Election Post Mortem: The Liberals

In the 2004 election, the Liberal Party lost 37 seats. Liberals blamed this on Adscam, and they blamed it on Dalton McGuinty. This was considered a bad result, but the good news was voters had gotten it out of their system and, regardless, they’d never make Stephen Harper Prime Minister so there was a little to worry about. Consider it a speed bump on the road to 200 seats.

In the 2006 election, the Liberal Party lost 32 seats. Again, Adscam got much of the blame, as did the RCMP, the gaffe-plagued campaign and, depending on your faction, one of the previous two Liberal Prime Ministers. This was considered a bad result, but a new leader and a few months of Reform-Alliance government would lead voters right back into the arms of the Liberal Party.

In the 2008 election, the Liberal Party lost 36 seats. This time, it was really all Stephane Dion’s fault – him and that darn Green Shift! This was considered a bad result, but we’d all learned from the mistake in Montreal, so we’d just name Michael Ignatieff leader and take back government. The sooner the better – after all, leadership races can be messy and, as we’d seen, party members couldn’t be trusted with an important decision like picking a leader.

In the 2011 election, the Liberal Party lost 33 seats. The good news is that (I hope) everyone now recognizes there’s a problem here. A problem that runs deeper than leadership.

For this reason, I won’t bother dissecting the Liberal campaign in too much detail. After all, it actually wasn’t a bad campaign. The tour ran smoothly. There we no major gaffes or misspeaks. There were big crowds. The platform was fine. The ads were fine. Yeah, the debates were a bit of a disaster, and the leader couldn’t connect with voters, but do people honestly think there is anything the Liberals could have done differently? Sure, a different leader might have held on to second place or might have kept Harper to a minority, but if the end goal is forming government, it’s clear major changes are needed.

So what happens now?

The first thing Liberals need to do is put 2015 out of mind. That’s a long ways away and given the tectonic shifts we saw in the political landscape over the past four weeks, it’s foolish to predict with certainty what we’ll be up against in four years. Maybe Harper will be hugely unpopular after a decade in power. Maybe Maxime Bernier will be the Tory leader. Maybe Jack Layton’s Quebec caucus will be his undoing. Maybe a Mulcair-led NDP will be flying high in the polls (I’ll believe that when I see it). Maybe the Bloc will be back. Maybe the Greens will be polling in the high 20s.

There’s no way for us to know what the future holds, so the Liberals need to look inwards and get their own act together before worrying about who they’re running against.

In my mind, everything should be on the table, and party members should be the ones to decide after careful and thoughtful debate. I personally think merging with the NDP is a foolish idea, but some Liberals think it makes sense and they deserve to be heard. Let’s figure that out and then move on together.

I’m sure my idea of who the next leader should be is different from what a lot of other Liberals will want, so let’s vote on a leader and then move on together. Unless of course Frank McKenna is interested, in which case, we can just skip the vote. (I kid, I kid…)

Personally, I’d like to see the Liberals take a strong stand against the soft-nationalist policies of the Bloc NDP, but a lot of Liberals will disagree, wanting to win back Quebec. Let’s figure out where we stand and then move on together.

Some will want to move left. Some will want to move right. Some will say we should trash good policy in favour of populist trinkets. The debate needs to be had, and the membership needs to be involved in that debate.

Not just for show, but for real. Ever since I’ve been involved (and I’m sure before then), the party has let the membership talk and then ignored what they had to say. There’s a 14-step policy process, where policies suggested by individual Liberals can climb all the way to the floor at a national convention where, if enough Liberals support them, they may one day be filed away in a binder in the PMO OLO LO.

The Party set up a Change Commission and a Renewal Committee a few years ago. Both did a lot of good work. Both produced reports. The hell if I know what happened after that.

Now, I have a lot of ideas. Most are probably stupid. I’m not going to rehash them all now, because I’d basically be retyping the blog post I wrote after the last election. Or the election before that. Sadly, little has changed in 5 years.

What I will say now, is that the party needs to figure out answers to the following six questions:

1. What do we stand for?

2. Why should Canadians vote Liberal? (this answer cannot contain the words “NDP” or “Conservative Party” in it)

3. How do we communicate the above to voters?

4. Who exactly should we be convincing to vote for us? (I’d call this “who makes up the Liberal coalition”, if not for the obvious attack ad it would lead to)

5. How do we engage our membership?

6. How do we raise enough money to live in the post-subsidy world?

The good news is we have two years to answer these questions, then another two years to put it into practice.

I have a lot to say about this and, judging from the e-mails, blog posts, and Facebook notes I’ve seen flying in the past 48 hours, a lot of Liberals do too.

So here’s what I’m willing to do. Send me your ideas of what you think the Liberal Party needs to do moving forward, and I’ll post them here. Even if I think something’s a dumb idea, I’ll post it, because I’m not the arbiter of what’s a good idea and what’s a bad idea.

There’s definitely a lot of work to do. We need to recognize there’s a chance the Liberal Party may very well fade away into oblivion. There’s also a chance we could be in power within an election or two. As we’ve all learned over the past month, politics is unpredictable and making bold predictions with certainty is a good way to look awfully silly.

The next four years may very well be the most important in the history of the Liberal Party, so let’s get to work.

Posted on by CalgaryGrit in 2011 Federal Election, Featured Posts, Federal Politics

About CalgaryGrit

A former Calgary Liberal, now living in Toronto. My writings on politics can be found at www.calgarygrit.ca and online at the National Post.

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