reason to get involved.

We need to start asking ourselves not who our leader should be, but what our party should be. What should the Liberal Party stand for? If you're a party member now, why did you join the Liberals, and not the NDP or the Conservatives or the Greens?

More on that in a future post.

Recommend this Post on Progressive Bloggers


Joseph said...

Those are excellent ideas. Thanks for sharing the column.

Mark Francis said...

hhmmm... I joined over Dion's green policy ideas.

Carrie said...

I've always voted Liberal. Immediately following this election, I was exhausted by it all and began to rethink my loyalty.

Here's my # 1 complaint:-

The Liberals have not listened to Canadians in a very long time. Our # 1 concern, need and priority is healthcare. Stop telling us what we care about and LISTEN when we say what our concerns are! Chretien and Martin did next to nothing. Here in Ontario, McGuinty is severely hurting my city by not addressing the healthcare emergency. And it is a dire emergency.

Hire more staff for hospitals. Hire more doctors for private practices. Hire more specialists and stop restricting surgeries and access to MRIs and PET scans. Build more long-term care facilities NOW. Pay homecare nurses and support staff more money - that service has been decimated in the last year in my city. One year ago, the VON here had 18 homecare nurses. Now, they have only 2. Because the money isn't enough and the hours are horrendous. The overload due to short staff is too much for nurses to bear. So they're all quitting.

I can guarantee you, if the Liberals make healthcare their main priority now, they will immediately recover. Immediately. Across Canada, this is our number one concern. Why are the Liberals ignoring it?

Because of this, I'm not voting Liberal anymore. Now this, I am a life long Liberal as were my parents and my siblings. But form now on, I'll vote NDP (and I detest Layton!)because they are the only party hearing Canadians anymore. I would prefer to vote Green but they are too small for influence and also don't focus on healthcare. I can't abide the Conservatives and they always cut healthcare.

So Jeff, you have insider access, tell the Liberals to wake up and pay attention. I really like Dion. Rae will never win Ontario. Iggy is too USA. The Liberals need to turf the old guard entirely and get people like Kennedy, or anyone who listens to Canadians. Then all they need to do is give voice to us lowly citizens. That's their job after all.

Skinny Dipper said...

Besides having some form of proportional representation in Canada, parties need to allow for meaningful participation at the riding level. That means allowing local members the ability to directly choose the leader through one member-one vote or one hundered votes per riding. They need to be able to nominate the local candidate rather than have the leader appoint him or her. Those candidates need to be able to voice their own opinions about local issues rather than be scripted by the party leaders as is the case in the Conservative Party. Otherwise, we'll see less people participating in politics and fewer people voting.

Gauntlet said...

Find me one - just one Liberal of any note - who has suggested that if we just replace the leader we'll be fine.

'Cause I haven't heard that claim. And knocking down that straw man is not the same thing as proving that we're better off keeping Dion.

The party needed reform two years ago. Everyone said so. What has Dion done?

A BCer in Toronto said...

I can't give you names, Jason, but I can give you a few hundred senior Liberals, Liberal sources, unnamed MPs, long-time Liberals, and so on...oh, and Joe Volpe.