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Out of the Wilderness: The Liberal Party of Canada’s Last Chance

The Liberal Party of Canada is at a turning point in its history, where it must decide upon its sixth leader in seven years.  This leadership race is the party’s last opportunity to escape the political wilderness that it has wandered in since 2006.  However, the party does not just need a strong, new leader, it must also forge a new path with new policies and electoral strategies.

Firstly, the new leader the Liberals elect ought to be resilient to criticism. If the last several years have been any indication, the political opponents of the Liberal Party have already begun developing attack-media which will most likely air immediately following the new leader’s crowning. These attacks would probably be most visceral against Mr. Trudeau, the front-runner in terms of polling and fundraising, due to his rather frequent gaffes and rather bare résumé.

However necessary resilience might be, it alone is certainly not enough.  For the Liberal Party to overcome both the Conservatives and the New Democratic Party, it must have a leader who is also both charismatic and magnetic.  Without these qualities the Liberals will never be able to attract new supporters and regain old ones.  While Marc Garneau appears to possess the qualities necessary for a technocrat, he simply lacks any captivating touch.  This was made evident at the Winnipeg leadership debate when Mr. Garneau, Canada’s first astronaut, prefaced his opening statement with a passionate soliloquy about his love of vacuuming.

In regards to the Liberal Party itself, developing coherent policies on pressing issues would also be extremely beneficial.  The Liberals should develop strong polices with broad appeal on no more than four impactful issues and tout them constantly. This will keep their message concise and understandable to any Canadian.  For example, the Liberals could advocate for the revocation of supply management in dairy, develop a strategy for oil, and develop an environmental policy concerning both the oil sands and other environmental concerns.  These are issues that are relatively simple to distill into sound bites, and should have broad national support.  Although the issue of foreign investment was discussed repeatedly in the debates, and is an issue of national importance, it is not a stimulating or revitalizing topic that will seduce large sections of the population.  Regardless – whichever issues are chosen, they must also have widespread support among Canadians.

It must be noted that legalizing cannabis and eliminating cynicism in politics, two constantly re-iterated themes of this contest thus far, are not key political issues likely to provide the critical mass of votes and donations necessary to win an election.  Ignatieff attempted to counter cynicism, to dangerous consequences; and the legalization of marijuana is an issue that will risk alienating middle-aged voters, who make up the majority of Canada’s voting population.   The Liberal Party should choose vote on issues that can garner wide political support, regardless of them being associated with either one side of the political spectrum or the other.

On the topic of a critical mass, the Liberals should realize that they do not need to win nation-wide to form a government – there are many ways to count to 170 seats.  In the twentieth-century heyday of Liberal dominance, the party rarely won support west of Manitoba, and yet it almost always garnered majority governments.  Such is the nature of our electoral system. Rather than espousing proportional representation, as candidate Joyce Murray’s naïve platform would implement, the Liberals should exploit the current electoral system.  Devoting time and economic resources on areas such as rural Quebec and the Prairie provinces, where distrust of the Liberals runs generations deep, will reap few votes and fewer donations.

Instead, the party should focus on specific regions and communities that it can rely on to build a strong base of power. The NDP has been doing by supporting Quebec nationalism, to great success, albeit with significant moral (and electoral) costs in the remainder of the country. While the Liberals should not endorse any policy as divisive as Quebec sovereignty, nothing is stopping them from supporting more populous regions against areas will less representation.

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The Liberal candidates, and the party as a whole, must come to realize that they are no longer Canada’s natural governing party.  With the possible exception of Martha Hall Findlay, the candidates speak of how Canadians trust the Liberal party and consider they have the “right” answer on a plethora of issues – wrong.  They act as if Harper and Layton simply hoodwinked Canada into voting for them, and that Canadians will evidently support the next leader ex officio – wrong again. The new leader must instead realize that to regain the respect of the Canadian public he or she must institute wide-scope reforms in the party, so as to give the Liberals the opportunity to play once again an integral role in Canadian federal politics.

– Matthew Cressatti

(Featured photo: AttributionNo Derivative Works Michael Ignatieff, Creative Commons, Flickr

Photo 1: Attribution ItzaFineDay , Creative Commons, Flickr)

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One comment

  1. Pretty good article, although I have some quibbles with your suggestion that the Liberals continue their support for a First Past The Post system. In the long term, this type of electoral system cannot support more than two or two-and-a-half parties (i.e., the pre-Orange Wave NDP).

    In a PR system, a party that can convincingly hug the center line while retaining innovative policy ideas will be a natural governing party. In this system, while the Liberals will likely never get a Chretien-esque majority, they will be able to stay in government almost constantly, leading or participating in coalitions with ease. As well, a PR system, the Conservatives, divided between center-right “Red Tories” and hardline right-populists, will inevitably splinter into two or more parties, making it even easier for the Liberals to regain their role as the “natural governing party”.

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