By now it's a truism the Grits spent the 20 months since the last election waiting for Canadians to quickly sour on Harper in his new PM role and for 24 Sussex to revert effortlessly to the Natural Governing Party. At this writing, Harper is about two dozen Quebec ridings short of a majority.
An historian would note that David Lewis' reward for propping up the minority Trudeau government of 1972-74 was for his NDP to be decimated as the Grits came roaring back with a majority in the next election. Which was Bob Rae's fate in 1987, after installing David Peterson in power at Queen's Park two years earlier.
If it's too early to write the Grits' post-mortem, not so what some the elements of it will be:
- The Grits underestimated how impressive Harper would appear as PM, even if he was governing with a minority.
- They didn't rebuild their warchest, and remain deeply in debt, cobbling their campaign efforts.
- Dion didn't reach out to his leadership rivals, binding the wounds from that protracted contest.
- Dion made the Green Shift proposal his campaign centrepiece; that it's muddled and no one can explain the gist of it in under 200 words is a failure not of Dion, but a non-existent policy shop.
- The Grits didn't swiftly begin recruiting star candidates, despite the fragile minority status of a government that would be returning to the polls, if tradition serves, with two years. As recently as last week the Liberals were still nominating candidates - for the most part, folks unknown to Dion - in la belle province.
- The Grits didn't plan for the usual war room, policy shop, logistics squad, and marketing and image department until the election was on top of them. There was no one to foresee that Harper would not spring from the starting blocks, but amble as a likeable, housebroken Hockey Dad.
- Even logistics were ignored. Well into Week 2 of the campaign, media references persist to the Grits' difficulty in lining up a campaign plane. And the rustiness of the Liberal's rapid-response (?) war room is the failure of the Liberals to respond to attacks that their aging aircraft is a more significant polluter than that of the Tories by pointing out that Dion & Co. are buying "carbon offsets" for their travels, which the Tories are not, making the Conservatives the big polluters on the aircraft front.
Iggy Stardust is campaigning for Team Dion in the same desultory fashion Hillary Clinton is applying her efforts on behalf of the Obama cause, and for the same reason - they're both waiting for their parties' standard-bearers to falter badly and then supplant them. It might be different If a background supremo like Keith Davey or David Smith was weilding the whip, but as the Star reported today, Senator Smith is among very few of the veteran faithful lending a hand to this campaign.
You could argue the cause was lost when the Grits selected a leader whose Clarity Act makes him reviled among Quebec nationalists, whom the Tories are successfully wooing; and whose English is so poor he simply can't communicate outside Quebec.
But no standard-bearer is ideal; the Grits have known about this challenge since Dion won his narrow leadership victory; and loyalty to the party demands putting misgivings about the leader aside for the duration. The only departure from those iron rules arises when a party really doesn't want to take power under its current leader, which is the message the media is taking - and subtly conveying - from the Grits' behaviour thus far.