Friday, October 2, 2009


Everyone knows that Micheal Ignatieff's ill-advised and poorly timed ultimatum to Stephen Harper at the Liberal Caucus in Sudbury 5 weeks ago isn't the root cause of the Grit problem. It just accelerated the party's current flame-out by snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.

Prognosticators are already predicting the Liberal leader's demise and some behind the scenes maneuvering may already be on the way to line-up a list of potential successors.

Somewhat like the man with the accent in the ING Bank television commercials, I was about to suggest to the Tories to..."Save your money!" by dropping the attack ads. I understand that's already been done by those close to the Prime Minister's office. There is at least one report that Mr. Harper himself told his Conservative colleagues at this week's caucus meeting to "back-off" and let the Liberals "implode on their own." Something the Liberals seem quite willing to oblige judging by the contretemps caused in Quebec by Denis Coderre's very public internal conflict with his party leader.

This problem is bigger than Michael Ignatieff though he may end-up one more of its victims. The Liberals don't know how to be an opposition party; let alone an effective opposition in the House of Commons. They've never learned, and this very public and somewhat nasty on-the-job training is not helping, at least for the foreseeable term.

WITHER THE NATURAL GOVERNING PARTY: In the 71 years between MacKenzie-King (1935) and Paul Martin's defeat in 2006, the Liberals governed Canada for 55 years, ceding power to the Conservatives for a total of only 16 years in between to: Diefenbaker, Clark, Mulroney and Campbell...and two of those (Clark and Campbell) were little more than political aberrations. In contrast when Harper's Conservative forces won their first election in winter 2006 they were accused of governing as if they were still in opposition. No surprise they'd had plenty of experience. Lest I digress: Some suggest Prime Minister Harper still rules as if he were Opposition Leader and they point to his regular diet of attack ads against the Liberals as ongoing evidence.

Virtually since Wilfrid Laurier who was Prime-Minister from 1896 to 1911, the Liberal Party's strength and influence have rested inside the Province of Quebec. Almost every effort to wrestle that power base away from Montreal has failed miserably. Micheal Ignatifeff is just its latest manifestation and has so far not measured-up to the challenge. One wonders why, other than for his Toronto-centric handlers, he'd want to upset such a winning, and obviously delicate strategy?

Quebec and Ontario votes are pre-requisites for governing this country. Ontario Liberals, Ontarians in general; because they can, have been magnanimous in carefully ceding their influence to Quebec: Ontario after all doesn't suffer from threats (real or imagined) against its language and culture. Ontario's benefit from the trade-offs has been to become the country's most politically powerful and influential province - Whether the Liberals or the Conservatives have been in power in Ottawa.

Of the exceptions: Lester Pearson and John Turner - Turner (like Clark and Campbell) was a political aberration. Pearson secured two "minority" terms from 1963 to 1968 and in fact was unceremoniously dumped as leader by the Liberal Party after his second minority election. (Beware Stephen Harper - I digress!) In the intervening five years, with Quebec's concerns front and centre; Pearson gave the country a new flag; hosted the world at Expo '67 in Montreal; and formed a Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism which paved the way for the Trudeau era. - And, as if to show future Prime Ministers that minority Parliaments do work: Pearson's Governments also gave Canada - Universal Health Care (Medicare); The Canada Student Loan Program; and the Canada Pension Plan (CPP).

Lest recent history repeat, read Martin and Dion, Mr. Ignatieff and the strategists who surround him have considerable lessons still to learn from those who preceded him as Liberal Leader. His Party has the experience, knowledge and history to recover from its current morass. The jury is still out on whether they will.

1 comment:

  1. Speaking of Ignatieff, have you seen this attack ad against him that popped up the other week?