Saturday, September 16, 2006

For me, it's Gerard Kennedy

I have thought long and hard all summer about who I am going to vote for Leader of the Liberal Party of Canada, when the delegate "super weekend" comes up in a fortnight. This hasn't been an easy choice, and yesterday's surprise move by Carolyn Bennett to withdraw from the race and support Bob Rae actually forced me to delay my endorsement for one day and give all the remaining candidates another look.

The ultimate question for me is, "Who has the best chance of winning the next general election -- presuming Stephen Harper doesn't pull the rug out and call a snap election before December?" Not who can win two or three elections down the road, but now, before very serious damage is done to the Canadian federation? As well, who will best fight for one Canada while working with the reality that we are in fact a "community of communities" as another former Prime Minister once said?

For obvious reasons, I eliminated Joe Volpe and Hedy Fry. (Both too explosive). I don't know enough about Martha Hall Findlay to be convinced she'd be a good leader, but she's definitely good enough for the Cabinet. Scott Brison is a fine candidate, but there are Canadians -- including many Liberals -- who will never accept a gay Prime Minister. Personally, it doesn't matter to me. Notwithstanding my personal opposition to gay marriage; I really don't care what someone's sexual orientation is; after all, there's nothing wrong with it, just as long as they can do the job. But the Liberals need, as I said, a "winner," and Brison could cause a major schism in the party solely for that one reason.

So, I narrowed it down to: Stéphane Dion, Ken Dryden, Michael Ignatieff, Gerard Kennedy and Bob Rae -- all pretty much the acknowledged "front runners" from the start. All would make a fine leader. Here's how I came to my choice.
  • Bob Rae is bilingual and is a very passionate person. However, he's been in the Liberal Party for a relatively short time (having broken away from the NDP around 2002) and I'm not sure about how committed he is to the party. It reminds me a lot of Pierre Trudeau, who was an NDP member before switching to the Liberals when he realized the socialist party might never get elected to power. His big problem is that people still remember how he had an incredible amount of difficulty while he was the NDP Premier of Ontario. A lot of it wasn't his fault because of a terrible recession, but he antagonized his union allies to no end. He also has the ability to annoy a lot of people and say things that are hard to forget. One example was when he visited McMaster University, while I was a student there. When he was slammed for raising tuition fees and making life even harder for students, he fired back, "You drive down Barton Street and then tell me who's hard done by." Barton Street in Hamilton, once a thriving shopping area, has been for nearly two decades a virtual ghost town and just a way to drive through town East-West. Throwing it in people's faces is appropriate at times, but one has to know when to do it. Rae is Cabinet material, just not good enough for 24 Sussex Drive.
  • Ken Dryden is appealing if for no other reason than he is a native son of Hamilton. If that was the only reason to vote for delegate selection, I would have voted for Sheila Copps the last go around. He's very good on social policy, which distinguishes the Liberal Party from the others and why I rejoined the party after a couple of years. In the vein of Paul Martin, he understands government should not give hand outs but a hand up -- an example is the now cancelled child care program. The only problem is that he's best remembered as a hockey player and executive. I wonder how many people in Canada would actually take an ex-goalie seriously. He would be a fine Prime Minister and would be my second round choice if I could afford to be a delegate. (I can't.) He just can't win, however.
  • Michael Ignatieff was gone from Canada for so long that it was a shock when he quit Harvard to come back to Canada. (Maybe it was a good thing when he did walk, given Harvard also gave the world Larry Summers, who was forced to resign the Presidency of the University when he said men were more "naturally adept" at math and science than women are.) He's also a hawk, which allows him to go head-to-head against Harper like none of the other candidates. That may annoy a lot of Canadians who still mistakenly believe Canada is a "neutral" country. (It never has been.) In the free trade area, our relationship with the United States has evolved into something akin to "sovereignty association," not quite the integrated European Union but our economies are tied together; so we need a Prime Minister who's both friendly to the States but also keeps it at bay. Ignatieff can do that. However, he's been evasive about what he will do if he doesn't win. Jean Charest made the same mistake when he ran against Kim Campbell in 1993 for the Progressive Conservatives and that's what cost him. Ignatieff hasn't been specific enough about his long term commitment to the Liberals, so I can't vote for him.
  • Stéphane Dion is a passionate Canadian, bilingual and can go toe-to-toe with Harper, even more so than Ignatieff. I don't have too many complaints about him. I would make him my third choice, however, behind Dryden. Not that he's a bad person, but he's too closely associated with Chrétien and Martin, and to have any hope of winning the Liberals need to win back some seats in Québec -- which means the party needs a fresh face.
So by a bit of process of elimination, and also by a leap of faith, I endorse Gerard Kennedy for the first round voting.

He is a long time social activist, having once run Toronto's Daily Bread Food Bank. He's also a competent politician, certainly one of the best members of Dalton McGuinty's somewhat hapless administration. (And no, there's no inconsistency in being critical of the provincial Liberals as Ontario's Liberals are completely separate from the federal party.) He's bilingual, and having spent time in Québec he has a handle on the rather finicky electorate there (as well as its even wackier politics) that the other candidates are lacking. More than the other candidates, he's also in it for the short and long term and can easily adapt the party to either a one or two election strategy -- depending on whether Harper can stop stumbling. I honestly don't think the other candidates have that kind of patience.

As I said, the candidates all could be a good leader. But the Liberals need to win. For me, the winning candidate is Gerard Kennedy.

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