Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Convention Wisdom

Here we are on the eve of the Liberal leadership convention, so since I have pretty much stayed out of the fray on the leadership race, I will add my conventional wisdom (sic) at this point.

I have to say, that I am glad that there actually was a race rather than a coronation. Conventional wisdom holds that when your party is in power, a smooth and uncontentious transition of leaders is the key to staying in power. Unfortunately that didn't happen last time. When you are in opposition, a vigorous contest with spirited debate around vision, values, directions, leadership and policies is called for. Thankfully, that is what we got. I also wanted the Liberal party to be liberal - no more liberal-lite. Imagine that - we got a slate of fairly progressive candidates. I am also very happy that the party has come up with a very agressive green agenda. I truely hope they adopt it. Conventional wisdom says people vote for their paycheques, not for the environment. With global warming, a change is quite literally in the air (and water, and ice).

There are four legitimate contenders with plausable winning scenarios. Regardless of the vitriol of the campaign, all are decent men (unfortunately, no women with a shot at winning), but all are damaged in some way. The front runner, Ignatieff, is renowned scholar, author and thinker. He is also a very inexperienced campaigner who has a habit of saying what he thinks at the moment without weighing the implications. He hasn't learned to be a politician. Politics amplifies the extremes; subtle nuanced arguments and explanations are death. Another problem with a candidate who is so well published is that there is and endless supply of his own material to throw at him. Iggy is probably the least progressive of the contenders. On the upside however, Iggy is still the front runner and has broad support in all regions. Convention wisdom says the front runner needs close to 40% on the first ballot.

Bob Rae is going to have to run away from his record as the NDP Premier of Ontario - a not so illustrious record to say the least. As a leader, this makes him politically vulnerable in Ontario. It also means that he is an experienced politician and governor. Conventional wisdom holds that party switcher must spend some time in the trenches before running for leadership. It is interesting how many of the party movers and shakers seem to have swung behind him. Rae and Ignatieff were friends prior to this campaign. Will they be afterwards? Rae has solid progressive credentials but seems to have positioned himself as a Tony Blair (except for the invading other countries bit), Bill Clinton "third way" social democrat. Convention wisdom is that the 2nd place contender must over take or tie the front runner on the 2nd ballot.

Stephane Dion has the right resume. A former cabinet minister from Quebec, the author of the party's Quebec sovereignty position and is acceptable to both the Martin and Cretien camps within the party. Conventional wisdom says the Liberal party alternates leaders from Quebec and English Canada. He is also an accomplished academic with a Ph.D. in sociology and has taught public administration, organization theory at Université de Montréal. I honestly don't know how progressive Dion is. His campaign literature talks about three pillars of social justice, economic prosperity and environmental sustainability. He probably likes his mom and apple pie as well. Realistically, if the liberals are going to win the next election they need a strong showing in Quebec. Dion is probably the most capable of delivering this. Convention wisdom says that 3rd or 4th is not such a bad place in a four way contest.

Gerard Kennedy a former Minister of Education for Ontario rounds out the top four. Conventional wisdom says the Liberals must carry Quebec to form a majority government and must split with the Bloc to form a minority. Kennedy is the only candidate with roots in the west; he was born in Manitoba and went to University in Edmonton. While in Alberta, Kennedy founded the Edmonton food bank and has been the executive director of a Toronto food bank. Clearly social responsibility is a priority for Kennedy. The biggest knock on Kennedy is that his French is quite poor. However his wife is a fluent francophone, so he should have lots of opportunity to practice at home. Kennedy along with Ken Dryden took principled stands against recognizing the "national" status of Quebec. This along with his poor grasp of French does not bode well for the party's fortunes in Quebec. Convention wisdom says that 3rd or 4th is not such a bad place in a four way contest.

Of the remaining candidates, Ken Dryden has come off looking the most mature. While he certainly has name recognition, this campaign has demonstrated to people outside of Ontario that he is more than a hockey hall of famer. The man has substance, maturity, is well spoken and has a solid understanding of issues. At the very least he is ready for a senior cabinet portfolio (please not sport).

No comments: