Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Liberals Taking the Long Road Back

Liberals to postpone leadership vote for two years

The 2011 federal election was nothing if not a humbling experience for the Liberal party. Reduced to a rump of a mere 34 seats, the Liberal Party lost key strongholds in Toronto and Quebec, lost ground in BC, and found narrow salvation in the Maritimes.

It represents the kind of deep-rooted rebuilding a lot of Liberals called for after the 2008 campaign -- they dubbed it Liberal 308, but it was sadly abandoned quickly in the face of what many expected to be a quickly-looming election.

Instead, the 40th Parliament of Canada lasted for nearly three years. Now that Prime Minister Stephen Harper is settling into 24 Sussex Drive with a majority government, the Liberals will finally have the opportunity to make their leadership campaign part of a comprehensive rebuilding process.

For the Liberals, the first step seems to be picking an interim leader. The party has declared there will be two conditions for seeking the interim leadership: first off, that individual must be bilingual. Secondly, they must promise not to run for the full-time leadership.

At this point, that would exclude Bob Rae, Justin Trudeau, Dominic LeBlanc, and Ralph Goodale from contention. As Denis Coderre and Marc Garneau could also throw their hat in the leadership ring, one could consider them out, too.

The most interesting element of the Liberal plan is that it will actually turn out to be Liberal senators who will decide the interim leader. The interim leader must have the support of the majority of the Liberal caucus as a whole -- House of Commons and Senate combined -- although the Commons caucus will essentially have a "double vote" on the matter. (The interim leader must also have majority support from the House of Commons caucus.)

There do seem to be two essential snags in the issue: first, the Liberal leadership must agree to amend the party constitution via a June 18 "virtual convention".

Second, the plan has nothing to say about the future of Liberal Party President Alfred Apps, who many Liberals think should resign after the historic 2011 defeat.

If the Liberal Party is serious about making a two-year commitment to party renewal it would be unfortunate if Apps were to become a roadblock to the needed changes. If the party's national board won't ask Apps to resign, he should do so on his own.

Now Canada will wait with far-from-baited breath to learn who will be the Liberal Party's next interim leader. Will it be Scott Brison? John McCallum? Geoff Regan? Joyce Murray? Mauril Belanger?

Perhaps the better question is: Will it even actually matter?

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