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Wednesday, November 11, 2009

How Ignatieff can save the Liberal Party

Here’s my improbable forecast for the next 16 months: the Grits dump Michael Ignatieff, appoint/anoint Toronto MP Bob Rae as leader, merge with the NDP (at least the right-most elements of that hapless party) and force a general election.

Sound improbable? I agree. However, politics can be full of surprises, especially when one party, the New Democrats, has never won a federal election and has no real prospects of doing so in the foreseeable future. And the other party, the Liberal Party of Canada, is straining at the bit to regain the power it is used to wielding, but is frustrated by a leader that is about as effective as was last chief Grit, Stéphane Dion.

The Liberals can no longer be considered a “national” party. They are really a regional party (Eastern Canada) with a sprinkling of support elsewhere. Their historical base in Quebec is being decimated, first by the Bloc then increasingly by a resurgence of support in that province for the Stephen Harper conservatives—astonishingly the Grits are left with only 14 seats in La Belle Province. And, while in the past they could count on British Columbia (five seats) to give credibility to their claim of being represented coast to coast, the NDP and the Conservatives are increasingly shutting them out.

More than half their caucus is from Ontario—and recent polls show them slipping there—while elsewhere, the Grits are a second choice at best, and increasingly, they can only really hope for a third place finish. The Liberals have only about eight members west and north of Ontario—a record only slightly better that the Green Party which has none.

The very best Michael Ignatieff could do for his party is convince the backroom movers and shakers to replace him with Bob Rae, who has proven political leadership skills and is a virtual insider as far as NDP movers and shakers go.

Under Bob Rae and lieutenants like Ujjal Dosanjh, MP for Vancouver South, a significant portion of the NDP could likely be persuaded to split off and join a left-of-centre newly constituted Liberal party under the banner of, say, the Social Democrats of Canada.

In other words—Michael Ignatieff please take note—he also serves who quits politics and returns to teach at Harvard.

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© 2009 Russell G. Campbell
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12 comments — This is a moderated blog and comments will appear when approved. Please don’t resubmit if your comment doesn’t appear immediately, and please do not post material that is obscene, harassing, defamatory, or otherwise objectionable.

  1. I most certainly agree that the best thing Ignatieff can do is leave but - as a Conservative, I would love to see the Liberals appoint yet another Leader(especially one with the baggage Rae has) - the only possible way for the Liberals to reinvigorate themselves is to send Ignatieff on his way and hold a REAL leadership race. That means Rae has to pack his bags and head into the sunset with Ignatieff. The next race needs to be a long one where 5, 6 or 7 contenders, untarnished by the corruption of the Chretien years, start debating policies, direction and goals. The membership and grass roots needs to be involved so they feel part of the party, not just the source of money for the big boys. That is what we had to do over a 13 year period and that is what the Liberals need to do. Anything less and they will keep bouncing from appointed savior to appointed savior until they are the laughing stock of politics - not a long way off at this point in time.

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  2. I agree somewhat to your premise Michael Ignatieff has no gravitas to seek an election and enter the history books as the worst Liberal leader.

    I think he was tricked and poorly advised by those suggesting he could become the PM after a short period as an MP.

    To his credit has not pulled the trigger and proven he is worse than Dion. We only have unofficial Polls to date.

    I don't think the LPOC truly understands the shifts of the voting blocks and what is means for their party.

    I believe they are lacking "situational awareness" in the changes of the landscape in their returning to power.

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  3. TVO, with host Steve Paikin, did a show on Uniting the Left on Sept 25th, 2008. Guests included John Duffy, Tom Flanagan, Linda McQuaig and a couple other.

    Good stuff from Flanagan on how Harper united the right, and his advice to the Left. The lefties were obviously frustrated that they weren't offered one ballot option, so as to unseat their hated Harper.

    Watch the video here

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  4. I seem to notice that there those who will contribute finding ways; offering suggestions and ideas in how to recover the 'liberal party of canada.

    The liberals had their time in government and chose to be where they are right now.

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  5. The scenario you are painting is too logical. If you reduce it down to mere facts it all makes sense and would be the correct thing to do.

    The problem is that the NDP are too attached to their principles and are in fact proud that they aren't in power, but serve as a conscence for the Liberals when the right minority siuation comes up.

    So you have one heavily principled party merging with a party with no principles at all (other than the principle of wanting to be in power).

    I see no way of resolving that.

    Blue Liberals could find a home in the Conservative party but where would the ultra leftist NPDers go?

    You know the ones who see no difference between the Liberals and Tories and would be unable to stomach such a merger.

    The only way I see such a thing happening is if both parties end up getting decimated in the next election.

    They are stuck with Iggy until an election, and are too scared to call one because of how many MP's will lose seats.

    What they really need to do is have an election the sooner the better. Lose. Let the Tories govern with a majority and start the rebuilding process with a real leadership convention and a leader who will be prepared to try to win 4 years down the road.

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  6. Good theory,and you may be correct. Rae and the NDP would be a natural alliance, and one that would probably go down to defeat by the Harper government.

    The liberals need a credible leader, not another "messiah" or political retread like Rae. Surely,in the ranks of all the Liberals in Canada,there must be someone who can win the confidence of Canadians.

    It seems the management team of the LPC needs updating, as they're still stuck on politics as it WAS.

    Find another Chretien, boys,or bide your time until young Trudeau grows up,politically speaking, but save us all from the current crew,whom I wouldn't trust to competently run a small town,let alone a Country.

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  7. Bravo on the Milton quote.

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  8. There is probably one or two more appointments to live through before the LPC either disintegrates and becomes as irrelevant as the "Progressive Canadian" party or finally gets a new generation of leaders and party workers who can effectively rebuild.

    Bob Rae will probably get his wish to unseat Ignatieff and become the next leader (alternating Francophone succession be damned!), but at best will be another interim leader like Ignatieff.

    The Liberals and their hangers on have pinned a lot of their hopes on "the Young Dauphin"; despite his total lack of resume, original ideas or even his turgid speaking style (I sat through one of his speeches in person, and it made for a painful evening). Given these drawbacks can be overcome with enough media protection and hype (see the 44th POTUS for an example), they Liberal brain trust may be able to pull this off, but I suspect this will be a much harder stunt here in Canada.

    The real merger on the Left will be NDP-Green, and one thing to think about in the post 2014 environment when there will be enough new seats to win a majority without any Quebec seats is the NDP is a Democratic-Socialist party and the BQ is a National Socialist party; enough common ground for another merger on the Left.

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  9. the liberals aren't accustomed to being in opposition, and they're getting a taste of how infuriating it is to see how a sitting government can use all these levers to stay popular in the face of potential scandals. While i hated Chretien, he was absolutely brilliant at it, and now the Liberals know what its like to watch that from the weak side of the floor.

    A unite the left movement is probably the only thing that will work without a massive conservative meltdown (which is not out of the realm of possibility, keep that in mind).

    But, such a union will require AT LEAST one conservative majority victory (and probably more) before it will be taken seriously by hard-core liberals. as long as voters continue to send minority Conservative governments to power, Liberals will take cold comfort in the fact that last party that the country trusted with a majority is theirs.

    Until that changes, there will be no union.

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  10. Thanks, Thucydides, for your well thought out analysis. Sounds like you see a two-party, left and right, political landscape in our future.

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  11. Yes, TDA, I agree a Conservative majority--not the mere threat of one--will be needed to galvanize a unite the left movement into party merger action.

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  12. I can see how you would love Bob Rae to take over the Liberals: that would make it 3 for 3 in the loser category, now wouldn't it?

    (Dion, clearly an exception and not the rule). Something you wouldn't like would be having a French speaking Quebecer. No, not Denis Coderre neither.

    Potential bad news for you though: if Steve doesn't get his majority next time around, he will have to resign. Word has it our premier, Jean Charest might just be the guy to replace Steve. Since Charest is not as much of a Neo-Con as Steve; he can get a majority for the tories. Probable? Perhaps:
    Never can tell...

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