This article was last updated on April 16, 2022
We've passed the one year mark since the devastating Liberal election defeat. The questions moving forward revolve around any apparent progress in "rebuilding" the Liberal party, positioning itself to be a credible alternative next time around. I would argue a "mixed bag" at best, some positive signs intermingled with objectively concerning trends.
On the encouraging front, despite relegation to third party status, Liberals continue to outpace the Official Opposition in terms of fundraising, a fact that receives little attention. While the Liberals still trail the Conservatives, the fact fundraising hasn't dried up or waned in the wake of 2011 does suggest an internal resilience. In fact, the mood within hardcore Liberal ranks remains largely optimistic, despite certain realities, there is a clear fighting spirit which continually manifests itself, within various party initiatives.
Liberals sent a clear signal that a "new" guard was ready to direct the party at their recent convention, decisions that should manifest themselves more moving forward. In addition, the rules surrounding the upcoming leadership race provide a real framework for Liberals to resonate beyond a narrow base. Time will tell on multiple fronts, but the nuts and bolts are in place.
Bob Rae has provided steady interim leadership, giving the party a public profile. In Parliament, the Liberals have managed to stay part of the conversation. Liberals appear more "scrappy" to my mind, perhaps a natural disposition, given the humbling realities at at play.
However, in recent weeks I believe Liberals are getting a taste of the true new order in Ottawa. The NDP in flux was temporary comfort, they now have a leader, their team is engaged and the coverage is beginning to recalibrate and reflect seat allocation. Liberals benefited early from a media used to giving them ample coverage, I sense now we are settling into the "third party" dynamic, which is challenging. In other words, one year later the job has become tougher, early days a bit of a mirage, staying in the mix will require imagination and compelling performance.
One year later, the polls are perhaps more daunting, given the regional dynamics. In my view, this reality pretty much torpedoes any chance Rae becomes permanent leader. Earlier, polls looked encouraging, Liberals clearly benefiting from a distracted and leaderless NDP, but that illusion has passed, so to all the glowing reviews of life under Rae. The realities are very sobering, unless Liberals make a decided generational change, armed with fresh ideas and presentations, embrace a revolutionary spirit, I see little reason to believe we can break the "new" order. Not only do Liberals have to make a case against the Conservatives, they now somehow have to convince Canadians to bypass the NDP and come to our side, "daunting" is kind. One caveat here, it is important to remember the Liberals sit at levels the NDP would have been touting 18 months ago, so some perspective is in order on the "dead" front. Our punditry tends to sway WILDLY, despite continually being "shocked", so anything is very possible. Again, there are opportunities, the question becomes will Liberals have the courage to create the spark, is this a party that can truly reform in a way that turns heads?
There is very much a squeeze occurring, as the NDP move towards the center and the Conservatives continue this publicly crafted propaganda facade that they are anything close to moderates. The great debate seems to be where Liberals fit into the mix and that is fair commentary. There is a certain irony in the fact the NDP will essentially become Liberals should they actually appeal to enough Canadians to take power, but that is for non partisans to digest, denial reigns supreme within the tribes. I'm not sure where Liberals will fit into the conversation. But, I think Liberals would be best served to forget about spectral considerations and just start standing for things, don't be afraid to be controversial, step on some toes, forward thinking and bold. In other words make some noise or relegate yourselves to tired afterthought, that's the stark reality that confronts.
All in all, some background pieces in place that provide optimism moving forward. But, one year in, Liberals are no closer to reversing the trend, that in and of itself is probably a mild net negative. I believe what happens in the next year will be the decisive historic moment for the party…
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