I suppose it’s only to be expected that the exemplar of the old, Chrétien-era Liberal elite, Warren Kinsella, would try to winnow out the “small fish” of the upcoming third party leadership race. The way he tries to do it is especially suspect:
In the case of Coyne, Bertschi and Hall-Findlay: Is it too much to ask that you win your own riding, before you start asking us to believe you can win the country?
If you can’t, say, win your own neighbours over, how do you expect to win over the whole country?
And, in the case of the others, would it not be advisable to run, and win, a seat in Parliament before you offer yourself as leader of one of the (formerly) most successful political parties in Western democracy? Would it kill you to do that?
Well, let’s see. Political party leaders in the past forty years:
- John Turner. Became Liberal Party leader (and prime minister) in June 1984. Wasn’t elected to Parliament until September 1984. Of course, Mr. Turner was no longer Prime Minister since the Liberals fell from power with that particular election, so naturally Kinsella’s a little reluctant to look at that one. How about:
- Brian Mulroney. Became the national PC party leader in June 1983. Elected to Parliament in a by-election in August 1983. Much more successful than Mr. Turner as prime minister. But of course he’s a Conservative. So how about:
- Jean Chrétien. Became Liberal Party leader, June 1990. Elected to Parliament in a by-election in December 1990. Now how can Mr. Kinsella argue about that one?
The point? Already having a seat in Parliament is no barrier to having a successful party leader.
But here’s the thing: we already know whom Mr. Kinsella wants for party leader. He wants either Justin Trudeau or Marc Garneau, and is leaning towards Mr. Trudeau because of his (a) youth and (b) charisma. These two factors will let the Third Party present an image of a party that has changed for the better.
And that’s the real problem with the Liberal Party of Canada. It’s been the real problem ever since Mr. Chrétien left office. And describing the problem is simple: all it’s interested in is image. Appearances. Reality, on the other hand, is too messy for this group of elites to soil their hands on.
Mr. Trudeau and Mr. Garneau, for all their experience and virtues, are valid choices for the Third Party because they are safe choices. Dependable. Predictable. In other words, they are the candidates who are least likely to introduce the bottom-up cultural change that the Third Party desperately needs.
As for the others? Going for the leadership is a sign of chutzpah, yes. But it’s also a sign of something else: hope.
Hope that, for once, the party elite will really start paying attention to the grassroots. Hope that they can see policies that have risks as well as attractions. Hope that the Third Party can defeat the Conservatives in 2015? Well, that’s a bit much to ask, but “hope to be viable in 2019″ is certainly doable.
Right now, the Third Party needs to build political “stars”; the ones they have, right now, the ones that Mr. Kinsella are most comfortable with, are on the verge of retirement right now. They can’t do it with parliamentary performance because the Third Party, due to its standing, has very limited time to highlight is younger performers compared with the Tories and NDP.
Which means the party leadership is the only opportunity for them to test their mettle. Martha Hall Findlay was able to use the 2006 leadership campaign to vault herself into star-making prominence. Who is Mr. Kinsella to deny the newer, lesser-known candidates the same opportunity?