Monday, September 17, 2007

Outremont: Putting things in Perspective

So the Liberals lost in Outremont. Justin Tetrault has written at length about some of the possible reasons why. A badly run campaign and there’s lots of work to be done in Quebec for the party. First, however things are organized in Quebec are not representative of the organization of the whole party, let’s get that stated first. And Quebec is a province that has to be handled, dare I say, with kids gloves. But the people who sat on their hands need to go and real work has to be done to bring new people into the fold in Quebec who really want to see that province red.

Though others will hash about why the Liberals lost, I just wanted to give my thoughts on how unwarranted it is for people in the media and other parties to be pronouncing this result as the beginning of the end for Stephane Dion. Even worse and more unwarranted would be for any Liberals at all to be pulling out the knives and privately or publicly calling for Stephane’s head. All these people completely lack perspective and really really need to have a bit more patience.

Here’s why: There was once upon a time when another opposition leader from Quebec was mocked in the media, had very low personal approval ratings and was supposedly “reviled” in Quebec. Of course I’m speaking of Jean Chretien, who supposedly could never overcome the fact that he had a role in drafting the constitution and the “night of long knives” and he was called a sell-out over his opposition to Meech. In fact, before the the 1993 election the Liberals stood in exactly the same spot in the polls then (in fact the PCs lead the Liberals in the first two polls of that campaign). Many in the media thought Kim Campbell would beat tired old “yesterday’s man” Chretien (people now talk about all of Chretien’s charisma, well people didn’t see it much then).

Chretien proved all the naysayers wrong and I think a big part of it had to do with the well thought out red book and the campaign plan that went into that election. People had low expectations for Chretien and what the Liberals would put forth and he blew them away. He didn’t completely clean up in Quebec, but in each election he increased the Liberals seat count there. It took time but he won their respect even if they were still bitter at him.

Now I should say that I can’t pretend to have been following politics closely in 1993 (being only 10 years old), but I have read a lot about the coverage at the time and have spoken to many others who remember that time well. I would really like to hear from other Liberals who were there kickin it then.

As well, I really wish people could remember that time and how the Liberals brought themselves back to power, because I see a lot of parallels there to today. Chretien himself said he hated the role of opposition leader and I can’t imagine Dion enjoys it much either. But like Chretien I am confident that Dion will impress a lot of Canadians on the campaign trail with bold ideas and a level of integrity that easily trumps the other party leaders. Even Jack Layton said at the last NDP convention “(Stephane Dion is) a man who is, if I may say so across the partisan divide, distinct from his principal opponents in being a committed Canadian and a man of principle and conviction.” Jack thought he was throwing in such a zinger by following up with “and therefore almost certain not to be elected leader of the Liberal party!”, but you know what Jack we did elect him and I think Jack knows that he’ll kick the NDP’s butt across the country in a general election (you can already see it in the polls, notwithstanding tonight’s by-election).

People didn’t think Chretien would pull off a good campaign, but he did, the same will be true of Dion I’m sure.

So Liberals really need to remember the past and that things didn’t seem so easy the last time we were in opposition either. It’s easy to complain and main, especially in opposition, but if you really believe in the party then you need to believe in the leader and that he’ll work his ass off to win. But to win all Liberals need to get behind him. Backstabbing, even in private, will only lead to greater chance that we’ll have Harper for a long time as Prime Minister. The longer he’s there the more damage he’ll do to a country Liberals helped to make great. If people want to take that route then I think they’ve really put personal interest before their party and I question why they are Liberals. So the media need to be re-taught a history lesson and I hope all Liberals can just back Dion up, let him lead the party into the next election, have faith in his ability to lead us back to power and work together to make it happen.

There’s lots to be done, particularly in Quebec, but the Liberals have been down that road before and hard work and unity got them out. It will again.

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