Thursday, October 02, 2008

The Toronto Star Plays the Blame Game

Liberals have no one to blame but themselves, says Star

Ever since their defeat in the 2005/06 federal election, the Liberals have spent a good deal of their time blaming the NDP for their defeat at the hands of now-Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

"The Stephen Harper government is the House that Jack built," Bob Rae recently remarked, following the recent Liberal tradition of blaming Jack Layton for the Liberals' defeat.

It was Layton, they reason, that helped the Conservatives defeat Paul Martin's Liberal government.

But as the Star asserts, it really is the Liberals themselves who are to blame for their current predicament. Adscam and the ill-fated and ill-conceived Green Shift policy may be the least of their blunders:

"Paul Martin must assume a good deal of responsibility.

When he was finance minister in the 1990s, he ruined a good part of the Liberal's left-wing legacy by slashing federal social programs, right down to reversing promises made by Jean Chrétien in his 1993 campaign Red Book.

Martin, the leader of the socially conservative wing of the party, pushed the party away from its liberal social agenda roots by cutting spending on initiatives such as affordable housing and health care. These moves made many progressive Liberals wonder why they continued to back the party.
Indeed, Martin's budget cuts have made for good ammunition for both the NDP and the Conservative party.

But few people realize the extent to which those cuts strained the unity of the Liberal party membership. In the time in which the cuts were made the party was split between three major priorities: Social Service Minister Lloyd Axworthy's social services review and the reform package he wanted to implement, Martin's deficit-fighting agenda, and Jean Chretien's focus on the upcoming 1995 Quebec sovereignty referendum.

With little perceived importance of the budget issues to the referendum, and seeking to alleviate pressure being exerted by Preston Manning and the Reform Party, Chretien wound up effectively taking Martin's side in the dispute.

Martin, for his own part, had once believed he could effectively juggle his deficit-fighting agenda with Axworthy's social program reforms until writers such as Andrew Coyne lambasted him in the press.

In the end, Martin's desperation to be a popular leader became his -- and perhaps even his party's -- undoing.

"The Chrétien-Martin wars took their toll. For years, Martin and his cronies actively worked to discredit Chrétien, even though Chrétien won three majority governments for the party. The feud still bitterly splits the party, including its rank and file."
That Chretien-Martin war has also cost the Liberal party the services of some of its best election personnel.

The obvious missing piece of the once-dominant Big Red Machine of the 1990s? Warren Kinsella, who has made his dismay with the current state of the Liberal party known on many different occasions.

He's also holding a grudge for the party's attempts -- under Martin -- to lay the bulk of the blame for the Sponsorship Scandal on Jean Chretien.

To be fair, however, Chretien and Martin shouldn't be made to wear the entire blame for the feud that has diminished the Liberal party and its effectiveness. The Martin/Chretien feud finds its roots in various previous internal conflicts within the party: conflicts between Trudeau and Pearson supporters (although Pearson was welcoming to Trudeau, many of his supporters felt he never should have been allowed into the party, even at the cost of losing the opportunity to recruit Jean Marchand), liberal and conservative wings of the party, Walter Gordon-styled nationalists and Mitchell Sharp-styled neo-liberals.

The very real tensions within the party -- and the failures to resolve them -- derive from many different interrelated conflicts. Many of these conflicts will only continue to intensify as the party attracts dissident conservatives such as David Orchard and as individuals such as Bob Rae continue to rise in prominence within the party.

"The party failed to undergo a desperately needed renewal after being defeated in 2006 by Stephen Harper and the Conservatives.

Martin quit as party leader right after the election, launching a 10-month search for a successor.

Before the race officially started though, the party selected Tom Axworthy, a long-time Liberal policy adviser, to co-chair a Liberal Party Renewal Commission, with two dozen task forces to bring fresh perspectives to "policies and structure," from youth involvement to Canada's role in the world.

But once the leadership race began in earnest, Axworthy's commission was virtually shunted aside and ignored. It published several reports, but few Liberals read them and none of them have had any real impact on the party.
Not only did Axworthy's commission become an afterthought, but it was ill-conceived in the first place.

Tom Axworthy has long been considered the godfather of the left wing of the Liberal party. Any renewal commission acting under Axworthy's direction would inevitably find itself pushed toward left-wing policies (such as, per se, the Green Shift) that would alienate conservative Liberals.

Not only was the necessary renewal of the party never really taken seriously, but it was doomed from the get-go.

"The 5,000 delegates at the Liberal leadership convention in December 2006 made a fatal mistake when they elected Dion as party leader over Michael Ignatieff and Bob Rae, both of whom have proven more effective campaigners on the election trail. Their strong performances in this election have only further highlighted Dion's weaknesses.

In addition to his obvious shortcomings as a campaigner, Dion has also failed in his 22 months as leader to rebuild grassroots membership, undertake a major policy review open to all Liberals, get the depleted finances back in shape and prepare for the election.
Dion clearly failed to grasp the importance of the grassroots to the Liberal party. Instead, he spent a good deal of the time spent reorganizing the party at a fundamental level meeting and greeting Al Gore and striking electoral deals with marginal political figures (read: Elizabeth May).

Dion believed he was going to be key to Liberal political fortunes from the moment he entered the leadership campaign. As it turns out he has been, but not in the way he imagined.

"The ongoing feud between Ignatieff and Rae, while often overly hyped by political pundits, still divides the party internally."
Which is perhaps nothing less than what Canadians should have expected. This is also something that is going to get much worse before it gets better. After all, with Dion set to be put out to pasture following a potentially humiliating electoral defeat, the leadership question is only going to intensify over the coming months.

It's said that its darkest before the dawn.

With the Liberals continuing to sink in the polls, it's becoming obvious that the dawn still has yet to break.

Things will get darker still for the Liberals.


  1. The Liberals think they own the country of Canada and deserve to be entitled to everything.

    Chretien and Martin should be locked up right now for stealing 100 million from you and your fellow taxpayers.

    What else needs to be said.

  2. There are questions about the extent to which either man is personally responsible. I know it isn't popular to say this, but it is true.

    Certainly, Chretien does bear some responsibility -- the sponsorship program was run out of the PMO while he was Prime Minister. He is responsible for what happened in the Prime Minister's Office.


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