Marc’s Posts

December 2011

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Rebuilding the Liberal Party – A Suggested Approach

Monday, December 19, 2011 @ 01:12 PM





Let’s face it – Michael Ignatieff’s “Liberal Party” lost the election on May 2, 2011.  He, seemingly, only had his own people directing the Party and the results spoke for themselves – Canadians didn’t appear to warm to him.  The troubling thing about this loss is that many of my Liberal friends seem to have given up on this Party. I believe all is not lost and what happened after the last election is a symptom of a Party that has lost its groove.

As context, I am a child of the Liberal Party.  I grew up being Liberal, I joined the Liberal Party officially when I was 14 years of age, but my great Aunt and Grandmother were active Liberals and encouraged my interest in politics since I was seven.  Evening dinners at our home and at family events were characterized by pithy debates about the impact of governments of PMs like St. Laurent, Diefenbaker, Pearson and Trudeau.   I knew where the great Wilfrid Laurier’s tomb was in Ottawa when I was in grade one for goodness sakes. There was no doubt that the Liberal Party had a significant impact on me.

The results and ensuing impact of the last federal election have given rise to media speculation about the demise of the Liberal Party.  I believe those sentiments are dubious at best.  The Liberal Party is a solid brand.  Oh, there are some, like a former PM of the great Party, who envision a merger of the Liberal Party and the NDP as a viable option to re-assume power – perhaps.   But, if we follow his logic about the Liberal and New Democratic parties theoretically having similar policy principles, then, given that as reason, why doesn’t the Liberal Party reach out to the Conservatives – to merge?  The fiscal policies and much of PM Harper’s social policies evidently are centrist – that’s territory the Liberals have claimed since Confederation.

There are others, like me, who believe the Liberal Party can and will find its step once again IF it grasps the principle that the more things change, the more they stay the same.  Rebuilding is hard work, it requires slogging it out riding-by-riding, seeking advice from the grassroots, attracting new members, developing new policy AND making an impact.

Consider 1984 to 1988.   I came across an article by Susan Delacourt who wrote a very nice article about the recently released biography of John Turner written by Paul Litt (Elusive Destiny:  The Political Vocation of John N. Turner – UBC Press, 2011).  In her article she outlines the extraordinary accomplishments of Turner in Pearson’s and Trudeau’s governments as well as his friendship with John Diefenbaker (a former Conservative PM).  Later in the article she stated that Turner languished in Opposition from 1984 to 1988.  As a staff member for him, I can say that is absolutely inaccurate. Turner made a concerted effort and was successful in his personal efforts to rebuild the Party after its devastating (and highly predictable) trouncing in the 1984 election.

Consider that under his leadership, the Liberal Party introduced central fundraising, modernized its headquarters in Ottawa, and that he travelled to more ridings to meet with grassroots members and visit schools to talk with young people than any other Leader in the Party’s history.  He developed new policy, provided superb opposition to an effective government and his efforts bore fruit.

The 1988 election, as a result, doubled the fortunes of the Liberal Party in terms of seats won for the House of Commons, saw an increase in membership for the Party, was touted as one of the last best elections the country ever fought and, frankly, paved the way for Jean Chretien to inherit a very good Party, which led to his three majorities in a row.

So, to suggest that the Liberal brand is dead, as some are lamenting at present, is, in my view, giving up.  I recall former PM Trudeau’s testimony to the Senate on the changes to our Constitution through the Meech Lake Accord in 1988 – he said, and I paraphrase, that if we give up and provide no opposition to proposed changes to our Constitution, it would be similar to what the male beaver – Canada’s national symbol – does when attacked or cornered – it actually offers up its testicles to its opponent.  It was a stark, very poignant moment in Canadian political debate and, in typical Trudeau fashion, had impact

The Liberal Party is a brand, a very well-known brand, and to give it up or let others suggest merger with other parties is similar to Trudeau’s analogy.

We’re better and stronger than that and Turner proved it by re-building when the Party was facing extinction.  It’s tough work, but not insurmountable – and now Turner’s the prophet for proving that the brand is relevant.

There is a convention this January 2012 in Ottawa to pick a new President for the Party, let’s see if the Party has the strength to endure and find its groove . . . again!!!


- Marc Kealey

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