Must-reads: Greg Weston, Don Macpherson and James Travers on reinventing the Liberals; Christie Blatchford at the David Frost trial.
Starting from scratch
The pundits are united in declaring Stéphane Dion’s tenure at the helm of the Liberal party dead.
The defeat of candidates named Collenette, Boudria and Pratt in and around Ottawa highlights the stark truth for the Liberals, says the Toronto Star‘s James Travers—”that there is no future in the party’s past.” They need a “long look in the mirror” followed by a wholesale reinvention in Vancouver in the spring, not just “the quick fix of yet another saviour.” They will need a new leader, however, and while Travers says it would be better if that divisive business were conducted separately from the wholesale policy rethink, the Grits will be lucky to scrape together the cash to hold one convention, let alone two.
But before the party can go about “refinancing, redefining and rethinking itself,” The Globe and Mail‘s Jeffrey Simpson stresses that Dion needs to engineer his own “dignified and honourable departure.” He has nothing to apologize for, after all—it’s not his fault Liberals chose a leader who can’t “speak effectively,” can’t “mobilize commitment and command loyalty” and can’t “build a team.” And, like failed leaders Joe Clark and Stockwell Day before him, he has much to look forward to as a valuable minister in a future government.
The Montreal Gazette‘s Don Macpherson admires “the toughness, the courage and the fighting spirit” Dion displayed on election night when he declared he’d received a mandate to continue to inhabit Stornoway, but says what he really got was “a restraining order: stay away from 24 Sussex Dr.” And he’d better realize it quick and resign. Macpherson also expands on the Joe Clark analogy, noting he was the only other “major federal leader to win after finishing third on the first ballot at a leadership convention” and suggesting “leadership won in such circumstances [may be] a poisoned chalice.”
The Vancouver Sun‘s Barbara Yaffe agrees the Liberals have some serious redefining to do—notably, they need to figure out how to raise money under contemporary campaign financing laws—but she thinks “a plausible argument can be made that he deserves a second chance.” Here goes: “he helped hold the Conservatives to a minority,” the Liberals “did not experience a wipeout” and he didn’t lose his own seat. Oh, glory! What time’s the parade?
Sun Media’s Greg Weston nips the John Turner argument—i.e., that since Turner got two kicks at the can, so should Dion—in the bud, noting that Brian Mulroney’s crushing majority “guaranteed the Liberals had at least four years to regroup,” and in the meantime could “vote against everything the government did without fear of triggering an election.” It’s far more complicated now, he says, and what’s more, Dion isn’t the “imposing figure” and “able communicator” Turner was, and he doesn’t have the same caucus support. Fact is, he’s got to go.
“Dion was the biggest loser in Tuesday’s election,” the inimitable Bob Hepburn writes in the Star, but “Elizabeth May, Jack Layton and Stephen Harper are also big losers” because, respectively, the Greens didn’t win any seats, the NDP didn’t significantly boost their share of the popular vote and the Tories, with the quality of their leader as their main issue, didn’t win a majority against that loser Dion.
In the National Post, L. Ian MacDonald explains how Harper and Co. buggered up their majority in Quebec. Yes—again. One more of these columns and MacDonald is banned.
Ujjal Dosanjh vents his fury at various targets—the NDP, most notably—to the Globe‘s Gary Mason, who calls the barely re-elected Vancouver Liberal the party’s “angry man.” He’s so angry, in fact, that he says, “if I don’t see eye to eye with a certain bill or motion, I’m not going to support it. It’s as simple as that.” Mason soberly responds, “Of course it’s not. Canadians would eviscerate any party that sent them to the polls in the foreseeable future over an issue that wasn’t the equivalent of: Should we or should we not go to war?”
“Only time will tell if Parliament will reinvent itself as place of meaningful legislative progress,” the Calgary Herald‘s Don Martin writes, “but this was an election that humbled every party leader, all falling short of goals or expectations at the dropping of the writ.” And if Harper’s deliberately conciliatory language in accepting victory is any indication, Martin suggests he may have gotten the message inherent in the record low turnout and his renewed minority status: “clean up your act.” We couldn’t possibly be more sure that they won’t.
The Star‘s Haroon Siddiqui suggests Harper’s “greatest challenge, besides the economy, [is] our growing democratic deficit”—i.e., the fact that he gained 19 seats on just 1.3 per cent of the popular vote and that with roughly 40 per cent of the vote he “gets to implement policies rejected by 60 per cent or more of the voters.” Exactly why this is a problem for Harper as opposed to, you know, a really terrific thing, Siddiqui declines to explain, but he nevertheless has the following suggestions for the PM: curb your attack dogs, “reduce the dissonance between his view of the world and that of a majority of Canadians,” and “rethink our Afghanistan mission.”
The Globe‘s Lawrence Martin actually thinks we’re in the final months of the Harper era. He only added a single percentage point to the Tories’ popular vote and the perquisites he lavished upon Quebec were all for naught. He won’t have Dion to kick around anymore, furthermore—and may be up against a formidable Liberal challenger, assuming they don’t install Joe Volpe or something. And he’ll likely have “a deepening, American-induced recession” to deal with as well. In short, he predicts Harper may “realize the Big Win isn’t there, and step out gracefully.”
The Globe‘s John Ibbitson recaps last night’s presidential debate, noting that Barack Obama “eschewed saying anything remotely controversial, or even quotable, seeking to preserve his substantial and growing lead,” and that John McCain focused on trying to link Obama to former terrorist William Ayers and to the ACORN controversy. It may well be, however, that focusing on those associations and not on the substantive issues is a big reason why his deficit in the polls is increasing, Ibbitson suggests.
The Globe‘s Christie Blatchford reports from the David Frost trial in Napanee, Ont., where “just how sordid … the allegations against Mr. Frost” are became evident yesterday. And yet, as she notes, the case against the disgraced hockey coach and agent is “curiously complicated.” Prosecutors allege he ordered his hockey players to have sex with various young women as a kind of molestation by proxy, but the women claim the sex was consensual (if regrettable) and aren’t considered victims because Frost wasn’t in a position of trust or authority over them. The players were, and as such are considered victims, but they “deny that anything untoward ever happened.”