In desperate times, Liberals' thoughts turn to ... Martin?
If you happen to find yourself sitting with a bunch of Liberals these days, and looking for a new way to talk about the mess things are in, try this hypothetical, conversation-provoking question:
In hindsight, was it really such a good idea for Paul Martin to have resigned on election night in 2006?
It was a long-time, well-respected Liberal, not one of Martin's close circle, who first floated that to me this week. As he sees it, the Liberals might well be back in power right now, or on the way back, if Martin hadn't up and walked away when he lost government.
Here's the thinking: when Martin took over in 2003, he talked about staying for 10 years. The party was tired of internal leadership wars, no would-be successors were in the wings, and the Martinites had a stranglehold on the entire organization.
Then, abruptly, Martin was gone and so was the whole infrastructure of the party. The Liberals were not ready, in terms of money, organization or spirit, to conduct a leadership race.
But they had a contest, which further drained the party coffers, created new divisions, and all among a field of too-green candidates - most of whom could have done with a couple more years' seasoning before running to succeed Martin. Bob Rae could have got himself installed in the Commons (that's only going to happen next week), ditto for Gerard Kennedy (still no seat), while Ignatieff could have gained some more experience as an MP and Dion could have improved his English, and so on.
Had Martin stayed and presided over some of this succession planning, he may have been able to revive Liberal fortunes while making a phased, less-abrupt departure. And now, as the economy looms as a major issue, Martin could have dusted off his old credentials as the deficit-slaying finance minister and helped present the Liberals to voters as the best-positioned party to handle an economic downturn.
Of course, this is all 20-20 hindsight and there are numerous flaws in the logic, but it does get one thinking. At the very least, it may show how desperate Liberals are feeling right now.