By John Geddes - Friday, April 12, 2013 - 0 Comments
The new leader of the Liberals revealed more during the race than anyone expected
It’s hard not to think of what the Liberal leadership race might have been. If Bob Rae had sought the job, Justin Trudeau’s skills as a debater and orator would have been tested against those of a past master. If Mark Carney had heeded the blandishments of Liberals who asked him to leave central banking and run, Trudeau’s status as the campaign’s unrivaled media star would have been seriously challenged.
But even without such top-tier rivals to press him, Trudeau revealed more during the race than might have been expected from a front-runner’s campaign. It’s not that he risked mapping out anything like a full platform. In an early strategy session, a member of his core team, veteran Liberal policy adviser Mike McNair, set the tone by digging up this bit of advice from the memoirs of Brian Mulroney: “You cannot defend an entire detailed program if you want to be a serious contender for a party’s leadership. If you try, you won’t win.”
And Trudeau certainly followed the former prime minister’s advice that a leadership aspirant should offer only a “general approach,” particularly on unavoidable topics like the economy and national unity. But if he wouldn’t be pinned down on exactly what he wants to do, Trudeau left little doubt about who he is trying to reach. His target groups include middle-class voters drawn in recent elections to Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s economic message; new Canadians susceptible to Immigration Minister Jason Kenney’s ethnic outreach efforts; younger voters who might lean NDP or Green, or not cast ballots at all; and Quebecers who abandoned the Liberals in droves over the past four elections.
By John Geddes - Saturday, April 6, 2013 at 6:06 PM - 0 Comments
Today’s Liberal showcase event in Toronto is over, so the next big date for Justin Trudeau to mark on your calendar would be Sunday, April 14, when the winner of the Liberal leadership race is to be announced in Ottawa.
Unless you are among those—and you wouldn’t be entirely alone—who think that outcome is a foregone conclusion, in which case maybe the next big day for Trudeau is Monday, April 15, when he is expected to debut in the House of Commons as Liberal leader.
Which promises to be interesting. Trudeau proved himself a more than competent campaigner in this leadership race. But of course the crowds have been friendly, even adoring, and the atmosphere lends itself to Trudeau’s conversational, unthreatening style.
By John Geddes - Saturday, April 6, 2013 at 10:04 AM - 0 Comments
The scoffing term for what’s about to happen to Justin Trudeau, in case you haven’t picked up on it, is “coronation.” The implication being that the dauphin strolled unimpeded through the Liberal leadership race, which wraps up with presentations today in Toronto from Trudeau and his five remaining—well, I guess they are still to be called—rivals. (The online and telephone balloting by some 127,000 Liberal party members and supporters who signed up to vote runs April 7 to April 14, when the winner will be announced in Ottawa.)
Yet if a crown is to be placed, so to speak, on the most ogled head of hair in Canadian politics—the wavy antithesis of Stephen Harper’s helmet—it’s not like those locks haven’t been mussed a bit along the way. Trudeau’s frontrunner status may never have been threatened, but all his key purported weaknesses—thin experience, a cosseted upbringing, a brittle stance on Quebec, aversion to left-of-centre cooperation—were pointedly highlighted along the way.
At those moments, Conservatives and New Democrats were watching most closely, and so they are worth recapping for signs of whether these tests did more to expose Trudeau’s vulnerabilities or fortify his defences.
By Martin Patriquin and Philippe Gohier - Wednesday, March 13, 2013 at 1:09 PM - 0 Comments
Unlikely as it seems, support is pouring in from La Belle Province
Until a fateful fall night last year, François Remillard hadn’t found a way to scratch his political itch. A history teacher awoke the interest in high school but, as the 27-year-old Quebecer points out, that was 10 years ago; since then, his passion has been for work (he is studying to be a surveyor) and studiously avoiding talking politics with his family, most of whom support the Parti Québécois.
And then on the evening of Oct. 2, Justin Trudeau declared his intention to run for the leadership of the Liberal Party of Canada. His speech, replete with frothy declarations of his love for Canada and reminders of how much he has to learn, was classic Trudeau; he has the ability to at once come off as both outrageous and humble. After watching it on the Internet, Remillard was hooked. He followed the campaign intently from then on, and became a volunteer in January. “There are no other leaders who inspire me,” he says. “For me, it’s a question of image, of an idea of Canada. Trudeau has what it takes to get young people in Quebec and Canada interested and involved in federal politics.”
By John Geddes - Tuesday, February 19, 2013 at 1:40 PM - 0 Comments
Martha Hall Findlay has apologized for her jarring outburst about Justin Trudeau’s privileged upbringing in last Saturday’s Liberal leadership debate. But her misstep is worth dwelling on a little longer if we see it less as an aberration than as a reminder of a tension running not far below the surface of Canadian politics.
“You yourself have admitted that you actually don’t belong to the middle-class,” Hall Findlay said to Trudeau from behind a podium in solidly middle-class Mississauga, Ont. “I find it a little challenging to understand how you would understand the real challenges facing Canadians.”
Her words called to my mind the way Stephen Harper framed, back when he was launching his bid for the leadership of the new Conservative party in 2004, how he was different from then-Liberal leader Paul Martin. “I was not born into a family with a seat at the Cabinet table,” Harper said. “I grew up playing on the streets of Toronto, not playing in the corridors of power.”
By Colby Cosh - Tuesday, February 19, 2013 at 11:34 AM - 0 Comments
The Liberal Party of Canada held its third leadership debate over the weekend; you probably heard about how it led to an argument about the terrible things Martha said to Justin and what Marc said about what Martha said to Justin and whether or not there is actually anything in what Martha said to Justin… well, the news-cycle hivemind cannot help making things personal.
By John Geddes - Wednesday, February 13, 2013 at 3:52 PM - 0 Comments
From the day Marc Garneau officially launched his bid for the Liberal leadership late last November, I’ve wondered when he would take aim more explicitly at Justin Trudeau, the guy to beat. It seems today is the day.
At his news conference announcing his run, Garneau sounded to me like he was trying to frame the contrast, but without quite saying so. “I will talk about my strengths and my strengths are proven,” he answered then when I asked him about the Trudeau comparison. “That is what I have to do and that is what I will clearly do.”
I interviewed him at length in late December for this story, and pressed him again on how he expected to catch up to a prohibitive frontrunner without bluntly asking Liberals to think hard about why he might be the better choice. Garneau said the danger of sparking a bruising intramural battle was too great and, anyway, he figured Liberals would draw their own conclusions. Here’s how he put it: Continue…
By John Geddes - Saturday, February 2, 2013 at 6:13 PM - 0 Comments
What are the most urgent matters confronting the federal government just now? I ask because I wonder if anybody heard the issues they’d list mentioned much at the Liberal leadership debate—well, not really a debate, but a series of laid-back on-stage interviews—in Winnipeg this afternoon.
Reasonable observers will naturally differ on such a broad question. Still, I’d expect, if we’re talking domestic policy, many to cite the dicey problem of budget-making during such a prolonged stretch of slow economic growth. How to shrink the deficit while still maintaining, even expanding, priority programs? It’s the daily dilemma of governing. It didn’t come up.
On foreign policy, Mali is driving home the lesson that even with Canadian troops no longer fighting in Afghanistan, the pressures of Islamist extremism in vulnerable, far-away countries will continue to demand responses from western nations, Canada inevitably included. Again, not touched at today’s Liberal event.
By Stephen Gordon - Monday, January 28, 2013 at 7:17 AM - 0 Comments
The series of reports — including this, this and this — documenting the courtship of Mark Carney by certain elements of the Liberal Party of Canada was a source of alarm. My hope has always been that someone would credibly deny the substance of those stories, but that hasn’t happened.
Firstly, there hasn’t been much in the way of a denial on the part of Senior Liberal Strategists — in particular, from Tim Murphy, who was named in the Globe and Mail article — that efforts were made to persuade a sitting Governor of the Bank of Canada to enter the world of partisan politics.
Secondly, Mark Carney himself hasn’t done much to dispel the notion that he allowed those Liberal strategists to work for months under the assumption that his candidacy for the Liberal leadership was a realistic prospect. Here is how the governor addressed a question on the subject by Sun Media’s David Akin’s at a press conference last week:
By John Geddes - Thursday, January 24, 2013 at 1:00 PM - 0 Comments
How Canada’s first astronaut stacks up against Justin Trudeau
Being Canada’s first astronaut doesn’t seem like a fact pulled from the biography of a dull man. Yet Marc Garneau—arguably the Liberal leadership candidate with the clearest shot at catching up to prohibitive front-runner Justin Trudeau—acknowledges that his past NASA exploits haven’t prevented a rather earthbound image of him from taking hold. He’s often viewed less as an exciting spaceman than as a dry critic of the government’s technology and industry policy. “I think to some extent people view me in a stereotypical way,” he says of the science and engineering credentials he brought into politics. “I would like them to know me more as a complete person.”
To that end, Garneau urged Liberals, at the close of the party’s first leadership debate last Sunday in Vancouver, to consider everything he’s ever done. “Leadership is the product of your life experience,” he said. “It’s what you’ve accomplished.” Garneau has been a naval officer, an astronaut of course, president of the Canadian Space Agency and now a Montreal MP. If he didn’t mention Trudeau’s path to the front of the leadership pack—famous son of a prime minister, schoolteacher and then also a Montreal MP—the implicit comparison was hard to miss.
But as Garneau claims an experience edge, Trudeau argues that the next Liberal leader’s real job is grabbing the attention of voters, his own obvious forte. “We have to get out and connect with Canadians,” he said in Vancouver. And for a third-place party, the need to stir enthusiasm is undeniable. That leaves Garneau with the task of not just reminding Liberals of his impressive past, but also getting them to rethink how he performs now. Even he admits that his style as a novice in the House of Commons, after first winning his Westmount-Ville-Marie riding in the 2008 election, was often “wooden.” But he contends that he’s picked up his political game since the 2011 election, and will prove it before the party’s April 14 leadership vote. Continue…
By The Canadian Press - Wednesday, December 26, 2012 at 3:13 PM - 0 Comments
Progressive Liberals are alarmed as federal leadership contenders tilt right.
OTTAWA – Federal Liberals long ago abandoned the cardinal rule of success handed down by late Grit rainmaker Keith Davey: “Revere the leader.”
As they prepare to choose their fourth leader (sixth, counting interim leaders) in nine years, Liberals seem poised to renounce the third of Davey’s Ten Commandments of Canadian Liberalism: “Stay on the road to reform; keep left of centre.”
With one lonely exception, the top tier of contenders for the Liberal helm has veered sharply to the right, much to the private consternation of some of the stalwarts of the party’s once-influential left wing.
“All I’m hearing is we’re going down the Reagan/Thatcher slipstream,” despairs one prominent veteran Liberal.
“I don’t believe that the way you’re going to offer an alternative (to the Harper Conservatives) is to be a pseudo-Tory.”
Many Liberals and pundits had assumed Justin Trudeau, the prohibitive favourite, would represent the progressive wing of the party — assumptions based not so much on his relatively thin policy pronouncements as on his youth, mop of curly hair, penchant for wearing jeans and the legacy of his late father, former prime minister Pierre Trudeau.
But the Montreal MP has so far gone out of his way to foil expectations.
He’s called the now-defunct, Liberal-created long gun registry a failure and asserted that guns are an important part of Canada’s identity.
He’s come out strongly in favour of the takeover of Nexen Inc. by the Chinese state-owned oil company, even chiding Prime Minister Stephen Harper for not being open enough to investment by state-owned enterprises in the oilsands.
Two of Trudeau’s most serious challengers have similarly positioned themselves as so-called blue or business-friendly Liberals.
Montreal MP Marc Garneau, Canada’s first astronaut, has called for wide open competition in the telecommunications sector. And he’s lamented government interference in free markets when it comes to encouraging innovation.
“Instead of more government handouts, let’s eliminate all capital gains tax on investment in Canadian start-ups,” he told a Toronto business audience in a recent speech larded with conservative catchphrases.
“A government official should not be making the decision where to invest. It’s the experts — you — the innovators themselves that know best.”
Former Toronto MP Martha Hall Findlay touts her experience as a businesswoman and has called for an end to supply management of dairy products. With her campaign based in Calgary, she’s strongly supported Alberta’s oilsands and two proposed pipelines to carry oilsands bitumen to ports on British Columbia’s coast.
Among the top tier contenders, so far only Vancouver MP Joyce Murray has staked out turf on the left. She’s an ardent environmentalist, favours a carbon tax, opposes pipelines through B.C. and supports full legalization of marijuana. She also advocates co-operation with the NDP and Greens in the next election in ridings where a united progressive front could defeat the Conservatives.
Not surprisingly, all four balk at being pegged on the right or left of the political spectrum, a categorization they dismiss as outdated and meaningless to voters.
Hall Findlay, for instance, says her policies are based on evidence, “not on some outdated view of what is ‘right’ or ‘left’ or even some undefined ‘centre.’”
For his part, Garneau places himself dead centre between the Conservatives and the NDP.
“I am a Liberal,” he says.
“Rather than the stark choices we face today — a choice between a party that believes in less government and a party that believes in more government — I believe in innovative, responsive, smart government.”
Nevertheless, the pronounced rightward tilt of the race so far has prompted former veteran minister Lloyd Axworthy, the leading spear carrier for the party’s progressive wing for decades, to line up behind Murray.
Now president of the University of Winnipeg, Axworthy has to be discreet about politics these days. But he allowed in an interview that he is “impressed” with Murray and the values she espouses.
Murray may yet have company on the left. One-time minister Martin Cauchon is seriously pondering a late entry into the race, evidently sensing an opening for another progressive voice.
Cauchon has blasted Trudeau for calling the gun registry a failed policy, saying leadership candidates “should have the backbone to respect and stand for the principles that we have always stood for.”
And in a recent speech, delivered in Berlin but circulated at home, he extolled the “moderate” policies pursued by past Liberal prime ministers, including an emphasis on peacekeeping, Canada’s role as a “soft power,” and his own role in spearheading the move to legalize same-sex marriage.
There has always been creative tension between the left and right flanks of the party, which has been most successful when the two are in balance. As long-shot contender George Takach puts it, a bird “needs both wings to fly.”
Jean Chretien led the party to three consecutive majorities by flapping both wings. He eliminated the deficit and slashed taxes, while legalizing gay marriage, introducing legislation to decriminalize marijuana, signing on to the Kyoto climate change treaty and creating the gun registry.
So why would leadership contenders abandon that winning formula?
Trudeau’s perceived rightward tilt is not ideological, one of his strategists says. Rather, it’s the result of aiming himself squarely at middle-class Canadians, who tend to be conservative on economic matters.
At the same time, defying expectations by disowning the gun registry or his father’s hated National Energy Program reflects Trudeau’s belief that the party can not rebuild by holding fast to sacred cows from decades gone by.
“What we want to do is clear the decks so we can build a new platform from scratch,” the strategist says.
Stephen Carter, Hall Findlay’s campaign manager and the architect of the come-from-behind victories of Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi and Alberta Premier Alison Redford, argues that the locus of Canadian politics has shifted — not left to right, but east to west as formerly Quebec-centric politicians come to grips with the economic power of the West.
Indeed, right-left labels no longer really apply, Carter maintains. Canadians, he argues, have become very fluid in their political beliefs, with little loyalty to any party. They traverse the political spectrum on an issue-by-issue basis and are not the least bothered if a leader does the same.
What they’re looking for, Carter believes, is an authentic leader who speaks his or her mind.
“The party brand is the leader. That’s it,” he says bluntly.
Still, the dwindling band of Liberal progressives worry about the perceived rightward drift. They fear the party risks losing its few remaining urban outposts in a misguided bid to appeal to disaffected Tory supporters.
“It doesn’t make sense to siphon off the 40 per cent that Stephen Harper has,” says a Murray organizer. “It makes more sense to go for the 60 per cent who don’t vote for Stephen Harper.”
By Scott Feschuk - Friday, December 7, 2012 at 5:00 AM - 0 Comments
The Liberal leadership race is really heating up. First, David Bertschi tweeted, “I had a nice day in North Bay.” Then Martha Hall Findlay tweeted, “Just had a terrific meeting in Edmonton.” Truly, this contest is turning into a blood sport.
For those who’ve lost track, there are now 3,200 people running to be leader of the Liberal party: Justin Trudeau, Deborah Coyne, the three people sitting with you right now in the dentist’s waiting room, the Professor, Mary Ann—the list keeps growing. The field is so crowded that the party has pretty much no choice but to hold its policy debates on one of those conveyor belts they have in some sushi restaurants. Ms. Findlay, you have 20 seconds to answer this question before you disappear into the kitchen for half an hour.
The significant interest in the job of leader sounds a positive note for the future of the party. In news that doesn’t do that, interim leader Bob Rae sent out an email this week basically begging Liberal supporters to donate $5. That’s right—five whole dollars. Not interested? Bob is willing to sweeten the deal. Hand over the five-spot and in return you’ll get . . . a copy of his holiday card! Just contact the Liberal party and ask to contribute to Canada’s Saddest Fundraising Campaign. Continue…
By John Geddes - Wednesday, November 28, 2012 at 5:47 PM - 0 Comments
The mood in the National Press Theatre here in Ottawa this afternoon was peculiar for Montreal MP Marc Garneau’s news conference on the official launch today of his bid for the Liberal party leadership.
Peculiar in the sense that Parliamentary Press Gallery reporters are usually pretty direct when it comes to prodding visitors to the NPT on any evident weakness in the political or policy messages they happen to bring, but the tone toward Garneau today was, I thought, somewhat deferential.
This must be the result of the awkward imbalance between Garneau’s exalted status as Canada’s first astronaut and his underdog position in the leadership race. This is a guy who, as one reporter mentioned, already has schools named after him, and yet enters this contest far behind Justin Trudeau, who doesn’t.
By Scott Feschuk - Wednesday, November 28, 2012 at 5:37 AM - 0 Comments
So many people are gunning for the Liberal leadership that it’s quite possible you’re one of them
Have you heard who’s running for the leadership of the Liberal Party of Canada? Pretty much everybody. So many big names! Justin Trudeau is running. That Martha Something Something person is running. Plus, there are two (2) completely different guys named David and a dude who’s driving across the country in a van—because nothing says political momentum like: van.
In fact, so many people are running for the Liberal leadership that it’s quite possible you’re one of them. Here’s a quick way to check: have you heard of you? If you or anyone else has heard of you, then you’re probably not running.
Jonathan Mousley is running. I was not previously aware of Mousley but, weirdly, this has not stopped him from existing. On Remembrance Day, as part of his campaign, he tweeted that Canadians should “press [the Harper government] to provide financially strapped veterans with a decent and dignified burial.” A solid policy, sure, but not exactly a mood-brightener for veterans.
By Paul Wells - Friday, October 19, 2012 at 5:00 AM - 0 Comments
Paul Wells on Dalton McGuinty stepping down and the Liberal party’s climb ahead
Dalton McGuinty remains such a gifted political performer that when Ontario’s premier announced his retirement from politics, throat catching, eyes misting, it was easy to forget the context.
The context is that two recent polls put his Ontario Liberal party in third place, about 15 points behind the opposition NDP and Conservatives. McGuinty’s energy minister, Chris Bentley, stands accused by opposition MPPs of being in contempt of the legislature over an apparent failure to disclose all of the reasoning behind the cancellation of two gas-fired energy plants. There was talk of adding McGuinty and the government house leader to the list of Liberals facing contempt motions.
McGuinty won three elections in a row, but with less of a pop every time. To say the least, he had no guarantee of winning the next. It is a familiar trajectory for Liberals in Canada these days. The question is whether it can be reversed.
Let us get the good news for Canada’s assorted Liberal parties out of the way quickly. Today, parties carrying the Liberal name continue to govern in Canada’s largest and third-largest provinces by population, Ontario and British Columbia, as well as the smallest, Prince Edward Island.
By Jonathon Gatehouse - Thursday, October 11, 2012 at 11:25 AM - 0 Comments
He’s the most popular politician in Canada—and not just because of his last name
Justin Trudeau lets the question hang in the air for long seconds before he exhales heavily and begins to answer. It can’t have taken him by surprise, but it’s not the sort of thing one wants to appear to be too cavalier, or God forbid, eager about. Why does he want to be prime minister?
The words are slow and deliberate at first, then gradually pick up steam. He touches on the deaths of his youngest brother and his father, more than a decade ago, and how the public outpourings of sympathy reinforced his already unique relationship with Canadians. He speaks of his own children, Xavier, 5, and Ella, 3, and his conflicting desires to spend more time with them, yet enhance their future. There’s a nod to the last few months of deliberation and doubt. He’s forthright enough to admit that the timing isn’t ideal—in a perfect world he’d have more Parliamentary experience, maybe even a stint in cabinet under his belt. But the opportunity to become leader of the Liberal Party of Canada, and thereby start auditioning for an even bigger job, is presenting itself now. And for better or for worse, he feels like it’s his destiny.
“Can I actually make a difference? Can I get people to believe in politics once again? Can I get people to accept more complex answers to complex questions? I know I can. I know that’s what I do very well. Why am I doing this? Because I can, not because I want to. Because I must.” His voice drops to a whisper on the final word. The bells at the church across the road from the café where we’re sitting in his Montreal riding are tolling the noon hour. It’s all gotten a bit dramatic. He catches himself and laughs. “I wish there was a simple, easy answer, but there’s a lot of factors. I guess it comes down to that I love this country, and I think I can do better than what we are currently getting from our politicians.”
By Ken MacQueen - Thursday, October 11, 2012 at 10:15 AM - 0 Comments
Teaching kids to snowboard in Whistler, Trudeau found a place to emerge from his father’s shadow
He said his name was Justin—just another itinerant snowboard instructor at the Whistler-Blackcomb resort, there in the winter of 1997 for the crappy pay, occasional tips and the all-important mountain pass. He was assigned to Sean Smillie’s Ride Tribe boarding classes. Lord knows Smillie could use the help. “We’d juggle 100 little kids a day on the mountain, running round, chasing after them,” Smillie recalls 15 years later over a coffee in Vancouver’s Gastown.
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“If you can imagine, learning how to snowboard is about one of the funniest things in the world for a kid, so I had to have a really particular kind of staff,” says Smillie. This Justin guy, a student at the University of British Columbia, was studying to be a teacher. He was great with kids, was a gifted, if chaotic, boarder and clearly knew the terrain. Strange thing was this Justin boarded in a fireman’s jacket, at least until he got his official instructor’s uniform, which was . . . unusual. But, whatever, it’s Whistler, right?
Smillie and his instructors were all of similar age and disposition. Loved the kids, loved the social life, loved above all the downtime carving tracks on virgin snow on the most extreme runs on the two mountains. Smillie’s job was to cruise the classes, and help out where needed. “Justin always got the wild, crazy kids who were running all over the mountain. He was perfect for that, so I ended up working with him a lot, riding with him and the kids. We became buddies out of that.” Still, says Smillie, “I had no idea who he was, not for months and months. No clue.” When you’re young and you work at a resort like Whistler, you tend to live for the moment and the weather forecast; the past is parked outside the bubble. Finally someone mentioned that his buddy was the eldest son of ex-prime minister Trudeau. That Trudeau? “I kind of did the sudden stop—wait a minute!” Smillie says. “I just kind of asked him one day: ‘Is your father Pierre?’ And that was it.” Life went on as before.
By John Geddes - Thursday, October 4, 2012 at 9:33 AM - 0 Comments
When Justin Trudeau holds a rally in Mississauga, Ont. this evening—his Liberal leadership campaign’s first stop in the Toronto suburbs so coveted by strategists of all parties—he’ll be introduced by Zaib Shaikh, the actor best known as a star of CBC’s Little Mosque on the Prairie. Shaikh also has a role in the new movie Midnight’s Children, Canadian director Deepa Mehta’s adaptation of Salman Rushdie’s celebrated novel.
But he will bring more than a touch showbiz to Trudeau’s event. In keeping with Little Mosque’s themes, and his own background as the son of immigrants, Shaikh is active in groups that encourage diversity. As well, after his marriage last year to CBC English services executive vice-president Kirstine Stewart, he is half of a notable Toronto power couple.
Shaikh spoke to Maclean’s about Trudeau, the new Canadian vote, and political charisma.
By Bruce Cheadle, The Canadian Press - Tuesday, September 4, 2012 at 8:02 PM - 0 Comments
MONTEBELLO, Que. – There’s an old saying in business and politics: Never let a…
MONTEBELLO, Que. – There’s an old saying in business and politics: Never let a crisis go to waste.
The depleted federal Liberals — just 35 MPs strong from the party that ruled Canada for 12 years, from 1993 to 2006 — began meeting Tuesday to plot the latest iteration of their return from the wilderness.
And it’s not difficult to get the impression that, in the minds of at least some federal Liberals, the road back to relevance, respectability and possibly power may be paved by a resurgent sovereigntist movement in Quebec.
With Quebecers at the polls Tuesday and the prospects of the separatist Parti Quebecois returning to office in Quebec City, Liberals see an opening for the kind of brokerage party that made them what journalist Allan Fotheringham famously dubbed Canada’s “natural governing party” in the 20th century.
“It’s more than an opportunity for the Liberal party, it’s a responsibility for the Liberal party,” deputy party leader Ralph Goodale said last week. “We’ve got to be particularly good at making that case.”
Scott Brison, the party’s finance critic, also made an explicit link between the party’s future direction and the outcome of Tuesday’s provincial election.
“The challenge for the Liberal party is to emerge as the party that can best unite the regions of the country to build an economy that works for all Canadians,” he said in the lead-up to the three-day caucus meeting.
But here in Montebello an hour west of Montreal, Liberals gathering as Quebecers cast their votes Tuesday were much more circumspect.
“I very much want to see a federalist result in Quebec and I hope that happens,” Bob Rae, the party’s interim leader, reiterated a half dozen times in a 15-minute scrum with reporters.
Having said that, Rae also repeatedly stressed the Liberals as the party of national unity.
“We do have a special responsibility as a party on the question of unity and the question of leadership in the country. This goes back to the origins of the Liberal party, what we’re all about as a political party.”
It’s an exceedingly fine line for Liberals: Promoting themselves as the federalist party that can mend Canada’s historical divide, while not being seen to be exploiting Quebec’s political turmoil for partisan gain.
Rahm Emanuel, U.S. President Barack Obama’s then-chief of staff, was pilloried in 2009 when, at the height of the financial crisis, he was quoted saying, “Never let a serious crisis go to waste. What I mean by that is it’s an opportunity to do things you couldn’t do before.”
Closer to home, Ontario’s education minister created a furor in 1995 when he described a Conservative plan to cut education spending as “creating a useful crisis.”
The fact is, crises are opportunities in politics, but politicos point that out at their peril.
New Democrats also see it as potential opportunity, although Leader Tom Mulcair and his Quebec-dominated caucus have been careful to avoid saying or doing anything that could have an impact on the election outcome.
With 58 of the province’s 75 federal seats, NDP strategists believe their party is poised to be the federalist voice of Quebec.
The downside is that a separatist victory would shine a spotlight on the fact that a handful of the NDP’s Quebec MPs — including former interim leader Nycole Turmel — have supported sovereignty or sovereigntist parties in the past.
And it would draw attention to the NDP’s controversial policy on Quebec — known as the Sherbrooke declaration — which includes the assertion that a bare majority, 50-per-cent-plus-one Yes vote in a referendum would be sufficient to trigger secession negotiations.
Robert Aubin, chair of the NDP’s Quebec caucus, played down suggestions Tuesday that Quebecers could be headed for another referendum.
“Quebecers don’t vote for a country, they vote for a government” in this election, Aubin told reporters in St. John’s where the NDP’s 101 MPs are gathering for a caucus retreat.
Aubin said the NDP will work with whichever party forms government.
However, a PQ victory could also create some tension within the federal NDP caucus between veteran MPs who believe in the need for national, federally-run social programs and Quebec MPs who may be more amenable to PQ Leader Pauline Marois promise to push for provincial control over a host of federal jurisdictions, including Employment Insurance.
Yvon Godin, MP for Acadie-Bathurst in New Brunswick, said Tuesday he is adamantly opposed to Ottawa ceding jurisdiction over EI to Quebec.
“At this time, I’m completely against it,” Godin said in an interview.
“That program belongs to the workers of the country, not to the government. My worry is that Quebec says, ‘Okay, we want to have EI for Quebec,’ and then what stops Alberta to say, ‘We want it too’ and Ontario (to) say, ‘We want it too?’
“Then there’s no more EI. It’s done.”
Aubin would say only that EI will be one of the issues the NDP caucus will be reflecting upon during the retreat.
Meanwhile, for Liberals like Martin Cauchon, a former cabinet minister who is clearly testing the waters for a potential leadership run this winter, the party’s problems are much too deep to be fixed by simply championing unity.
“We strongly believe in the country,” said the Montrealer. “But there’s a way to look at the federation that will be more inclusive …, more respectful of what really a federation is.”
Judy Sgro, another former Liberal cabinet minister who has held her Toronto seat since 1999 and was a city councillor for years before that, detects a change in the country that means, whatever the outcome of the Quebec election, Canadians will take it in stride.
She suggests there won’t be any crisis to exploit for any of the federalist parties, regardless of the vote’s outcome.
Should the Pequistes prevail, Sgro asked rhetorically, “Will people care?”
“I don’t think it’s a particularly healthy thing to see a separatist group get elected in Quebec. But you know what? Maybe we’re getting used to it too.”
By The Canadian Press - Tuesday, September 4, 2012 at 5:30 AM - 0 Comments
MONTEBELLO, Que. – The federal Liberal caucus begins three days of meetings today in Montebello, Que., that appear destined to be dominated by talk of party leadership.
MONTEBELLO, Que. – The federal Liberal caucus begins three days of meetings today in Montebello, Que., that appear destined to be dominated by talk of party leadership.
The Liberals are planning for the fall session of Parliament that begins Sept. 17, but will also lay out the roadmap to select a new leader next April.
Party president Mike Crawley is expected to detail the entry fee and spending limit for the race, how the actual vote will take place and the April date that the leader will be named.
But speculation about who’s in the running — and perhaps more significantly, who isn’t — will be swirling in the halls of the Chateau Montebello.
MP Justin Trudeau has recanted on earlier flat denials that he’d run, and now the son of former prime minister Pierre Trudeau says he’ll make his intentions known later this month.
Trudeau would appear to be a prohibitive favourite if he chooses to seek the leadership.
His decision — whatever way it goes — will likely heavily influence the size and complexion of the Liberal field.
By The Canadian Press - Thursday, August 16, 2012 at 7:30 AM - 0 Comments
Canada’s first astronaut says he’s in “stage three” of deciding whether to run for the leadership of the federal Liberal party.
OTTAWA – Marc Garneau is test-firing the engines on his leadership campaign, but he’s not ready for liftoff just yet.
The Montreal MP, Canada’s first astronaut, says he’s in “stage three” of deciding whether to run for the leadership of the federal Liberal party.
Garneau says he’s ticked off the first two stages: determining whether there’s support for his candidacy and whether he has something unique to offer in the contest.
Now, he’s in the process of determining whether he can pull together an experienced team to raise money, sign up supporters and organize an effective campaign.
The once-mighty Liberals, reduced to a third-party rump in the 2011 election, are to choose a new leader in April.
The party is expected to unveil some of the rules for the contest—including the entry fee and spending limit— early next month at a Liberal caucus retreat.
Most potential contenders, including presumptive front-runner Justin Trudeau, are waiting to see the rules before making a final decision.
But Garneau said the rules will have no bearing on his decision, which he intends to make “some time this fall.” Regardless of the spending limit, he said he’ll only spend as much money as he can raise.
“I will not go into debt, I can tell you that right now,” he told a news conference.
Garneau said he’d prefer an entry fee in the range of $25,000, sufficient to “discourage non-serious candidacies.”
In the last full-blown Liberal leadership contest in 2006, the party imposed a $50,000 registration fee and allowed each candidate to spend up to $3.4 million. Most contenders, including winner Stephane Dion, emerged with huge debts, some of which have still not been paid off.
Insiders say party brass are looking at a considerably lower spending limit this time, in the range of $500,000 to $750,000.
But some Liberals maintain the limit should be higher, arguing that the ability to raise money is a big part of the challenge facing the cash-strapped party’s next leader.
A higher limit would benefit Trudeau, whose celebrity status has made him the party’s best fundraising draw.
Trudeau, the son of party icon and former prime minister Pierre Trudeau, initially insisted he would not run for the leadership. But he succumbed to intense pressure to reconsider after interim leader Bob Rae announced in June that he will not to seek the permanent job.
He and his wife, Sophie Gregoire-Trudeau, are taking the summer to ponder the impact of a leadership bid on their young family. While most Liberals expect him to take the plunge, insiders say Trudeau has made no final decision as yet.
By Martin Patriquin - Thursday, June 14, 2012 at 9:50 AM - 0 Comments
The federal party faces plummeting membership in what was once its strongest province
With Bob Rae officially bowing out of the race to become the next Liberal leader, Canada’s erstwhile natural ruling party finds itself yet again at a crossroads. As Maclean’s found out, the Liberals continue to suffer in Quebec at the hands of the NDP—and from their own reputation.
Since its pummelling in last year’s federal election, the Liberal Party of Canada has thrown itself into a large, humbling rebuilding effort. “We’ve got to get bigger,” interim leader Bob Rae said in a speech last November. “Fundraising and connecting with people has got to become a new part of the culture of this great political party. It has not been in the past.”
Yet while the party’s fundraising efforts have seen moderate success over the last year, they haven’t necessarily translated into new blood flowing into the party. Certainly, this is the case in Quebec, a key province in the party’s rebuilding efforts. According to an internal party document obtained by Maclean’s, Liberal membership has dropped by nearly 40 per cent in the province in less than a year.
The document, the Quebec portion of the Liberals’ support-tracking database, is testament to the party’s dwindling fortunes in a province where as recently as 2004 it claimed nearly 40 per cent of its seats. Membership declined in all but two of the ridings held by the party’s seven Montreal-area MPs. In the riding of Haute-Gaspésie-La Mitis-Matane-Matapédia, the party lost 575 members between July 2011 and April 2012—a reduction of 85 per cent in just nine months.
The numbers speak to the difficulty in reviving the Liberal brand in Quebec. There is the simple matter of too few MPs to push the party in the far-flung regions of the province, and the lack of volunteers to man phones and knock on doors. There remains an aftertaste of the sponsorship scandal, uncovered in 2004, in which Liberal operatives siphoned money from a program essentially designed to sell the Canadian flag to wary Quebecers. Finally, according to some analysts, there is a lack of leadership within Quebec Liberals due in part to the apparent waning interest of the Liberal caucus leader, MP Denis Coderre.
“Membership is definitely one of the challenges we have,” acknowledges Alexandra Mendès, the newly minted president of the party’s Quebec wing. She says “finding volunteers is a challenge,” and that two big Liberal events—January’s biennial convention and the recent annual general meeting in Quebec—have taxed the existing ranks. “We haven’t been too insistent on them to do membership calls,” Mendès says. “We concentrated on getting delegates rather than having members.”
The lack of warm bodies to propagate the Liberal message is compounded by a lingering disdain for the party in the province, according to Imran Ahmad, a vice-president of the party. “We’ve been put in the penalty box, and until we present new ideas we are going to be remembered for what we’ve done in the recent past.”
Among those new ideas is an initiative to make it easier to bring new people into the party. Since January, would-be Liberals can sign up to be a designated “supporter” of the party simply by registering online. A “Liberal supporter” can vote in the party leadership race though not for local candidate nominations. Unlike memberships, which are $10 a year, being a supporter is free and doesn’t expire. “It’s a gateway into the party,” Ahmad says. (According to Liberal spokesperson Sarah Bain, some 10,000 people have signed up to be supporters since January.)
Still, strong hints of the party’s old guard can be felt within the Quebec wing. Many younger Liberal delegates at the province’s AGM in Montreal were looking forward to hearing Brian G. Rice, a well-regarded Liberal strategist and expert in social media outreach. Yet Rice’s appearance was nixed. “I offered to speak” at the meeting, Rice wrote in an email to Maclean’s, “and while there were a number of people in Quebec who would have liked to see that happen, the organizing committee couldn’t make room for me on the agenda.”
Others lay the blame for dwindling membership numbers at the feet of Denis Coderre. The sharp-tongued Coderre, usually a prolific campaigner, is reportedly considering a run for the Montreal mayor’s office in 2013. “Coderre doesn’t know where he’s going in life,” says Liza Frulla, a former Liberal cabinet minister turned political analyst. “When you build something, you have to put your head into it. He used to, but now he’s working a bit less.” (Coderre, whose riding has seen a 72 per cent drop in membership since July 2011, declined to comment specifically on the numbers. “Mr. Coderre would like to point out that he is in a period of renewal in his riding,” Coderre said through a spokesperson.)
There are bright spots on the Liberal horizon. The Liberal leadership convention in spring-summer 2013 will no doubt generate buzz around a party that hasn’t had the opportunity to chest-thump much in recent history. Bob Rae, who has just announced that he won’t be in the race, has been a study of stump-speech optimism as interim leader. And there are rumblings within the party that MP Justin Trudeau will bring his younger sensibilities and revered family name to that leadership race. Though in Quebec, where the Liberal dream was born in the 19th century and (nearly) died not a decade ago, the numbers don’t lie: there is a long way to go.
Editor’s note: This article has been changed from the print edition to reflect Bob Rae’s decision not to run in the race for Liberal leadership.
By John Geddes - Wednesday, June 13, 2012 at 2:24 PM - 0 Comments
Before we move on entirely to considering the Liberals’ next moves, let’s pause a moment to relish Bob Rae’s performance early this afternoon as he announced he wouldn’t be trying to jump from serving as the party’s interim leader to running for the permanent job. Rae lugs around heavy political baggage, and he’s nearly 64 (though he said the age issue is “bullshit”), but all that was on display today was his verbal skill.
He was funny and relaxed and candid—or at least seemed candid, which is just as good, likely better, in politics. He shifted gears from personal asides to serious political messages to partisan cheerleading with dynaflow smoothness. This is a guy who learned his politics when finding an apt phrase on the fly was accomplished with the voice, not the thumbs.
By John Geddes - Thursday, May 3, 2012 at 1:18 PM - 0 Comments
The cover of the issue of the Maclean’s that’s on newsstands today features my colleague Paul Wells making the case, which you will surely want to read, for a certain pugilistically proven Liberal for the party’s vacant leadership. Working in Wells’s corner, I provide a glimpse into the Liberal party’s internal rebuilding effort, leaning heavily on an interview earlier this week with Mike Crawley, who was elected the party’s new president at its convention back in January.
But beyond Crawley’s insider perspective, I spoke with many Liberals about efforts, after last spring’s election knockout punch, to clear the party’s collective head, and start getting back in shape for the next campaign, expected in 2015. Inevitably, quite a few telling observations ended up on the cutting room floor, so here’s a compendium of what I wish I’d been able to squeeze into the article.
By Colby Cosh - Wednesday, February 15, 2012 at 5:06 AM - 0 Comments
If you enjoy seeing somebody injure themselves trying to occupy two positions at once, have a look at Josée Legault. The Montreal Gazette columnist and former PQ strategist was largely responsible for viralizing Justin Trudeau’s weekend remarks on separatism; transcribing his remarks on her blog, she accurately noted how unthinkable Trudeau’s position would have been to his late father, and how surprising they were coming from any Liberal. Yet when the story blew up in English Canada a couple days later, Legault took umbrage. Those hysterical Anglos had distorted the story. Continue…