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My take on the Dion leadership question, and the LPC.

It’s been quite a reaction today amongst Liberal bloggers. Most of them are reacting in fury at Joe Volpe going on CTV – and of all places Mike Duffy’s show – and basically saying Dion should leave. I’ll say this for Joe Volpe – despite my distaste for him being as great as anyone else who has commented today, at least he had the gumption to come out and say what he felt publicly.

The backstabbing and murmurs from more “anonymous Liberals” about trying to get Dion to quit or to force him out is appalling and cowardly, and it has spurred quite a netroots reaction amongst Liberal rank and file members and Liberal bloggers coming out in support of Dion.  To be sure, there are Liberal bloggers wanting him to resign too, but so far those coming out in support of Dion has been bigger. (Steve has some of the list here at the bottom of his blogpost of those Liberal bloggers supporting Dion).

My particular opinion on this whole matter is this; I think Dion should be allowed to make his decision on his own terms either way.  Cut it out with the Mutiny on the Bounty crap. Part of the reason we’re in this position we are in is that certain members of the party refused to accept a grassroots/rank and file members decision on who the leader should be in December 2006, and Dion has been dealing with a divided caucus and less then loyal foot soldiers who were former supporters of his rivals. It has made the LPC look bad in the past 2 years in the public’s eyes, and all of this “anonymous Liberals want to force Dion out” crap merely reinforces it (remember the 1960’s – 1980’s Progressive Conservative party?).

The other thing is stop blaming Dion and the Green Shift as the only reasons for the election defeat. He does have to bear and shoulder some responsibility for this, as do his staff and his strategists, but he’s not the full reason. You can read a couple of very excellent pieces by Robert Silver here and here to get my particular opinion on things, as he says it more eloquently then I what I feel are the cause of the problems as well as the solutions:

Entering into another costly, divisive leadership campaign is the absolute last thing the Liberal Party needs or can afford right now. Moreover, it will help ensure that the party’s needed reforms and renewal do not happen. The Liberal Party is caught in a vicious cycle: we do a terrible job engaging our members and reaching out to new members; this lack of engagement ensures that we cannot raise significant money under the current fundraising rules; this lack of funds makes it impossible for us to build a modern political machine that allows us to be competitive across this country and to effectively communicate our message to Canadians; which makes it even more difficult to reach out to existing and new members and voters. And on it goes.

And at his blog entry:

Just as GM now deserves what is happening to it because it refused to evolve and innovate, the Liberal Party of Canada deserves what is happening to it unless it realizes its real problems go way deeper than a face on a poster.

I will add this part. There is no magic elixir out there in the form of another leader that is going to magically make everyone want to vote Liberal again. We have organizational and messaging problems, and the party needs to still be reformed organizationally and with more emphasis on the grassroots and ENGAGING the grassroots and trying to get them involved.

For example, here’s a novel idea; instead of throwing those 1000$ a plate dinner fund raisers all the time that only the elites can afford to go to, how about a whole bunch of 10$ to 20$ BBQ’s that normal regular LPC members can, you know, actually afford? The Victory Fund is fine, but lots of people hate getting bugged in email and with phone calls. Throw those BBQ’s with high profile people, and get your funds that way. Furthermore, hold them not just in ridings we are strong in, but hold them in ridings where we want to win them back, or where we’ve traditionally have had no presence but want to build up the local riding infrastructure. We invited Howard Dean to the LPC Convention (in 2006), but we’ve done NOTHING to come anywhere close to implementing a “50 state strategy” – or trying to compete and win in every strategy. We need a 10 province strategy, or 308 ridings strategy implemented. Barack Obama embraced Deans efforts, and look what he’s doing competing in Republican states that haven’t gone Democratic in years. We need the same effort and plan up here. We’ve had a lot of lip service about that, but little as been done.

I’ll say again; we’re papering over the structural and organizational faults (such as lack again of fund raising within our own party) by thinking a new leader – even one with “star” potential – will come along and make all those problems go away, It is short-sighted and will get us no closer to getting re-elected to government.

In conclusion, I support Dion in whatever decision he makes. (Quite honestly, I don’t know why he’d WANT to remain leader with this bunch that has been throwing knives at his back). The Liberal Party backroom honchos are fooling themselves however, in thinking that all will be well again if Dion quits or is forced out. They have to engage the grassroots of the party and involve them more. However, the grassroots/netroots of the LPC need to let the head honchos/back room boys know that we’re not going to put up with this stagnation of reform.

UPDATE: For an excellent glossary of what an “anonymous Liberal” is, go check out CalgaryGrit’s definitions.

15 comments to My take on the Dion leadership question, and the LPC.

  • What Deb Prothero said.

    The “$100-a-plate-fundraisers” Libs who think that a strong leader will solve all their problems are secretly gritting their teeth that the Cons have Stephen Harper. They would sell their souls (and whatever is left of their principles) to the devil in a flash if the deal was that Harper left the CPC and led “their party” to victory.

    Face it; there is a profound divide between those Libs who believe in entitlement and the grass-roots liberals. Sooner or later it needs to be addressed.

    By the way, I think that Stephen Dion is too good for the Liberals. He may not be the perfect leader, but he didn’t deserve the shitty treatment he got from the backroom boys.

  • I agree with everything stated in this post except that a new leader is not going to make the difference we need. I have a tremendous amount of respect for Dion and thank him for his efforts, but we don’t have the time to wait for him to dig himself out of the hole he’s in nor to wait for him to grow into the leader we need. A new leader who can inspire and unite will help with all the other things needed: fundraising, party unity and broadening our base. True, we can’t afford a leadership run and I wish it wasn’t going to be another 7 month slog, but we do need a new leader.

  • The problem, Scott, is not so much the anonymous “Liberals”.

    The problem is the growing consensus that the party should abandon all principle and philosophy and try to outflank Harper on his right.

    It won’t work, of course. It didn’t work for the Dems, and they didn’t have three parties to their left, snapping at their heels, willing to scoop up the progressive wing of the party after it leaves in disgust. There’s little chance it’ll work for the Liberals, when Harper can (justifiably) claim that the Liberals are pretenders, and use the Republican tactic of painting them as far-leftists because they aren’t part of a center he gets to define.

    After all, all this raises a question. Other than the Liberals, are there any “center” parties in an FPTP system? Anywhere?

    And if not, why not?

  • There are a lot of people saying Dion should go. There are also a lot of people saying either “dion should stay” or “let him make his own choice.”

    That second group seems to always come back to the fact that we need to renew the party organization, and his departure will delay that.

    They seem to forget that Dion was the only leadership candidate who wasn’t interested in renewing the party organization. Nor has he expressed any understanding of the need, nor has he expressed any ideas of how we could move forward. Dion figures that if you care about Canada, and the World, then the LPC will take care of itself.

    Yes, the party needs renewal. Yes, a leadership race interferes with that. No, Dion will not lead renewal. He doesn’t care.

  • Craig

    Although I haven’t traditionally been a Liberal supporter, I’d just like to assure you that while it’s true that the Liberals are the ones going through this right now, you’re not unique in this. It happens to every political party at one time or another.

    Any political party can devolve into internecine warfare when things aren’t going so well for them: just watch the Republican Party in the US right now, or the Democrats in the early post-9/11 era when it looked like they might never win another election again. The Tories went through it with Robert Stanfield and Joe Clark and the Reform/PC schism in 1993 and the PC/CA merger proposal. The BC New Democrats went through it with Glen Clark. The PQ went through it under Bernard Landry. And on, and so forth.

    You’re right that the problems go deeper than the leader — of the four parties in the House of Commons right now, the Liberals are the ones who, fairly or not, came across as being tired and out of touch with their own grassroots supporters — but they’re not insurmountable and they’re not a uniquely Liberal problem.

    So, yeah, get back to the ground: your fundraising BBQ suggestion is an excellent place to start. Get individuals involved in the process. Give them a chance to contribute and take part. Reach out to potential new candidates: not just when an election looks imminent, but today and tomorrow. Rebuild your team and your policy platform from the ground up. And recognize that the situation *will* eventually be reversed: the day *will* come again when the Tories come across like the tired old party that’s been in power too long and needs to clean house, and the Liberals will be the fresh and hungry team with new ideas and new energy.

    One other suggestion, though. One of the things that most put me and many other voters off from the Liberals this time around was the way some candidates carried themselves with an attitude of entitlement, like those of us who felt that the NDP or the Greens were speaking more persuasively than the Liberals about the issues we cared about somehow *owed* the Liberal Party our votes nevertheless. If you want to inspire passion and commitment among the voters again, the way forward isn’t to lecture me about how I’m ruining the country by voting for somebody else — it’s to offer a persuasive and compelling and credible platform that makes me want to vote *for* it. Don’t take it for granted that just because I dislike Stephen Harper means I’ll automatically vote for your candidate instead: democracy means that I’m entitled to give my vote to anybody I want, and if another candidate is more appealing to me I have the right to make that choice. Don’t take my vote for granted, do something to *earn* it.

    And yes, Volpe does deserve some credit for at least having the cojones to put his name out there, as opposed to all the anonymous whining that’s been going on. But the whole party, Volpe included, needs to remember that people respond more positively to parties that come across as united and disciplined and moving in the same direction, not to parties that look like they’re tearing themselves apart from the inside.

    Sorry for being so long-winded…

  • One positive thing about the Liberals being a party of losers for the time being, is that they may realize that now’s the time to join the NDP and Greens and possibly the Bloc[?] in reforming the electoral system.

    Another positive from my perspective is that people are more likely to vote Green, if there’s no “winning” advantage to voting Liberal anyway.

  • Hey Scott, GREAT idea:

    “We need a 10 province strategy, or 308 ridings strategy implemented. Barack Obama embraced Deans efforts, and look what he’s doing competing in Republican states that haven’t gone Democratic in years. We need the same effort and plan up here. We’ve had a lot of lip service about that, but little as been done.”

    I brought this up at our place and was castigated, basically laughed at, and told in so many words “you don’t know what you’re talking about, Canada is different”. Thanks for the vindication.

    I live in a “safe” Conservative riding. The Libs and NDP basically made ZERO effort out here besides littering the place with yard signs. We got 1 pamphlet in the mail from the Lib, not a phone call, no canvassing, nothing. There’s a reason the Con got about 60% of the vote, and it’s not because everyone here is conservative or because he’s a super guy. It’s because nobody else even bothered to ask.

  • Well Dion should go, but Volpe, seriously, is a “useful idiot” of the Cons.

    And I hardly call the kind of “voting” that took place at the convention democratic. That system is nearly as broken as our electoral one…

  • NEALE

    On a national scale, why not a lottery something like the hospitals do? Say, for a $5 ticket, you could win $50,000. That is affordable to many, and, is a quick fix financially. Or raffles at BBQs.

  • It’s part of Harper’s strategy to keep Liberal on the build mode. They’ll have fresh material for character assassination next time. While with Dion, people are starting to notice what Harper claimed was not true. Look at Al Gore now, subjected to Bush character assassination but became more respected than Bush. He makes American regret they’ve chosen Bush over him.

    Notice also how pro-media Harper like National Post were the ones leading the pack labeling Dion black knight of spamalot. The election just finish and they already trying to undermine Liberal. Harper’s most important goal. So in Parliament, he never lose an opportunity to blame Liberal for everything.

  • Constant Vigilance

    The BBQ idea is a great. In Calgary Southwest (Harper’s constituency), the PCs started a Stampede BBQ which is one of the biggest events for the week. I haven’t been since the Mulroney years but it draws people of all stripes since it a good party. It is part of the mortar that keeps the Conservative fortress standing.

  • If there is to be a leadership race in May, it will sap a lot of resources away from parliamentary work. I would suggest that if it were possible, the Liberal Party executive should mandate an earlier leadership vote.

    I do like Canadian elections in that the official campaign period is fairly short–about 36 days.

    I also do think that the Liberal Party should switch to a one member-one vote election or one hundred votes per riding election for leader. The party should have a short campaign and invite the public to participate since it should be the party of the centre. A ranking 1, 2, 3 Alternative Vote could work.

  • There needs to be a major collective acceptance of these results, not dump it on one person or thing and expect that removal will change our fate. We coasted much of the past decade because our rivals were bitterly divided; we can’t rely upon that scenario any longer.
    As you said, the best idea is to let Dion make his decision in his own time. Let’s prepare to be the Loyal Opposition but behind the scenes start from the foundation and take stock on our fund raising and issue raising skills. The next convention allows us an opportunity to put policies on the plate for the next generation. Holding mini-fund raisers in ridings across the country is a terrific idea.

  • Deb Prothero

    Excellent post, Scott.

    Love your bbq idea as it forms a key component of my riding association fundraising plan too. We must include the people who can’t afford a $100 ticket because the magic of that is that they are willing workers come election time. Unfortunately my plan was laughed at by the local riding association and candidate. But what do I know, I make my living as a fundraiser, why would LPC ever listen to me?

  • re: “we’ve done NOTHING to come anywhere close to implementing a “50 state strategy” – or trying to compete and win in every strategy. We need a 10 province strategy, or 308 ridings strategy implemented”

    Exactly! Time to get back to political basics. Good post Scott.

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