I was a little busy to pay attention to today’s debate among the federal third party hopefuls, but I gather I didn’t miss anything earth-shattering.
I will admit, though, to being puzzled by a comment from one of the hopefuls:
Former MP Martha Hall Findlay insisted that the Liberal party is capable of beating the Conservatives without help from the NDP.
“For all of the Liberals here and for all the Liberals watching, where did our confidence go?” she asked. “We are the true alternative, and the NDP can’t say this.”
Where did Liberal confidence go? Well, let’s see:
1. You could say that the decline started with Paul Martin, the last Liberal prime minister. He thought he’d be able to hold a majority in 2004, but that turned into a minority, which in turn led to the Liberals losing power in 2006.
2. A period of stagnant waiting ended in the summer of 2006 with the election of Stéphane Dion, whose leadership of the Opposition in Parliament consisted mainly of abstaining from votes, based on advice that the party wasn’t ready to fight an election. He got surprised in 2008, performed at a subpar level during the campaign, and the Liberals lost more seats. The “coalition” arrangement with the NDP followed, but fell apart once Harper prorogued Parliament, and the public reaction against the Liberals was not survivable for Dion.
3. Michael Ignatieff was elevated to the leadership without benefit of a leadership campaign. He consequently demonstrated a lack of political acumen, which led to one of the most embarrassing campaigns the federal Liberals ever ran in 2011.
To sum up, then: Liberal confidence was frittered away by a succession of party leaders, supported by the senior membership and executive, whose overall skills and mindsets were not suited for galvanizing the electorate, not to mention taking on the political tactics of Stephen Harper and his brain trust. And, until they can adjust their mindset to this now-going-on-seven-year-old reality, that confidence is going to stay in short supply.
Most of the candidates know this, even Ms. Findlay. The real trouble is they haven’t quite figured out what they have to offer as a genuine alternative to either the Tories or the NDP, other than the middle-ground bromide that failed to work for them in 2004, 2006, 2008 and 2011.