Monday, October 2, 2006

Liberal rank and file have their say -- what will the "bosses" do?

After three days of Liberal voting at meetings this past weekend in a process not unlike a caucus or closed primary in the States, some indicators of what may be to come have emerged. Some mail in ballots are still to be counted in Québec, but with 409 of 469 "meetings" reporting, Michael Ignatieff is the early front runner with 29.8% or 1252 delegates. Nowhere near the 35% many said was needed for an early victory but it's nonetheless a strong endorsement for an outsider who's been back in Canada less than a year; and a sign the party may be willing to turn to someone who doesn't have visible poltical or insider experience. (One only has to remember a similiar risk the Progressive Conservatives took in the 1980s when they went to another "wet behind the ears" guy, Brian Mulroney. He won the biggest landslide ever the following year. Maybe Iggy supporters are thinking the same thing.)

As I said yesterday, I ranked Ignatieff my second choice in delegate selection, in part because I'd like to see a quick end to the convention and not an all-night marathon. It would have been a lot easier to just rank the leadership candidates themselves 1, 2 ,3 etc and sort out a winner through preferential ballot. The man has potential, and as long as he can actually get his committed delegates to show up for the first ballot he'll be in a strong position. But it's not quite over yet.

In second place is Bob Rae (19.8% or 832 delegates). Trailing him are Gerard Kennedy and Stéphane Dion, each with 16.8% (and with 706 and 698 delegates, respectively). The other candidates each have less than 5% support.

As Ignatieff pointed out last night, there are still two months to go and he's quite right. What's yet to be seen is how the ex officio block of votes will go. These are the 800 or so "superdelegates" who are in automatically because they are party executives at the national or local level, or are sitting MPs or Senators. Many have committed themselves to Ignatieff, but it's not clear how many are actually going to stick by their word. Further, Iggy has now become the target of what is the perennial "anyone but ..." syndrome that plagues a lot of parties and leads to a lot of divisions.

That should not be the focus. If he wins, fine. If it's someone else, that's fine too. The party has to rally around its new leader and he or she in return must bring in the non-winners into the shadow Cabinet as quickly as possible so they can pounce on Stephen Harper the day after the convention wraps up. They must not make the same mistake as last time, when Sheila Copps was shut out of the Cabinet in a vindictive move by Paul Martin. The candidates must also get together and form common cause; and come out with a platform that's good to go as soon as possible and is not dribbled out until the last possible minute as You Know Who did last year. (And we still don't know the rest of his hidden agenda.)

There are precedents for this: The "Common Sense Revolution" of Mike Harris, as punitive as it was, was let out a year before he was elected in Ontario and it got people talking at the grassroots; so people knew where he stood when the Exempt Media called it a Lyn McLeod victory over Rae even before the election started. When all McLeod could do was come up with a carbon copy of the Red Book and propose a five percent tax cut against Harris' thirty, she was toast -- Harris had set the agenda already.

I'm certainly not suggesting something so radical, although in previous posts I have said our entire tax regime needs to be overhauled. But when Jean Chrétien came out with the original Red Book, it got people talking; and it put Kim Campbell on the defensive. The Liberals must do the same and now, before Harper and Jack Layton get more traction. They need to do it before the election is even called.

The membership has spoken. It's up to the delegates to do their job and for the eventual winner to finish the marathon and win the race.

Vote for this article at Progressive Bloggers.

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