Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Election Aftermath

My predictions were off aside from a close guess what the Liberals would end up with in Quebec. I really couldn't tell how Quebec would end up aside from the fact the damage would be done to the Bloc. I believe that even Quebecers must be a little shocked that the BQ has fallen below official party status.

The NDP swept through Quebec. Even Tory cabinet ministers went down in defeat the NDP. I had thought as little as a few weeks ago that the Tories might win a few more seats in Quebec based on vote splits. However, as the Bloc went down so did the Liberals. The NDP benefited strongly and took seats that even they must be shocked about. The NDP even won with a candidate who may have never even visited the riding she won in. Yes, that's right. There is no evidence she has even been to her riding. Add to that, a handful of university students and a 19 year old.

It doesn't have to be bad for the NDP because of that but it probably means a huge learning curve. The newcomer MPs will find that it is a bit overwhelming coming to Ottawa, hiring staff, getting offices in both the riding and on The Hill and getting up to speed on job responsibilities.

The record on making huge gains in an election and not having them stick has some notable examples in Canadian history. The most recent is the ADQ in Quebec where Mario Dumont made a splash in the 2007 election only to be routed in 2008. The next best example is Bob Rae and the NDP majority government in Ontario from 1990 to 1995. The NDP is still hurting from those years. Last is the Liberals of Manitoba vaulting to Official Opposition in 1988. That status lasted two years as NDP targeted their ridings and regained second party status.

So...a majority Conservative government and an NDP Official Opposition, a very weak third party of Liberals, a handful of Bloc who don't qualify as a party and a breakthrough for Green Party leader Elizabeth May.

I expect the Tories will move to get some of their wish list completed early on in their mandate so that they can deliver more palatable and election-ready policies later on. The gun registry, crime legislation, Canadian Wheat Board, election financing laws and the like are all probably front and center. What comes after that is anyone's guess. The deficit can't be ignored forever and with four years till the next election, the Harper government will be watched carefully on that front.

Now, since I am a Liberal and identify with the center, I have to ask what the future of the party is now that the party has been crushed and the leader, Michael Ignatieff, has resigned.

Some say it is time to unite the left. One wonders if the NDP are thinking that now. At the moment, they are probably thinking of solidifying what they have now and taking another crack at it four years from now. Listening to some NDPers like Ed Broadbent, you get the feeling that they believe those people who voted Liberal will gravitate towards the NDP and the Tories. No need to court the Liberal party as an organization if the party simply dies and you pick up the supporters.

In any event, the first meeting of Liberal MPs and senators should be about two things. The first is: An interim leader. The second is: slow down.

In terms of the first, an interim leader should be selected for the House of Commons and who will not be running for the leadership of the party. I believe Ralph Goodale is that person if he decides to not run. If he does decide to run, the selection could be possibly two or three others including Justin Trudeau, who is rumoured not to be looking at a leadership run this time.

I am nervous about Trudeau being the interim leader but is guaranteed to draw lots of attention. One thing is certain, a major effort is needed to re-build Quebec and Trudeau has to be part of that equation.

In terms of the second thing that needs to be done in first meeting of Liberal MPs and senator is: Slow down.

Aside from the interim leader, the remaining issues should be slowed down so that people can absorb them, chew over them and then make rational choices later on.

In keeping with this idea of slowing down, I think a leadership convention should be put off till at least till 2012, maybe even 2013. The next federal election is October 19, 2015. Unless Harper decides to call a snap election before that date (and nothing really prevents him from doing so if he is prepared to take heat for it and he didn't the last time he did) then the Liberals have time to pay some debts and wait till after some provincial elections have past in Ontario and Manitoba.

The Liberal constitution says that a leadership convention must be held five months after a leader resigns and when an interim leader is announced. That would be in September give or take if the decision was made this coming week. I have no idea if there is provisions within the constitution to make a change. It would appear that national directors will have to assess if there is any room to move in this area.

I think they must if they don't want candidates to simply not stand due to lack of finances.


Aside from the two things mentioned above, the Liberals over the next four years have to work strongly on these items.

1. Party head office. The election results, change in leader and smaller budget means leaner. Find some good people to work and volunteer. It may be worthwhile to set up a non-governmental organization that has no financing restrictions to be the brain trust of the party on provincial and federal Liberal matters. It could be where party polling is done, policy research and establishing future leaders. It would be arm's length from the party.

2. Policy Convention. The last two Liberal election campaign books have been fought on policies that don't seem to come from the members. While there were some good ideas there in the campaign, they obviously were not enough to win an election.

3. Fundraising. It has to be a priority. There was some progress under Rocco Rossi but that momentum seems to be lost. As mentioned, I think some major functions should be shunted to an NGO think tank.

More ideas to come...

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