Sunday, December 03, 2006

Liberal Leadership

After the Conservatives won a minority government back in January I made the decision to join the Liberal Party of Canada. After spending 7 years (now going on 8) of the past decade living outside of Canada I have been more of a spectator of Canadian politics than a participant. And I had hoped to get more involved as the Liberals re-built themselves into a Party that could topple the Conservatives and inspire Canadians. However my move to Oxford this year has meant that I have had to settle for being more of a spectator again so I was anxious to read the results of the Liberal Leadership race this weekend. This morning I woke up to read the news that Stéphane Dion has won the race for the Liberal Party of Canada.

To be honest, I must admit I was both stunned and disappointed by this result. Dion was not my first choice, or even second, (…OK not even my third!) choice. When the Liberals lost back in January I think the message Canadians were sending was that they were discontent with the “status quo” of the Liberal party. So discontent that they elected Harper and the Conservative government. Perhaps Dion can lead a re-newed Party that can dispel this popular perception but I myself have serious doubts. Listening to Dion’s online video message on the Liberal website (here) was flat and uninspiring to say the least.

So what does this mean for Canadian politics? I would not be surprised if this results in a much stronger Conservative government eventually coming to power. If Canadians were unwilling to re-elect a Liberal government under Paul Martin, who I think had all the qualifications of Dion and much, much more, then I don’t think the Liberals will win unless the Conservatives suffer a really major blunder. Maybe that will happen. Maybe the pragmatic strategy for the Liberals is to go with the status quo (which historically has been successful) and wait for the Conservatives to make major mistakes. But I think this strategy is misguided. I think Harper is much more astute then his critics assume. And I think Canadian politics as a whole would have been much better off with a charismatic visionary like Ignatieff (or even Rae, my second choice). I can’t help but feel we squandered a really unique opportunity here.