As the Liberal leadership race settles into its three-way configuration, the presence of Dominic LeBlanc highlights everything that’s wrong about the candidacies of Michael Ignatieff and Bob Rae.
I am not — and don’t intend to become — a member of the Liberal Party. Yes, this is one vote I can cheerfully sit out. But I can say that at this point LeBlanc would have my vote, until and unless he loses it.
The game of “he said … no, he said” that we lived through these past few days, as Ignatieff and Rae (and their many spinmeisters, spokespeople, cling-ons, etc. spun the story) over last Sunday’s Liberal meeting in Mississauga and whether it was to be open or closed to the media has, much like digging through the pile of turds stacked outside a slaughter-house, reminded me of the stench that surrounded these two the last time around. There is, after all, a reason why the Liberal Party did not select either of these candidates, and why there were clear “Anybody But …” initiatives on the floor of the last conclave. Liberal insider politics has been emphatically told to change by the Canadian electorate, and these two power-hungry sexagenarians simply don’t see that the rules of engagement, both with each other and with us, have changed.
(Of course, why should they see it? The mechanics of leader selection still come down to who can mobilize the largest army of arm-twisters and spread the most fear, uncertainty, doubt, guilt and emotion about the other candidates. Two guys who never really had their 2006 machines stand down, and who have the necessary mother’s milk of inside politics — ready cash — mobilized already are likely to steal the show before reform can begin.)
But, hey: isn’t the Trudeau-Chrétien-Rae faction vs the Turner-Martin-Ignatieff faction infinitely interesting? (It’ll keep Don Newman and Mike Duffy happy — every day a scintillating battle to aid and abet their battles for ratings — but I’m not so certain the rest of us, frankly, give a damn.)
Is Dominic LeBlanc the sine qua non of leaders? Who can say — he does bring youth and experience, and doesn’t (so far) seem wrapped up in the old Liberal internecine warfare, the one that said intra-party battles were the real elections and the ones where we vote are just the sideline. This means that he seems, as well, to get the fact that the Liberals made themselves irrelevant, and that it’ll take more than recycled promises, hooks and taxpayer-funded bribes, and business as usual to (in a country where 41% cast a majority vote for “none of the above” by staying home) awaken us to take a look the next time around.
I expect Ignatieff to run away with this — and when he does the Liberals will remain in the wilderness. Oh, they may get more seats: they won’t get a clean victory, and might not even pass the Conservatives. In other words, it is Canada that will remain adrift — and don’t be surprised if the percentage voting “none of the above” rises again. This, I believe, is the real message of the Nanos poll: Liberal and Green gains are vote parking when intentions are asked. Yes, there’s a sense that the Conservatives are anything but (and hence the drop in their heartland — the West). But this isn’t sober second thought about election day that we’re looking at.
Still, it could be. A policy-oriented campaign, a generational change of leader, the said-in-public sense that it’s a long journey to revitalize, not the Liberal “brand”, but Canadian Liberalism: it is LeBlanc who speaks of these things. Then we might well see fewer “none of the aboves”: the only path for any party to grow to a majority.
No, I don’t expect him to win: the Liberal Party never misses an opportunity to miss an opportunity, thanks to its core belief in the inevitability of its accession to power, and the spoils thereunto. (Never forget Stéphane-qui?’s first call to action on his own leadership win: it presumed that inevitability, as did Paul Martin’s television broadcast to plead for the job he’d wanted all his life.) The power hungry will not respond to a call for time to rebuild; they will respond to “a winner”.
But the best thing that could happen to the Conservatives and the NDP, by far, is to have a vibrant Liberal Party to contend with. It would be a dose of reality for both of them.