On election night my friend, a long-time Liberal, called me and said, “well, that’s what happens to a Party that tries to be everything to everyone and stands for nothing at all.” The great Liberal Party of Canada, the Party of Laurier, King, St. Laurent, Pearson and Trudeau had been demolished by Liberal hacks and an old boys’ network whose infighting and insatiable lust for power trumped any chance at earning the continued support of Canadians. Where did it all go wrong? The destructive Paul Martin-Jean Chrétien feud is as good a place as any to begin. A fundamental reason for the long time success of the Liberals had always been the constant regeneration and renewal of the Party from within. The virulent animosity of the Martin-Chrétien feud cost the Party a generation of politically active young centrists who saw no room for themselves in a party fraught with insider fighting and unseemly public power struggles. Young people of the centre-left drifted toward the NDP and those on the centre-right toward the Conservatives.
The 2006 unexpected Dion leadership triumph should have been an early indication of the division between grassroots Liberals and the old boys’ club running the show. While Dion would prove to be hopelessly inept and out of his depth, it did not change the fact that Liberals across the country were clamouring for something better. In the ensuing coup d’état staged by the hacks, Michael Ignatieff and his supporters, Party insiders, in a bout of collective stupidity, ignored the grassroots and colluded to appoint by acclamation Ignatieff as the leader. The spin at the time was that the party under Dion was on the verge of bankruptcy and required stability. It proved to be the worst decision in the history of the Liberal Party. Ignatieff, in accepting the post by acclamation, lost any legitimacy with both party members and the Canadian public. Many recalled that Ignatieff did not run for his own nomination back in 2004. He was acclaimed there too. Ignatieff’s only true test of his capacity to run and win a real race was for the leadership in 2006, which he lost. Then, to buy off the unbridled ambition and ego of failed NDP Premier turned “Liberal” Bob Rae, Ignatieff handed him the high profile Foreign Affairs Critic portfolio. He gave ex-B.C. NDP Premier turned “Liberal”, Ujjal Dosanjh, the key Defence Critic portfolio. As a troika they used their roles to regularly attack the Afghanistan mission and the Canadian Forces. Even former Liberal Foreign Affairs Minister Bill Graham was genuinely disgusted with their behaviour and ludicrous claims. After all this, Ignatieff, Rae and Dosanjh demonstrated their cynicism and disdain for Canadians in one of the most brazen political flip-flops of all time by concocting a secret deal with the government to keep the Canadian Forces in Afghanistan until 2014. No debate, no vote in the House of Commons. It was not their sons and daughters laying their lives on the line. Jack Layton deserves credit for strenuously objecting and demanding a vote. The point? The Afghanistan policy, like many other issues faced by Ignatieff, Rae, Dosanjh and other Liberals in the House was not about principle. It just reeked of politics.
On election night, before his own seat was even announced as a win, Bob Rae was on television musing about the Liberal Party and a potential merger with the NDP and his own leadership aspirations. Then, former Prime Minister Jean Chrétien, almost a decade retired from politics, was shilling for Rae to become the interim leader of the defeated party. Chrétien’s good friend and key advisor since the 70s is John Rae, Bob Rae’s brother. Sadly, it diminishes Mr. Chrétien, truly one of the most successful Liberal Prime Ministers in history. As for Bob Rae, I share the feeling of grassroots Liberals across Canada who think that his idea of the Liberal Party merging with the NDP is a non starter. If Mr. Rae was truly interested in helping rebuild the Liberal Party, his resignation would be a good start. But those who have declared the Liberal Party dead and buried are wrong. The Party will rise out of the ashes. It has done it before and it will do it again.
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