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CKA Uber
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PostPosted: Sat Apr 30, 2011 6:00 pm


Susan Delacourt has an interesting piece in Saturday’s Toronto Star, asking what went wrong for the Liberals. Something has indeed gone very wrong — it’s worth noting that Delacourt’s column appears in the same edition as the Star‘s endorsement of the NDP. In that editorial, the Star‘s board had harsh words for the Liberals, words made even harsher by virtue of their source — the Star has traditionally been a champion of the Liberal party. But, in their editorial board’s own words, the Liberals’ under Ignatieff have been the biggest disappointment of the campaign. Canadians, they said, clearly feel that they owe the Liberals no favours. That now includes the Star‘s editorial board members. If you’re a Liberal, that’s got to sting.

Delacourt’s column goes on to discuss some of the organizational problems encountered by the Liberals in this campaign: rallying the grassroots support, getting enough people in place to run the so-called “ground war” phase of any electoral campaign (social media, traditional advertising buys, political spin and the like constitute the “air war”). It’s an interesting read, but it’s ironic that the question — what went wrong for the Liberals — was actually answered in plain terms near the top. A “well-heeled” Liberal, leaving a rally for the party’s biggest donors, is quoted as saying, “I don’t get it. I don’t get the disconnect.”

That’s what went wrong for the Liberals.
Ignatieff, up until some strange outbursts this week, had been better on the campaign trial than many (myself included) had expected. The Liberal campaign has been fairly coherent and organized, free of any notable disasters. When problems arose — potentially damaging remarks by and prior affiliations of several candidates, for example — Ignatieff responded quickly and decisively. If campaigning was the only metric by which the parties would be measured, while the Liberals wouldn’t be on the road to victory, nor would they be confronting a rapid, catastrophic collapse.

And yet the collapse seems to be inevitable now, and the befuddled Liberal quoted in Delacourt’s piece is the reason why.

The Liberal party’s movers and shakers, deeply in awe of their own role in Canada’s political history, have been unable to comprehend their growing irrelevance. It’s true that they still have pockets of residual electoral support and powerful connections that will continue to provide some strength to the party. But what it doesn’t have is a purpose, a vision, a compelling narrative.

What does the party believe in? Canadian values. How do they define Canadian values? Why, they’re Liberal values. Who picks those? The leader of the party! What does the leader believe in? Isn’t it obvious? Canadian values. What else would the leader of the party of Laurier believe in?

The circular nature of this paradox might not be readily apparent to the man who left the rally wracking his brain to figure out what went wrong, but it has long been obvious to two groups: The left and the right. The Liberals got by for years without beliefs or values, because they had a strategy — run from the left, govern from the right. But now, the Grits are caught between a right-wing party and a left-wing party — happy to govern from the same place they ran. Where does that leave them? At 18%, apparently.

It’s been said before, so I won’t belabour the point — the Liberals can’t expect to be taken seriously until they figure out what they believe it, craft some policies and proposals to enact those beliefs and then convince millions of Canadians that they’re right. It’s not going to be easy, but it can’t be delayed any longer. And there are no shortcuts — simply changing leader again isn’t going to cut it, because voters can’t take serious an entire political organization that changes its philosophy every time a new man takes over. Canadians obviously aren’t interested in supporting a party that serves only as the centrist stand-in for voters who don’t have strong opinions.

Until the party has a modern identity, one free of narcissistic obsessions with its own past success, it doesn’t have anything to offer voters. That leaves the party’s supporters a small, diminishing club. All the people with passionate ideas and visions for the country can, depending on their preference, find it with the Tories or the NDP. This has been clear to many, including some influential Liberals, for a while. But the ones in command of the party, “don’t get it.”

Until they do, or are replaced by others or do, the Liberals are in serious trouble.

National Post

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