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15 Oct 08: Challenges for the Next Canadian Government

Edward Campbell

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Here, reproduced under the Fair Dealing provisions (§29) of the Copyright Act from today’s Globe and Mail is Lysiane Gagnon’s take on Harper’s Conservatives vs. Québec over the next couple of years:

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/servlet/story/RTGAM.20081017.wcogagnon20/BNStory/specialComment/columnists
Not too late for Harper in Quebec

LYSIANE GAGNON

From Monday's Globe and Mail
October 20, 2008 at 6:00 AM EDT

Stephen Harper has no choice: He'll have to do something about Quebec, even if many Conservatives urge him to start focusing exclusively on Ontario, the province that might eventually grant him a majority. Forget Quebec, they say. Mr. Harper bent over backward to appease the nationalists, and what did he get? In the province that was supposed to pave the way for a Harper majority, the Tories lost one of the 10 seats they already had, and three points in popular support.

It's quite understandable that some Conservatives would be furious at those “ungrateful” Quebeckers who turned their backs on the man who had showered them with so many favours, only to succumb to the Bloc Québécois's isolationist embrace.

Still, Mr. Harper cannot ignore the second most populous province, not only because of its electoral impact but also because it is the duty of any prime minister with a national vision to pay attention to Canada's francophone minority. This is obviously what Mr. Harper intends to do. At his press conference the morning after the vote, he stuck to his habit of reading the French version of his text before the English one – a way to point out that, as he said when he presided over celebrations marking the 400th anniversary of Quebec City, “Canada was born in French.”

Mr. Harper went as far as he could in appeasing Quebec nationalists. And there's not much more he can do, although he'll have to deal with a flurry of new demands by the Quebec government – demands that the Bloc will tremendously enjoy conveying to Parliament. In this campaign, Quebec Premier Jean Charest was actually the Bloc's best ally. He and his ministers often came out against Conservative policies, and now, Mr. Charest, with an eye on his own re-election (the next Quebec vote will probably be called early in 2009), is busy shoring up his ratings by playing the nationalist card. One can expect that his more radical demands will be squarely rejected, but there might be room for negotiations on various issues such as Senate reform.

In any case, Mr. Harper will be able to govern pretty much as he wants to. He is only 12 seats away from a majority. A few defections from the Liberal ranks – this is not unthinkable, considering the current state of the Liberal Party – and a few victories in future by-elections could eventually push him closer to the magic threshold of 155 seats.

The opposition parties will not be in a position to topple the government for at least two years, if only because the voters will not tolerate a fourth election in less than six years. The Liberal Party is broke and in disarray, and will go through yet another period of painful divisions as it chooses a new leader. The Bloc will have no choice but to co-operate with the government; this is the tacit pact it has with its supporters. Quebeckers would resent anything that looked like systematic obstruction, let alone sabotage, of parliamentary institutions.

Still, Mr. Harper should seriously reflect on his party's poor performance in Quebec.

He must find new, seasoned advisers – this last campaign was mostly run by amateurs borrowed from the fledgling Action Démocratique du Québec. He must look for new blood. There was no reason the Tories could not have attracted at least a few high-profile candidates to shore up their weak Quebec caucus. The party was high in the polls months before the election, and conventional wisdom was that it would be re-elected, maybe with a majority.

If Mr. Harper had been advised by well-connected people, he undoubtedly could have attracted a few good candidates from the growing pool of baby boomers with successful track records who recently retired from demanding jobs and are ready for a second career. And he should have courted some of them personally. It's not too late for the Tories to establish a real base in Quebec.

I agree with Gagnon on all counts: everyone, including Stephen Harper and the Conservatives, must govern the whole country for the benefit of the whole country. Canada’s second largest province, home of its largest minority must matter – at least as much, if not more than Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Newfoundland, & Labrador and  PEI, combined.

A national party needs some seats in Québec – maybe 10 is just enough but 15 is probably the minimum needed to provide a few competent cabinet ministers.

It is, as I have said before, possible to “win without Québec” but the important question must be: is it ‘smart’ to try to do so? My answer is: “No!” Not if one wants to fundamentally alter the Canadian political ‘reality’ so that the Conservatives are one of two ‘great’ national parties – the one in the centre with virtually all of the centre-right and right wing supporters, too.

 

GAP

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The only consoling thing about the CPC not winning with a large chunk of Quebec contributing, is the losses went to the Bloc, which essentially puts those seats in limbo until the next election.
 

dapaterson

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There is also a significant concern that the Tories have limited representation from the county's two largest cities.  The urban/rural cleft this implies should not be understated.

Canada's current electoral system provides a disproportionate number of seats to rural constituencies; urban areas are under-represented in Parliament on a per capita basis (even if we disregard the absurdity that the Bell Centre in Montreal holds more voters on a Saturday night hockey game than any riding in PEI).  It would be an interesting exercise to determine the population of each riding, then calculate totals represented by party.  I suspect the Libs represent a similar number of people to the Tories now, a dynamic that could make or an interesting Parliament...
 

Edward Campbell

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GAP said:
The only consoling thing about the CPC not winning with a large chunk of Quebec contributing, is the losses went to the Bloc, which essentially puts those seats in limbo until the next election.


That’s fair enough GAP in a narrow, partisan setting, but all three national parties (Conservatives, Liberals and NDP) must try to win seats from the BQ, not from each other. We need to convince Québecers that their new demandeur status is counterproductive – in other words we mustn’t give in to BQ demands in BQ ridings.
 

Edward Campbell

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dapaterson said:
There is also a significant concern that the Tories have limited representation from the county's two largest cities.  The urban/rural cleft this implies should not be understated.

Canada's current electoral system provides a disproportionate number of seats to rural constituencies; urban areas are under-represented in Parliament on a per capita basis (even if we disregard the absurdity that the Bell Centre in Montreal holds more voters on a Saturday night hockey game than any riding in PEI).  It would be an interesting exercise to determine the population of each riding, then calculate totals represented by party.  I suspect the Libs represent a similar number of people to the Tories now, a dynamic that could make or an interesting Parliament...


I “did the math” elsewhere and concluded that equal representation under the existing Constitutional rules (PEI gets four seats) means that we need nearly 900 seats.

Either later today, when I get back from some senior officers’ and officials’ remedial drinking, or tomorrow, when I’m recovering, I will try to apply broad brush provincial election results to get a party-by-party seat count.

I’m guessing you may be being a bit conservative, dataperson  ;) , it may be that the Liberals, being highly concentrated in seriously underrepresented urban Canada, represent more voters than do the Tories and will “win” with my numbers.

 

GAP

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agreed.

For the moment though, the extra seats are noneffective in respect to this coming period in the Commons...only by combining all three opposition parties together to defeat legislation can they have any effect. If Harper continues with his confidence motions on important legislation the Liberals will have to have some members disappear the day of the vote, unless they want an election.

I see Charest is now claiming the fiscal imbalance in not settled and that Ottawa should shovel over a lot more.....
 

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GAP said:
I see Charest is now claiming the fiscal imbalance in not settled and that Ottawa should shovel over a lot more.....

No problem.  Eliminate the corporate tax.  Drop the income tax to a low flat level.  Create tax room. 

Let the Provinces decide what they need and raise taxes to meet those needs.

Give the cities the authority to raise a wider variety of taxes.  They have the mechanisms in place to gather taxes. 

Only then will people realize that there is no great pot of gold  from which they can be showered indefinitely.

It is always their money, their needs and their decisions.
 

Edward Campbell

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dapaterson said:
There is also a significant concern that the Tories have limited representation from the county's two largest cities.  The urban/rural cleft this implies should not be understated.

Canada's current electoral system provides a disproportionate number of seats to rural constituencies; urban areas are under-represented in Parliament on a per capita basis (even if we disregard the absurdity that the Bell Centre in Montreal holds more voters on a Saturday night hockey game than any riding in PEI).  It would be an interesting exercise to determine the population of each riding, then calculate totals represented by party.  I suspect the Libs represent a similar number of people to the Tories now, a dynamic that could make or an interesting Parliament...

E.R. Campbell said:
I “did the math” elsewhere and concluded that equal representation under the existing Constitutional rules (PEI gets four seats) means that we need nearly 900 seats.

Either later today, when I get back from some senior officers’ and officials’ remedial drinking, or tomorrow, when I’m recovering, I will try to apply broad brush provincial election results to get a party-by-party seat count.

I’m guessing you may be being a bit conservative, dataperson  ;) , it may be that the Liberals, being highly concentrated in seriously underrepresented urban Canada, represent more voters than do the Tories and will “win” with my numbers.

OK, I did “the math” again.

First I used the percentage vote by province from the Elections Canada web site;

Second, using my ‘level’ model, I assined those percentages to the 892 equal seats to get a proper view of all seats;

Third I ran a sample of urban vs rural ridings in each province except PEI and the Territories. This gave me a (very imperfect) measure of voter efficiency - which turned out to not be a simple urban/rural split across Canada;

Fourth I reassigned some of the equal seats – mostly from Conservatives, Greens and Independents to, mostly, the Liberals and the NDP who had much better results in the urban seats;

Fifth I converted the new, equal and voter efficiency rated seat distribution back to percentages; and

Sixth I converted he percentages to seats and rounded again.


The result is:

Province Read in six columns BQ / Cons / Greens / Libs / NDP / Ind
TR:          0 /  1 / 0 / 1 / 1 / 0
BC:          0 / 16 / 1 / 10 / 9 / 0
AB:          0 / 19 / 0 / 5 / 4 / 0
SK:          0 /  8 / 0 / 2 / 4 / 0
MB:          0 /  7 / 0 / 4 / 3 / 0
ON:          0 / 42 / 2 / 42 / 20 / 0
QC:        27 / 19 / 0 / 23 / 3 / 1
NB:          0 /  4 / 0 / 4 / 2 / 0
NS:          0 /  3 / 0 / 4 / 3 / 1
PE:          0 /  1 / 0 / 3 / 0 / 0
NF:          0 /  1 / 0 / 4 / 2 / 0

That comes to:

BQ: 27 seats
Cons: 121 seats
Greens: 3 seats
Libs: 104 seats    ) IF I’m right, in a system within which the 308 seats are more ‘fairly’ distributed,
NDP: 51 seats      ) these two parties could form a stable majority coalition government.
Indeps: 2 seats.

One of the interesting things I think I found was that the Conservative votes was very efficient in small city/big town and suburban Canada while the Liberal and NDP vote is efficient in the inner cities. The Greens probably get more seats than they deserve but they finished well enough in a few big city ridings to earn a least one or two. The BQ was, surprisingly to me, very inefficient, as the result shows.

 

Old Sweat

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Edward,

You are an energetic little rascal. I suggest that there are too many variables and possible assumptions for this to be anything but a gee whizz exercise, or maybe a topic for a term paper assigned to a nerdy polsci undergrad. As we don't have very many nerdy polsci undergrads on this site, and I like dapaterson too much to suggest him in lieu to check and massage the data, what does this really mean? If anything, it may suggest that we great unwashed in unurban Canada have our muddy rubber boots planted on the necks of the sophisticated urban elite. And that, I add with undisguised satisfaction, is just fine with me.
 

Edward Campbell

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Old Sweat said:
Edward,

You are an energetic little rascal ...

Thank you for the "little." Herself is casting suspicious glances at my waistline again. I can almost feel the new diet and exercise programme coming - administered with a WCTU like zeal that I find unbecoming in a Chinese woman.  :'(
 

Kirkhill

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Here's the solution:

Designate Toronto and Montreal (and maybe even Vancouver/Victoria) as independent provinces.  They can raise their own taxes and everything then.  Heck they can even have their own Senators. 

Now listen to McGuinty and Miller swap debating points..  >:D
 

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Is the world prepared for crypto socialist city-states?

I am OK with the idea so long as they are not allowed to prey on the surrounding suburban belts or countrysides  >:D
 

Kirkhill

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I figure that isolation and quarantine is the best method of dealing with an infection.
 

Edward Campbell

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Here, reproduced under the Fair Dealing provisions (§29) of the Copyright Act from today’s Globe and Mail web site, is an interesting special with some excellent advice for the Liberals:

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/servlet/story/RTGAM.20081021.WSteele21/BNStory/politics/?pageRequested=3
Are the Liberals in a death spiral?
How a once-dominant party developed the Tory Syndrome - and 12 steps to cure it

ANDREW STEELE

Globe and Mail Update
October 21, 2008 at 4:10 PM EDT

The Liberal Party of Canada is the most successful political party in Western democracy. It is Canada's natural governing party. A Liberal leader inevitably becomes Prime Minister.

That and four dollars will buy you a coffee at Starbucks.

History is littered with the corpses of successful political parties. The British Liberals ruled England when it was the global hegemon, and yet proved unable to bridge class divisions and fell between the cracks. The American Whigs elected two presidents and produced the "Great Triumvirate" of Senators Daniel Webster, John C. Calhoun and Henry Clay. The Italian Communist Party routinely secured the support of one-quarter to one-third of voters until it dissolved in 1991, a victim of global history.

Liberals should let go of any illusion that their party is the exception to the rule "thou art mortal." There is no guarantee it will ever be back in government. There is no protection it enjoys from the reality of low fundraising, declining membership and internal division. If Liberals do not wake up and grasp the peril of their situation, they will join the ash heap of history.

George Perlin coined the phrase "the Tory syndrome" to describe the death spiral of poor election showings, leading to internal dissention, leading to a distressed and distracted leader and his cadre, leading to lack of attention to party building, fundraising and policy development, leading to yet another poor election showing, and so on.

Since John A. MacDonald died, the Conservatives were trapped in this endless process of self-recrimination and circular firing squads. MacDonald was followed by no fewer than four leaders in five years. Periodically, the Conservatives would emerge from the wilderness to government, but every loss was followed by internal feuding even worse than before.

John Diefenbaker would not go quietly and was a constant knife in the back of Bob Stanfield. Joe Clark's brief government was followed by three years of war with Brian Mulroney. Mr. Mulroney's electoral success temporarily quelled the dissent — at least in caucus — but at the cost of dissolving the voting coalition into progressive and Reform factions.

The Liberals are now trapped in this cycle.

Since John Turner's departure from Cabinet in 1975, there has been some factionalism between ins and outs in the Liberals: Trudeau-Turner, Turner-Chretien, Chretien-Martin. But while those fights were distracting, since 2000 the Liberals have basically been consumed by internal divisions.

The success of the Martin faction in forcing Jean Chretien to set a departure date exacerbated the problem, as it left Mr. Chretien in control of the legislative machinery of government even as he lost the party. The result was fundraising rules that hobbled the corporate-donation dependent Liberals far more than the membership-heavy Conservatives, NDP or Bloc.

Paul Martin also raised expectations of his leadership far beyond the achievable. Not only did this result in increased recriminations and mandatory resignation when he lost in 2006, but it was the main factor that fused the old Conservative factions together and ended the Tory Syndrome on the right.

Recall that in 2003, supporters of Mr. Martin were claiming the new leader would win more than 200 seats, including a massive breakthrough in Western Canada. The move so frightened the Progressive Conservatives and Canadian Alliance that it forced them into a merger. Those opposed to working together were mollified with the knowledge that they could either unite or die in the face of Hurricane Paul.

In fact, the opposite proved true. The end of vote-splitting won the Conservatives 20 more seats in Ontario, and combined with the sponsorship-induced losses in Quebec led to the demotion of the Liberals to a minority government. Strengthened by this return on an investment in unity, the new Conservative Party placed a premium on discipline and coherence; its reward was government.

At the same time, the Liberal caucus became the best news source in Ottawa. You could literally watch MPs walk out the door and head over to their favourite reporter to play "anonymous source." This constant stream of internal dissent was manageable when the Liberals were winning majorities thanks to a divided opposition. But when the game got harder, the Liberals responded by getting less disciplined.

Imagine if a united and peaceful Liberal Party had followed in the footsteps of Mackenzie King and Lester Pearson, keeping Mr. Martin as leader in 2006. Facing a 2008 election fought on the ability of each party to manage the economy, Liberals would have had an economic lion instead of an environmentalist lamb.

Instead, we see the Tory Syndrome cured in the Conservatives and a rampant infection in the Liberals.

The last leadership race was a thundering disaster. It was decided that the party needed a good thrashing through of what it stood for, which is true. But it was also decided that a leadership race was the best way to do this, which is inherently false. Leadership races are not about policy, vision or unity. They are about signing up the most delegates and being the least-hated candidate on the final ballot. They are about personality. And they are most definitely not the way to heal old wounds; instead, as the 2006 leadership proved, they are a great way to open new ones.

For their trouble, the Liberals got a fanciful Ignatieff-Rae split in the party (which is more media creation than reality, since neither MP enjoys the support of a majority of Liberals). They placed acres of videotape in Conservative hands of Liberals attacking each other. They lost months and spent millions to no purpose. They enlisted legions of phantom party members who were never seen again after the voting ended. Their knives are out not just for the winner, but the kingmaker - and anyone else who poses a potential threat next time around.

If the Liberals are caught in the Tory syndrome, how are they to cure it? Infighting is an addiction. Like any addictive action, it makes the addict feel good and able to ignore the increasingly desperate circumstances their behaviour is forcing on them. Eventually, the addict will hit bottom, and in a moment of clarity, realize their situation. Only then can the addict begin the painful process of changing.

Like all addicts, it's time for the Liberals to take 12 steps:

1. Admit you have a problem. If the Liberals continue to believe it's just a matter of time before they return to government, they will continue to believe they can act without real consequences. Government is earned, not expected.

2. Give up on the white knight. Liberals believe that if only they could find the next Trudeau, they would win without working. The fact is that Trudeau was a failure as a politician in his first term and almost lost the 1972 election. There are no white knights. Only work and discipline will earn you back government.

3. Make a decision to unite. This is harder than it sounds. The Liberals are a large brokerage party, and that means a lot of the factions don't agree on much. There are also a lot of hatchets to bury. It will take years to dig that many holes.

4. Make an honest inventory. The Liberals are nearly bankrupt and have few quick prospects for cash infusion beyond painstaking membership expansion. The caucus is reduced to an unrepresentative rump of Atlantic Canadian and Toronto MPs. There is no leader. There is no coherent policy agenda. The Conservatives, NDP and Bloc are consciously attempting to destroy the party. It is too Ottawa-bound, out of touch with the middle-class, Quebec and small town Canada. On the positive side, the Conservatives remain unable to break through in urban Canada, there is a recession looming, the Liberal brand remains strong, and the front bench is extremely talented.

5. Admit you made mistakes. This doesn't mean walking around bemoaning the National Energy Program. It means each Liberal admitting their own role in recent election losses and internal disunity, rather than pointing the finger at the next guy. There is more than enough blame to go around. Make sure you take your share.

6. Give up your shortcomings. Liberals hold onto Shibboleths almost as badly as the NDP. There are factions in the party that would go to the grave fighting distinct society because Trudeau gave the Maison du Egg Roll speech. There are similar emotional positions on immigration, deficit fighting and a host of issues. These need to be examined rationally for their place in the 21st century, rather than clung to like a life preserver in a storm.

7. Humbly begin to remake the party. If there is going to be a Liberal government in the next decade, it will be because those who care now are working now. Work doesn't mean sitting around "strategizing." It means running for office, fundraising, signing up new members, costing policy ideas, phoning long lists and knocking on doors.

8. Figure out where the party needs to grow. With the lopsidedness of the Liberal caucus, it is critical that the party look to its future and not its present. Too many questions about fishery policy or the Toronto Transit Commission and the Liberals will be a regional rump like Reform or the Bloc. Determine key areas for growth: southwestern Ontario, Montreal suburbs, Vancouver suburbs, Northern Ontario, Winnipeg. Focus on these areas and what unites them.

9. Focus policy and tour ruthlessly on growth. In Question Period and press releases, Liberals have a habit of playing the Ottawa game: jumping on the media story of the day, looking for scandal to bring the government down, ignoring the Canada outside the Queensway. Instead, policy and issues in the House should be set by the Liberal growth strategy. Focus only on those items that will produce more seats in the next election; leave scandal mongering to the media and the NDP.

10. Constantly focus on correcting problems. This won't be easy. There will be bad days, bad polls and bad by-election losses. But public criticism isn't helping. Instead, focus on correcting problems internally, staying united and staying positive.

11. Reconnect with the middle-class. The road back to government is through the living rooms of people making $35,000 a year. Most Liberal MPs and senior party managers don't spend a lot of time in those circles. They should.

12. Never stop uniting and ensure new Liberals focus on uniting. When members are thought of as nothing more than potential leadership convention delegates, internal disunity becomes the norm. It is imperative that the future Liberal Party channels young and new Liberals into positive challenges that help them and the party: by-elections, election training, fundraising and outreach. And those members and MPs who cannot be team players should be increasingly disciplined or even removed.

You will notice that not one of the twelve steps is about a leader, except number two stating that there is no white knight. Who replaces Stephane Dion is irrelevant if these 12 steps are ignored. The new leader will be subject to merciless Conservative attack ads, which will push his or her negatives up, which will tank the Liberals in polling, which will result in internal division, which will paralyze the renewal process. And on and on will spin the Tory Syndrome.

The key question is not who the new leader will be.

The key question is: Did the Liberals hit bottom enough with the lowest vote share in the history of the party? Will this finally spark them to realize the danger they are placing themselves in? Or will they rationalize away their circumstances on the wrong leader and go back to incessant internecine bloodletting while the real problems only get worse and worse?

Special to The Globe and Mail

First, Andrew Steele is a big time Liberal insider so this is meant to be read and studied by Liberals – because while not exactly a wholesale supporter of the Liberal Party of Canada, the Globe and Mail is the ‘journal of record’ for many, many Liberals.

Second, there is also much good advice for the Conservatives here, too. Specifically:

1. Admit you have a problem. If the Conservatives come to believe it's natural that they are the government, they will come to believe they can act without real consequences. Government is earned, not expected.

3 2. Make a decision to unite. This is harder than it sounds. The Conservatives need to become a larger, more broadly based party, and that means a lot of factions that need to be united around a few core principles. There are always a lot of hatchets to bury. It takes constant effort to do so.

5 3. Admit you made make mistakes. This doesn't mean walking around bemoaning the culture cuts. It means each Conservative leader admitting their own role in election failures and internal disunity, rather than pointing the finger at the next guy. There is more than enough blame to go around. Make sure you take your share. This must be a constant effort, for the sake of party unity and Canadians’ confidence.

6 4. Give up your shortcomings. Conservatives hold onto Shibboleths almost as badly as the NDP. There are emotional positions on immigration, deficit fighting and a host of issues. These need to be examined rationally for their place in the 21st century, rather than clung to like a life preserver in a storm.

7 5. Humbly begin to remake the party. If there is going to be a Conservative government in the next decade, it will be because those who care now are working now. Work doesn't mean sitting around "strategizing." It means running for office, fundraising, signing up new members, costing policy ideas, phoning long lists and knocking on doors.

8 6. Figure out where the party needs to grow. With the lopsidedness of the Conservative caucus, it is critical that the party look to its future and not its present. Determine key areas for growth: Toronto, Montreal and its suburbs, Vancouver and its suburbs and Atlantic Canada. Focus on these areas and what unites them.

9 7. Focus policy and tour ruthlessly on growth. In Parliament and press releases, Conservatives have a habit of playing the Ottawa game: jumping on the media story of the day, looking for scandal to punish he opposition down, ignoring the Canada outside the Queensway. Instead, policy and issues in the House should be set by the Conservative growth strategy. Focus only on those items that will produce more seats in the next election; leave scandal mongering to the media and the Liberals.

10 8. Constantly focus on correcting problems. This won't be easy. There will be bad days, bad polls and bad by-election losses. But public criticism isn't helping. Instead, focus on correcting problems internally, staying united and staying positive.

11 9. Reconnect Stay connected with the middle-class. The way to stay in government is through the living rooms of people making $35,000 a year. Too many Conservative MPs and senior party managers don't spend a lot of time in those circles. They should.

12 10. Never stop uniting and ensure new Liberals Conservatives focus on uniting. When members are thought of as nothing more than potential leadership convention delegates, internal disunity becomes the norm. It is imperative that the future Conservative Party channels Conservatives, young and old, new and old, into positive challenges that help them and the party: by-elections, election training, fundraising and outreach. And those members and MPs who cannot be team players should be increasingly disciplined or even removed.

 

Old Sweat

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The first step for the Liberals is to take a hard look at Steps One and Two. If they can draw the lessons from these, the rest should come along more or less automatically. The iron discipline of the Liberal Party also meant that plans, policies, organizations, etc tended to be driven from the top. Perhaps more than the other parties, the Grits tended to seek out star candidates and go for the flavour of the month in policy. This ultimately led to a gap between the leaders and the mass of volunteers and more so the voters who were frustrated by what was seen as a sense that the national treasury existed for the benefit of the few chosen ones.

The unwritten Step Thirteen is to accept that nothing is easy, and there will be frustrations, failures and perhaps even worse days than 14 October 2008 to come. If the party can get the aim right, and that aim is not to regain and retain power at any cost, then perhaps the way ahead will emerge. 
 

Edward Campbell

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This article, by Peter C Newman, reproduced under the Fair Dealing provisions (§29) of the Copyright Act from today’s Globe and Mail, is of more historical than political interest but Newman does get one or two thins right, for a change:

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/servlet/story/RTGAM.20081021.wcoliberals22/BNStory/politics/home
Here's what the Grits must do

PETER C. NEWMAN

From Wednesday's Globe and Mail
October 21, 2008 at 11:09 PM EDT

At one point during the election campaign, I had a few minutes with Stéphane Dion and told the Liberal Leader point blank he could win nearly every vote in the country if he'd only change his name. "Instead of Stéphane, call yourself Celine," I told him with an obvious smirk. "You'll win by a landslide."
I had hoped that he would stand up, arms akimbo, pretending to be on the bow of the Titanic, belting out My Heart Will Go On. Instead, all I got was a puzzled glance as he gingerly backed away to bestow his hollow presence in more welcoming surroundings, such as a rally urging Canadians to dump our carbons into Boston harbour.

My little joke had obviously gone over his head or under his elbow, and it was at that moment I realized he was politically a dead canard — an emotionally crippled academic dandy in aspic, to coin a phrase. Long before Mr. Dion's reluctant exit on Monday, speculation about who was fit or daring enough to lead Canada's once natural governing party out of its intergalactic void had run second only to news about Sarah Palin's latest caper: skiing down Mount Everest while singing On Top of Old Smokey. (She does live near mountains.) Wrong tactic; wrong order; wrong story.

Especially now, with no election in sight and time to plan, the Liberals ought to pull a Ben Tre manoeuvre — the Vietnamese village that, in 1968 "had be destroyed in order to save it." When the Liberals were in a similar jam in 1960, facing the formidable political hypnotism of John Diefenbaker, Lester Pearson organized a four-day meeting at Kingston, Ont., that brought activists and academics together in a rare free-form gathering. Three years later, that radical process — and enlightening contents of its presentations — breach-birthed a victorious Liberal Party, based on new paradigms, new energies and new recruits who would become the party's intellectual and animating agents provocateurs for the next three decades.

As one of the last working journalists who actually attended the Kingston conference, I can attest to the fact that, while policy ideas were important, the real significance of the conference was to recruit fresh players into the party who became its leading activists over the next several elections. Mr. Pearson's great gift was that he had so little ego he understood that allowing a new generation to take over was the essential cure — even if it meant being displaced, eight years later, by the Phantom of the Canadian Opera, Pierre Trudeau.

The Pearson-sponsored Study Conference on National Problems, which convened at Queen's University in September of 1960, was billed as a non-partisan assembly of liberal-minded Canadians. Less than half of the 196 attendees were party members, though 48 of them were later named to senior appointments in Liberal administrations. The most influential was Tom Kent, an ex-Economist columnist who became editor-in-chief of the Winnipeg Free Press and later Mr. Pearson's chief policy adviser. His paper Towards a Philosophy of Social Security became the winning blueprint for the Pearson platforms in the three elections that followed. The distinguished Quebec academic Maurice Lamontagne's lecture was summed up in his opening sentence: "The ultimate objective of economic activity is the maximum common welfare."

Watching the proceedings, sensing the electricity in the air and assessing the presence of such newcomers to the political wars as Jean Marchand, Maurice Sauvé and Mitchell Sharp, I soon became aware of what was really happening. A new political generation was being born — the same style of transformation that the Liberal Party desperately requires now — as Jean Chrétien might put it, "the better the sooner."

The old Liberal Party maintained a cerebral faith in the power of raw (or at least medium rare) intellect, an unshakable trust in the reasonable-ness of man (and woman) that allowed this group of optimistic dreamers to transform the country through their ideals of a humane, progressive society.

But that was then. There will come a thaw after this harsh season on the stock markets, and out of it will yet again emerge the realization that, whatever our problems, Canada retains the mandate of heaven. Among other innovations, a new Kingston-style conference ought to opt for the accountability and transparency currently missing from federal politics.

During the Chrétien decade, Canada pioneered an elected one-party state. Then along came Stephen Harper, who reduced Ottawa to a one-man band. In the last Parliament, even when cabinet ministers admit they had lied, nobody believed them. Perhaps the Liberals could return enough honesty to politics that, next time this happens, we would take the minister's word for it.

A former editor-in-chief of Maclean's and the Toronto Star, Peter Newman is the author of Izzy: The Passionate Life and Turbulent Times of Izzy Asper, Canada's Media Mogul, being published next month.

Here’s where Newman is right:

“The Liberals ought to pull a Ben Tre manoeuvre — the Vietnamese village that, in 1968 "had be destroyed in order to save it."” That which needs to be destroyed is, by the way, the very thing Newman most admires: ” their ideals of a humane, progressive society.” That’s been accomplished – holding fast to past achievements keeps the Liberals from seeing what Canadians want, now; and

”A new Kingston-style conference ought to opt for the accountability and transparency currently missing from federal politics.” This is what Stephen Harper promised but failed to deliver. I think, despite my regular protestations to the contrary, that Canadians do understand the inherent limits of government – especially on big league strategic and economic issues. What they want is honest, open government so that they can be assured that they have elected good people who are dealing with tough issues.

As a partisan Tory I’m hoping that the Liberals will miss the obvious – as they have so often since 1970 – and keep trying to repeat their one, good big idea. My guess is that the Liberal machine, not just the leadership, is unable to abandon the politics of 10 second sound bites about scandal and will, therefore, fail to use this opportunity to renew itself and admit, finally, that Pierre Trudeau is dead but that Pierre Trudeau will not come again because he is not divine.  :boring:

 

GAP

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fail to use this opportunity to renew itself and admit, finally, that Pierre Trudeau is dead but that Pierre Trudeau will not come again because he is not divine.

Not true, at all.....

You can sense the wistfullness in their (Liberal) voices and reserved awe that maybe, just maybe there is another Trudeau riding to the rescue.

From what I can see of him, he is nothing but a name engendered with his father, but does hold fast to some fanciful versions of fantasy and some of what his father spouted, except I doubt he did or would take the effort to convert them to practical application. Eventully, young Trudeau will rise to the top, but I doubt he will ever achieve what his father did. Wrong time, wrong generation. Best guess is he will end up looking a lot like Pink Loyd without the skill.
 

Edward Campbell

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GAP said:
Not true, at all.....

You can sense the wistfullness in their (Liberal) voices and reserved awe that maybe, just maybe there is another Trudeau riding to the rescue.
...


Quite right, but you see, GAP, that's precisely the problem identified by Andrew Steele, just above when he says:

[size=11pt]
2. Give up on the white knight. Liberals believe that if only they could find the next Trudeau, they would win without working. The fact is that Trudeau was a failure as a politician in his first term and almost lost the 1972 election. There are no white knights. Only work and discipline will earn you back government.

The last sentence, "Only work and discipline will earn you back government.", or back-to-back governments if you're Stephen Harper's Conservative Party, is critical and it is a potentially fatal error being made by all those wistful voices. Less wishing and hoping and more hard nosed policy and politics can save the Liberal Party from itself and its own death wish.
 

Old Sweat

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Edward,

Agreed that that is what they should do, but will they? For every Steele and Ledrew urging that the party rebuild itself, there seems to be a dozen or more looking for the quick fix. And to complicate matters there also are proposals to keep Dion in place and even one that appeared in a letter to the editor in today's Ottawa Citizen to combine the Liberals, NDP and Greens. None of this is necessarily a bad thing yet, and a consensus will emerge in time. The key is what will the consensus be?

Will the Grits have the discipline to rebuild during the long, lean years as they create a base of contributors and supporters? Or will they adopt the Animal House solution and blow everything on a giant Toga Party? I am betting on the latter.
 
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