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Ben Carr


Bob Rae
photo by Rhonda Spivak

 
BEN CARR: OP-ED: POST-ELECTION ROUND UP- WHAT IS THE FUTURE OF THE FEDERAL LIBERAL PARTY?

by Ben Carr, May 16, 2011

 

[Editor's note:Ben Carr is a teacher currently living in Winnipeg. He has been involved with the Liberal Party of Canada in varying capacities for years. In 2006 Ben served as Scott Brison's Campaign Manager for Manitoba during the Liberal Leadership. In 2008, he held the same position for Bob Rae's Leadership bid. Ben has also served as Assistant to the National Director for Election Readiness with the Liberal Party and was the National Campaign Liaison during the 2008 Federal Election. In his youth, Ben served as President of the Young Liberals of Canada (Manitoba) as well as a Parliamentary Assistant to Reg Alcock, former President of the Treasury Board.]


WHAT IS THE FUTURE OF THE FEDERAL LIBERAL PARTY?

by Ben Carr, May 16, 2011

May 2nd was a historical day in Canada; a majority Conservative Government, a New Democrat as Leader of the Official Opposition, a virtually destroyed Bloc Quebecois and a Liberal Party reduced to its lowest seat total ever changed the face of politics in this country.  The election result leaves every single major political party in a position drastically different than that before the writ was dropped. Naturally, as is common practice after an election campaign, spinsters, journalists, party insiders, and citizens alike are looking back at the campaign to figure out what exactly happened, and perhaps more importantly, what the results mean for the future.

The fate of the Liberal Party of Canada has become the most talked about story in political circles around the country post-election, and several important questions are being asked from both outside of the party and within. Has the Liberal Party been permanently replaced by the NDP? Will members of the party decide it is time to unite the left and merge with the New Democrats? Who will replace Michael Ignatieff as party leader and begin the long road toward regaining the trust of Canadians? All of these are important questions which Liberals across the country must confront with patience, reflection and humility. In some ways, the result of this month’s election does not come as a surprise to me. Besides Michael Ignatieff’s inability to connect with CANADIANS or the success of Stephen Harper’s “steady as she goes” message and Jack Layton’s grassroots campaign for change, the Liberal Party suffered from, as it has for years, a seemingly engrained sense of entitlement to govern. There has been infighting in the Liberal Party of Canada for decades. Leaders and wannabe leaders have quarrelled over ambition and power, party executives have fought for tighter control and intelligent, hard-working staffers, candidates and members of parliament have been pushed aside and their “loyalty” to the party called into question. Sounds like politics doesn’t it? It is true, party politics can be a brutal game, but it can become an all out war when its soldiers become too accustomed to a smooth ride. The Liberal Party’s successes over the years brought about many important policies that have greatly benefited Canada. However, all of that time spent in power gave birth to a level of arrogance and a sense of entitlement which became common among many in the party; particularly the elite. When Stephen Harper formed government for the first time in 2006, Liberals, who had been in power for years, were forced into the uncomfortable role of opposition. After another disappointing election, IN 2008, this time with Stephane Dion at the helm, Liberals turned to Michael Ignatieff to lead. From the get-go Ignatieff struggled in his role as Party Leader and was never able, or so it seemed, to sit comfortably in his own skin as a politician. The outcome: 34 seats, another vacancy in the Leader’s office, and a membership more confused, angry, and disappointed as ever.

From 1887-1948 the Liberal Party of Canada was led by two men; Wilfird Laurier and Mackenzie King. For nearly 60 years the leadership of Canada’s “natural governing party” was a cherished position that few could even dream of holding. Today, the Liberal Party is set to elect its fifth leader in less than ten years. The instability in leadership has been the largest contributing factor to the Liberal Party’s decline in recent years. The Liberals need to elect a person who understands that the road back to government will be difficult and enduring. The new leader must be committed to remaining at the helm regardless of the outcome in four years. The new leader should be willing to speak openly and frankly about the mistakes and failures, as well as the successes of his party in recent years.  The new leader, whoever it may be, can take comfort in knowing that with patience, hard-work and determination, years in opposition, or even as leader of a third party can translate into positive results; history proves this point well. Three examples that come to mind are Wilfrid Laurier, Gary Doer, and perhaps most importantly, Jack Layton. Laurier spent nearly ten years in opposition before becoming Prime Minister for fifteen. Gary Doer was Leader of the third place NDP for three years and leader of the opposition for another eight before serving ten years as one of the most popular premiers in Manitoba’s history.  Jack Layton led a party that was thought by all to be entrenched as Canada’s fourth major party with no hope of ever forming government, let alone opposition – so much for that! All of this to show that patience, hard-work, and a good deal of soul searching can pave the road for a bright future.

The next question Liberals must ask is: who is up to the job? Having worked as his campaign manager for Manitoba in 2008, I can say that I have a great deal of respect for Bob Rae. Bob is one of those increasingly rare figures in politics. He is bright, experienced, charming, understands Canada, and most importantly, he can connect with people. I supported Bob for leader in 2008 and I would support him if he were to run again. There is talk among many, and justifiably so, that a generational shift in the Liberal Party is crucial to future success; I agree. However, I do not believe that just because the leader may come from an older generation that the party as a whole will be unable to shift. Experienced leaders who can inspire will bring people of all backgrounds to the fold regardless. Liberals must be careful to not discount SOMEONE just because they are older than forty. Merit plays the most important part in the selection of a leader AND I HOPE LIBERALS WILL remember that. I am disappointed in some of the guidelines the elite of the party have set for the interim leader. I am particularly uncomfortable with the current line of thinking which holds that the interim leader will not be able to run for the permanent position of leader down the road. To me, this is another example of few trying to silence the voice of many. Ultimately, the party membership would decide whether the interim leader (if he/she chose to run), is the person they want to lead them into the next election. After all, that is what democracy is all about; choice.

The Liberal party should be in no rush at the moment. Four years is a long time to rebuild, rethink and ultimately, re-elect. Every member of the Liberal Party in every province across the country should, before anything else, ask themselves the 5 Ws – who/what/why/where/when. Who IS FIT to lead us in four years from now, what went wrong, when and why, and lastly, where do we see ourselves in ten years from now?  There is a place for the Liberal Party in Canada. The party ought to take this time to lick its wounds, cool its engines, and pr

 
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