Sunday, March 17, 2013

The Federal Liberals need a hard working organizer as leader

We are going to soon see the Liberals choose a leader that they hope will miraculously save the party from their decade long decline.   I do not see Justin Trudeau as having the skills needed to build the Liberals back to the party they once were because I do not see any interest, desire or ability on his part to build the organization on the ground.

For decades the Liberals were the dominant party in Canada.  They were in a factor in almost every riding in the country in most elections.  Only at their best did the PCs come close to rivaling the power of the Liberals.   In the course of the last four elections the Liberals have gone from a political behemoth to third party status.   On an organizational level the Liberals of 2013 are not able to run enough serious campaigns in enough seats to win and become the official opposition let alone government.

Elect. Seats Second  Rebates Candidates spending more than
        Won  Place  Achieved    75%      50%
2011    34     76      217      92      167
2008    77    123      270      97      162
2006   103    116      283     137      198
2004   135    145      307     172      267
2000   172    107      288     168      252
1997   155    106      292     164      270
data from Pundits Guide
What you can see from this table is how strong the Liberals were in 1997 and 2000.    In 2000 there were only 22 ridings in Canada where the Liberals were not either first or second.   In 2011 it was 198 ridings out of 308 in which the Liberals did not come first or second.

In 2004 all but one Liberal manged to get enough votes (10%) to qualify for a rebate of their election expenses, in 2011 that had fallen to 217.

The Conservative Party under Stephen Harper understood the importance of being organized in ridings across of all of Canada.     The Canadian Alliance in 2000 was a significant factor only in about 175 ridings, not enough to be a threat to govern Canada anytime soon.  The new Conservative party has worked hard to have active riding association across the country even in the places the party had no realistic chance of winning.   By the 2011 election the Conservatives were a serious factor in 230 seats in the country.  It it the on the ground organization that the Conservatives have quietly done for the last ten years that the reason they are government.

Starting over a decade ago the federal Liberals have weakened both in membership and organization across the country.   Stephen Harper is lucky to have been building the Conservative party at the same time as the Liberals have been dismantling their party.   It is almost as if the Liberals surrendered and vacated the field over the last four elections.

Best estimates I can get is that the Liberals only have between 55,000 and 60,000 members at the moment.  This is  in contrast to the NDP which managed to get to almost 130,000 in their leadership race in 2011 and the NDP is not a party that really does the mass membership sign up thing in same way the Liberals have done.   The Liberals are at an average of less than 200 members per riding.  

I can understand why the Liberals have not managed to do well in the new memberships, the selection of candidates is not a very strong one:

  • Justin Trudeau - A middle aged man who is only claim to fame is a good looks and a former PM as father - certainly elements of the media love him and many hope against all evidence that he is the magic potion that will bring them to power again.
  • Mark Garneau - A one time astronaut who went into politics as a retirement job and now retired from the leadership race
  • Joyce Murray - A one term BC Liberal cabinet minister that lost her re-election in 2005
  • Martha Hall Findlay - A one term Liberal MP 
  • Martin Cauchon - A former MP from 1993 to 2004 and did serve in cabinet, I follow politics closely and I have no memory of who this guy was or what sort of an MP he was.
  • Deborah Coyne, David Bertshi and Karen McCrimmon - three people running for the party leadership that have never been elected to anything before.
The Liberal leadership race candidates have had a total of 27 years as MPs and 4 years as MLA.   Not inclulding the four MPs that withdrew from the race 2006, the eight candidates on the ballot in  had more than 45 years experience in parliament and almost 24 as MLAs.     It is an indication of how thin the Liberal ranks have become and there is very little out there to indicate the party will be getting any stronger anytime soon.

The Federal Liberals also suffer from the fact that the party is short of provincial allies.   In the four large provinces the provincial Liberals are only close with the federal party in Ontario.   In Saskatchewan and Manitoba the provincial party is a fringe party.   The only decent provincial grass roots the party has are in Atlantic Canada.

What the Federal Liberals desperately need is someone that understands that the party needs to rebuild from the ground up in most of the country.   I am not convinced any of the current candidates understand this or have the skills to do it.   I do not see Justin Trudeau, and the people around him, having any idea of what needs to be done over the next two years.

To give you an idea how far the leadership candidates are from understanding what sort of decline the Federal Liberals are in you only need to look back to the three by-elections in November and see how little work was done by the leadership campaigns to win these seats.
  • Victoria - the Liberals held this seat from 1993 to 2006.  In the by-election they came a very distant fourth.
  • Calgary Centre - even with an unpopular Conservative candidate, the Liberals could not manage to get the 10,500 votes they needed to win.
  • Durham - the Liberals held this seat from 1993 to 2004.   Even though this is a seat the Liberals had held in the past, they came third in the by-election. 
The by-elections are in the sort of seats the Federal Liberals have to win if they expect to ever form government.   Not a single leadership candidate made winning these seats a priority.

The Liberals will choose Justin Trudeau, he will likely lead the party into the 2015 election and he will have a result that is roughly the same as 2011 or slightly worse.  I say likely lead them in the election because it is 30 months till the election and I am not certain Trudeau will have the stamina to endure that long in media spotlight given his lack of experience or discernible political skills.

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