I know everybody is chiming in today on the Liberal leadership given Bob Rae’s announcement this morning that he wouldn’t be running, but I figured I’d give my own two cents – just because.
Rae’s decision not to run was probably best for the party, regardless of the promise he’d made and which he would have duly – and dare I say appropriately – been criticised for breaking. Rather, it’s because of the need for new blood at the top, and as good of a performer in the Commons as Rae is, his running would have represented a hanging on of the “old guard” of the party as it currently stands, given his previous leadership bids, and the “Rae camp” that still exists within the party, and all of that. This move clears the slate, and there are no pre-existing camps now playing out new psychodramas. Well, for the moment anyway. Never underestimate the Liberal capacity for new or renewed psychodrama.
But this having been established, what qualities should the Liberals be looking for in a new leader? While I have no particular names in mind, I do think there are a couple of themes that they’ll want leadership candidates to possess (aside from the basic quality of bilingualism):
1) Economic prowess. If they want to be able to credibly challenge the Conservative narrative of being “good fiscal managers” – which endures despite all evidence to the contrary – any leadership candidate is going to need to make the ability to speak credibly about economic issues as a top priority. The 2006 leadership put a great deal of talk about the kind of discourse they wanted to have as leader, but I’m not sure that the party can afford such kinds of leadership contenders this time around if they want to remain relevant. As well, this would probably be the best way to bring home the “blue Liberal” and bring over the “red Tory” voters that did them well in the past, and to retain those same voters who would flee to the Conservatives if any of those boneheaded “merger” or “unite-the-left” prospects comes to pass.
2) Social credentials. If the party wants to retain their “fiscally conservative, socially liberal” credentials, then they’re going to need to ensure that they have the social credentials that can keep the NDP from claiming that share of the vote without being forced to sacrifice their fiscal beliefs. The danger would be using the social credentials to try to muscle in too much on the NDP’s territory and being accused of being basically the same party, as has been the accusation so often in the past few years.
3) Performance. As someone who attends QP every day, and who observes his fair share of House debates, the one thing that leadership candidates can’t afford to take for granted is the ability to perform in public. Rae is going to be a tough act to follow when it comes to his ability to think on his defeat and debate, but I would say they’re going to need to find a leader who can follow up. Why? Because they’re going to be competing with a leader whose modus operandi is robotic talking points, and another who not only relies on paper scripts but who gets easily goaded into angry tirades and tangents (which is also Conservative strategy to expose him as not being a statesman). In fact, I would add that thick skin is an essential part of this performance category, because that is going to set apart a Liberal leader, and not every leader in the past has had that thick skin. *cough*Dion*cough* If they want to set themselves apart from the other parties, they’re going to need to find a leader who can communicate in an effective manner and can debate their policy points on their feet, which we certainly didn’t see too much of during the NDP leadership race.
We’ll have to see how the new rules around the “supporter” class affects how the leadership race plays out as well, because it does lend itself to looking for a media star who can pull in the casual voter, as much as it does allows for the possibility of an interloper to come in to infiltrate the party. But I think these are qualities the party is going to have to search for if they want to reclaim their place of relevance in an increasingly polarised political landscape.