Party over for Liberals?
Tomorrow, on CBC Radio's Day Six, the question will be posed: Is the Liberal party dying? It's part of a series they call "deep-sixed," in which they feature debate on the potential extinction of once-familiar things -- the dining room, rock and roll, RIM, etc.
Two columns this week have also broached this territory. My colleague, Chantal Hébert, noted that the Liberals' days may be numbered, with the NDP on the rise all over the country. Over at Postmedia, Stephen Maher also made the same observation, though he tempered it with a wee, tiny, thin reed of hope for Liberal partisans.
I'd be willing to wager that in spite of all these challenges, the NDP will continue to make gains at the Liberals' expense, but hope often triumphs over experience in politics, so don't expect the Liberals to give up just yet.
Ever since the May 2 rout, many Liberals themselves have been talking about whether the party's over. The first time I heard it was a few days after the election, when a former candidate, someone who has occupied high posts in the party, said bluntly to me that he thought the odds were 50-50 for Liberals to survive. Several months later, it's still not clear to me whether the party is getting its act together or simply, in the parlance of palliative doctors, "getting its affairs in order." Here, to me, are some of the signs the condition could be terminal.
* These aren't good times to be in the middle, the natural home for the Liberals. Former campaign chief David Herle wrote an intriguing column a few weeks ago in the Star, in which he linked the shrinking political middle in Canada to the shrinking middle class. Bleakly, he forecast:
If our politics cannot find the prescription for saving the middle class, increasing disparity in Canada is going to make politics and life more divisive and more confrontational.
* The old grudges and family feuds are still alive. For evidence of that, just cast back at the reaction from some Grits to Sheila Copps' candidacy for party president. Granted, Copps has been a polarizing figure in the past, but to hear some Liberals, she is a bigger problem for the party than the Conservatives or the New Democrats. That's no exaggeration -- in the wake of May 2, we've seen lots of Liberals reconciling themselves to the Tory majority and making nice with Conservatives, in a way they simply cannot manage with their old foes, within their own party.
What this tells me is that there may be nothing left of the party except those old stories and schisms -- which, for the uninitiated, have a bit of a "you had to be there" quality to them. Back last year, I showed up at a Liberal event in Hamilton, and I inquired about the whereabouts of former MP and minister Tony Valeri. One of the long-time Liberals in the crowd said that Valeri had to stay away from party events, as well as Copps, because the bad blood from their 2004 riding feud was still coursing through people's veins there. "If either Copps or Valeri was here, we'd lose half the crowd, either way," he said.
* There's no leadership race under way. On top of their internal feuds, which are often (but not always) leadership-related, Liberals only really come alive when they are planning for succession. Justin Trudeau made his non-enthusiasm official this week, when he confirmed in Waterloo that he wasn't running to be the next leader, and I haven't heard any sizzle about any other future candidates either. It may well be too soon, or it may be that no one sees much of a future in the job.
* The party isn't exactly awash in cash, and former leadership candidates, even former leaders, are still sloshing around in debts from past campaigns.
* The talk of a merger is still out there, and it's coming from none other than Jean Chrétien, the winning-est Liberal leader in recent memory. Now, it is also true that Chrétien only seems to like the Liberal party when he's running it (ask other former PMs about that) but it is telling that a politician who dominated Liberalism for the past few decades doesn't hold out much hope for the party to continue in its current state. Other former senior Liberals have pretty much disappeared too, vanished to academia or the private sector, and if they are active in trying to keep their old party alive, they're doing it very quietly.
All of these gloomy conditions don't tell the whole story of the Liberals as they now exist, of course... I'm sure there are folks out there who can balance this off with signs of optimism, beyond (as Maher mentioned) that thin hope the New Democrats will screw up. I'd be curious to hear what is driving any Liberal revival hopes right now; send them along if you've got them -- either in the comments section here, or email: email@example.com
*** Update: I'd draw your attention to this early response to the blog post, from Steve over at Far and Wide: