Thursday, June 14, 2012

The case for Justin Trudeau and a two-election strategy

There are a number of interesting names floating around as possible contenders for the Liberal Party of Canada leadership, and many more less than interesting names. While I may or may not support him were he to run, I think there’s a good case to be made for Justin Trudeau. And it may not be the case you think.

If you’d asked me before the last election if (assuming a leadership change) Trudeau should run, I’d have said no. He's not ready. Let him gain more experience in the House and we’ll see the next time. So a year and a bit later, as a leadership race gets underway, do I think Trudeau is now ready? No, I still don’t. But here’s what has changed: the Liberal Party isn’t ready either.

Liberals have for too long been obsessed with short-term fixes and short-cuts to power. Many will put forward Trudeau’s name in that context: the best name with the best shot at getting us back to the electoral promised land. Frankly, that’s the wrong motivation, and I take a completely different position. If I thought the Liberals had a shot at winning the next election I wouldn’t say he should run, as he's not ready to be a Prime Minister by any stretch of the imagination.

Here's the hard truth though that Liberals need to accept though before we get too far into this discussion: we’re not going to win the election in 2015. You can call me defeatist if you want. And sure, anything could happen, and sometimes even does. But it usually doesn’t, and we should be realistic and not expect an overnight turnaround.

We need a young leader who can commit the next decade to growing the party with a two-election plan, and we as a party need to commit to sticking with our next leader for the long-term instead of dumping them overboard the first time they don't turn water into wine overnight. We need someone willing to spend the next 10 years growing the party in bake sales and church basements across the country. More important than performance in Parliament will be both bringing Liberals back into the fold and growing support and organization on the ground. It will be many years of spreading the word in small groups.

It’s in this context that I like Trudeau. He has the charisma and drive to bring Liberals back into the fold, get young people involved (who, over a long-term plan, become the next generation of organizers and activists), and he's ideally suited for the tough retail work that will need to be done, winning over people one small group at a time. I also think that, while for his father the Liberal Party was somewhat of an electoral machine and a means to an end, Justin grew up in the party and both values the institution and understands its significant problems. And he’ll certainly keep us relevant in the national debate.

In the context of a two-election plan he would have the opportunity to grow in the role, growing along with the party. As I said, he’s not ready now, but neither are we. It takes time for leaders to mature. And whomever our next leader ends up being, we need to give them the chance to grow into the role.

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Jordan said...

I agree with you that a year ago I would have never thought that Trudeau should run for the leadership. However I'm now thinking that maybe he could be the right leader to grow the party. We don't seem to know much about Trudeau from a policy perspective and it's a fact that he does not have a lot of experience in the House of Commons or in the private sector. That's troublesome for someone who if he were leader would in essence be running in the next election to be Prime Minister, even if that's not the real goal. I'm starting to think though that Trudeau has the potential to win back a lot of old Liberal seats, and also has the potential to attract some big name star candidates. If he can attract some very credible people who have a background in say finance, foreign affairs and say national defense he doesn't need to be the main party spokesperson for these files with a strong team behind him. I know this basically sounds like just have critics for portfolios but the fact as it stands now the Liberals have people in critic portfolios who don't have much of a background in those areas and Bob Rae for the most part has been the main spokesperson.

Steve V said...

I was in the two election camp prior to the last vote so I obviously agree. It's not defeatist at all, and relying on "anything can happen" isn't a sound strategy, it's more a pipe dream. If you take the longer view, I think you attend to what really matters and keep objectives in balance.