Now that the election is over, some Hesplerian thoughts:
I agreed back in February or so with Gerry Nicholls that a Conservative majority was coming. Why? It struck me that Michael Ignatieff had lousy political instincts and would be terrible in a hard election. Contrary to the media meme that he ran a good campaign, he was terrible. On day one he wouldn’t answer a simple question about coalition, all the while insisting he was answering it. It was obvious to anyone watching he was evading, and he wasn’t good at evading.
By the end of the first week, we had the absurd, red door blue door quote to make fun of. By week two it was “Rise Up!” which we on the right were busy making fun of, but the Ignatieff campaign kept repeating. The Liberal candidate in my riding was using a #riseup hashtag on his tweets. Guys, when they are laughing at you, stop making the joke.
Then there’s the debates. Jack Layton clearly knocked out Michael Ignatieff in both debates. Not speaking french, I’ll leave discussion about that to others. The english debate, however, was in hindsight all Jack. It wasn’t the suggestion that Ignatieff doesn’t show up to work, although it was a good shot, but Ignatieff’s response that killed him. Here’s the right response:
First off Jack, your numbers are wrong, I have not missed 70% of the vote. Secondarily, as leader of the opposition, I have responsibilities beyond normal Parliamentarians. Those responsibilities reasonably keep me out of the house sometimes. It’s far more reasonable for the leader of the opposition to miss some votes than the leader of the third place party spend almost $1m of taxpayers money transporting himself and his wife all the way to Toronto.
Here’s what you don’t say, especially when the label the opposition has placed on you is arrogance:
I don’t need any lectures on democracy from you.
Ignatieff went for the latter response, and today the Canadian Forces are dumping the corpse of his political career over the side of a frigate off the coast of Peggy’s Cove.
Stephen Harper’s best move was one he was heavily criticized for. He offered to debate Ignatieff one-on-one, then withdrew the offer when Ignatieff jumped at it. At to that Ignatieff’s response to Layton in the debate that (and I paraphrase) he should stop acting like he has a chance at forming government. The opposition groups were working together, trying to unseat Stephen Harper. What Harper did by offering the one-on-one debate was put the fox in the hen-house of the coalition. Ignatieff confirmed that indeed, some pigs are created more equal than others in any possible coalition/co-operation. The game was on, and the NDP helped take down the Liberals.
Champagne notwithstanding, the NDP has a real problem. It is now the party of Quebec, having gained only 8 more seats outside of Quebec. Half their caucus is from one province. Quebec voters have long memories and don’t forgive perceived insults. So what do you call it when a party runs a bunch of inexperienced kids? If some of these very lightweight politicians emerge to show what they are not made of, Quebec voters may well turn on the NDP. And controlling political amateurs who have nothing to lose by going off reservation is going to be a Herculean task. The expression herding cats comes to mind.
Beside that, Quebecers will expect Layton to stand in the house and speak for Quebecers. It’s what is done. When he goes in to his “I speak for all Canadians,” schtick, Quebecers won’t be happy. But if he stands and starts doing Gilles Duceppe’s old “I speak for all Quebecers,” schtick, the rest of the country will notice and note. He will also now have to make up his mind on a number of issues where he said one thing on Quebec and another elsewhere, particularly out West. You can’t play two sides of the fence in Parliament. It will be a delicate balancing act, and one if he gets wrong, could be very bad for the NDP next time around.
Note: Ruth Ellen Brosseau is already a problem
What’s next for the Liberals? If I were the Liberal Party of Canada, here’s what I would do.
First off, disregard any talk of Liberal/NDP merger. Not this time, not with the NDP having the trump cards. A Liberal/NDP merger only works for Liberals if it is the NDP being absorbed by the Liberals, not the other way around. Like the PCs before them, they will need more than one drubbing to get the hint.
That said, the goal is rebuild. And like a hockey team, the best rebuilds are youth movements. I am not a Liberal, and I don’t pretend to know everybody in the party. Insiders would be better informed on the talent within, but I would shoot with a guy like Justin Trudeau. Yes, I know what the detractors say: his father’s charisma, his mother’s brains. That may be so, it may not, but I would risk it all on him, or someone like him.
To be sure I’m talking about a long-term project. Your new guy has to be willing to go riding to riding, Liberal to Liberal and shake hands, discuss what’s important to them, and convince them to leave a few dollars in the collection box on their way out. Every riding, every Liberal need to shake your guys hand, look him in the eye and connect (note: I am using the masculine here, but it could just as well be a woman. The prose was just getting too bloody awkward trying to neutralize the gender).
This strategy depends on one uncomfortable fact: you have to be prepared to lose the next election. Not that you can’t win it - 4 years is a long time in politics - but that winning it is not your aim. Rebuilding the party, developing policies, improving the finances, those are the goals. Two election from now, and we are talking 6 - 8 years, you are looking to win. By then you have a veteran leader who has been through the wars, he has made his mistakes, and he’s ready to lead. That’s the route I would take and it is, I think, the only way to avoid the end of the Liberal party.
Of course, you could disagree and make 64 year-old Bob Rae your leader, just as the PC’s went back to Joe Clark. That worked so well for them, after all.
Ruth Ellen Brosseau lives in Ottawa and works at a student pub, does not speak french and has never been to Berthier-Maskinongé. During the campaign, she went on holiday to Las Vegas, and had to be called in Vegas and told to come back, because she was winning. The voters of Berthier-Maskinongé elected her to Parliament anyway: can we now do away with the myth that Quebecers are more sophisticated voters?