Thursday, May 05, 2011

Renewing the Liberal Party: Leadership

I'm a Canadian first and foremost, and as a Canadian I'm nervous about what Stephen Harper's Conservatives will do with majority government. That's not fear-mongering because to do so would be pointless now; it's how I honestly feel. But as a Liberal, there is something to be said for having four years, and likely quite a few more, to begin a rebuilding and reforming process that has long been needed and has been postponed partly due to the nature of minority governments, but primarily because of a lack of will.

I'm disappointed that we lost a lot of good Liberals Monday night. Ujjal Dosanjh is a principled man that got into politics for all the right reasons. Glen Pearson, Rob Oliphant, Mark Holland, Gerard Kennedy and Siobhan Coady are also among those that I'll miss. There are quite a few other defeated Liberals that, frankly, I won't be sorry to see go. It was time to see the winds of change blow through many areas, particularly Scarborough, where the need for renewal is strong. There are also a lot of good young people in the old OLO finding themselves out of work; they had a good young crew doing a lot of interesting things around the web and social media.

While Michael Ignatieff, to use a phrase, didn't get it done, this isn't Ignatieff's fault any more than it was Stephane Dion's of Paul Martin's. It's deeper than leadership, and while leadership will be part of the way forward it's only one piece of what's needed.

Rather than depressed, I'm actually excited for the years ahead. The prospect of power has held back needed changes and soul-searching. The next election may be four years away, but realistically I think it's a decade before we're a viable contender once more. Not only does that mean we have the time for a deliberative process of reflection, reform, and rebuilding, it means those that truly want to build a better, more democratic Liberal party will be free to do so without being weighed-down by the resume paders and title-seekers just looking for quick path to jobs and power. With no prospect of either in these quarters, they'll move on and leave the rest of us to get some work done.

As I see it, we need to focus on three areas: leadership, internal party reform, and policy/what we stand for. Today, I'll tackle the first one: leadership.


It's too early to start talking names, although of course some names are already being bandied about. I believe it's time for generational change within the Liberal Party. It's time for a dynamic young leader who will energize and engage younger Canadians, and who can make the commitment to a multi-election building process without the prospect of electoral success any time soon. There is no quick path and there can be no messiahs: we need someone committed to a decade of hard slogging, and someone with the energy to spend those next 10 years criss-crossing 308+ ridings across Canada building and supporting local riding associations.

I'm not convinced the leader need come from within caucus. It would be more ideal, of course. I don't see someone resigning from our depleted caucus to let a new leader run, so it'd be four years before they'd have a chance to get into the House. We're in a re-building phase though, and being third-party leader in a majority parliament isn't the most high-profile gig anyway, particularly when the real work will be on the road.

If it is within the caucus though, a few obvious choices emerge that fit my generational change requirement: Dominic Leblanc and Justin Trudeau. I'd have included Coady if she'd held her seat. Both bring compelling traits to the table: good constituency people, young, reform-minded. I've tended to think Trudeau needs more seasoning, but with the chance of governing out of the picture I no longer have that concern. I think both would make very interesting candidates.

Outside the caucus, I have no idea. I hope some names come forward. I doubt it will be any of the usual suspects though. The Manleys and the MacKennas aren't interesting in party-building, so don't hold your breath. And besides, they're the old guard. We need to look forward. Perhaps some interesting candidates could emerge from the provincial ranks.

Many have argued for a long leadership process. I understand that inclination, although constitutionally it would seem impossible as it requires a convention within six months of the leader's resignation. That may not be a bad thing though. While we need to pick the next leader in a deliberative process, we also need to get on with the process of reform. Leadership is only step one; there are many more to come. Let's not rush through step one, but let's not spend years there either.

This will be an interesting race for another reason: it will be the first with the weighted one-member, one-vote system we adopted at the last biennial in Vancouver. I supported this change, but I think it's particularly useful to our renewal process. With each riding equal and each member having a vote, candidate will have to try to visit all 308 ridings across Canada and sign up members in each. It can help fuel coast-to-coast rebuilding.

It will also have to be a campaign on the cheap. It will be another campaign under the new restrictive fundraising and financing regime, and donations will be hard to come by. Which means it will have to be candidates travelling the country by themselves, meeting members and prospective members in small groups, relying on local unpaid volunteers. Back to basics, and back to the grassroots.

So in short, my leadership candidate check-list includes generational change, long-term commitment, committed to party reform and renewal, understands importance of personal connections and constituency service, and committed to an open policy development process. I look forward to seeing who emerges.

Tomorrow: reforming the Liberal Party from top to bottom.

UPDATE: Forgot to mention, I don't think the interim leader should be a candidate for permanent leader. Yes, Ignatieff did it. I thought that was wrong, and I said so at the time. Two wrongs don't make a right.

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A Eliz. said...

That means retiring people at the top who have been there too long.
The Party has a Constitution, which we should follow. We need to get to our roots of Pearson and Laurier

rockfish said...

it seems like a rae or goodale are best for interim; the leadership question however as you noted will require long range planning and investment by the people who wish to take on the future challenges, which are many.
We may have had our housecleaning done, but there's much work and renovating left before people will consider us as the viable option again.
What i'd really like to see is the party produce a help-kit for each riding -- that speaks to the ridings lost, barely held and those that are long-term projects. How to grow your executive, how to seed the grassroots, what to do to increase dialogue with 'friendly' community groups, etc. Right now each riding seems to be an orphan, with just a provincial gazebo office far away that offers support when sought, but little when the planning needs to get under way.
I'd be interested in hearing more about your experience in the north island and thoughts on where a riding like that (my riding is more suburban but just as fragile as that one) fits into the overall scheme.