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Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff makes his way to speak to a scrum in the foyer of the House of Commons after Question Period on Sept. 28, 2009. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)
Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff makes his way to speak to a scrum in the foyer of the House of Commons after Question Period on Sept. 28, 2009. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

Robert Silver

It's still not us, it's him Add to ...

In the immediate aftermath of the 2008 election, I wrote the following in this space:

"But this is a long-term project; our base is broadening and deepening," says a Tory strategist discussing the Conservative Party increasing its vote total in Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal but failing to win any seats.

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"Long-term project"? Looking beyond one election? Pish, pusha. Terrible Tory spin - what kind of a political party actually has a plan to grow its base even if it may take two, three - even four elections?

Not us Liberals! No, sir! We either get instant gratification or it's of no interest to us.

Oh sure, Keith Davey and Jim Coutts and their ilk thought that way a generation ago when they built the "big red machine," but that was then. That's old school.

Not in today's Liberal Party! We have 10,000 unnamed campaign strategists, campaign chairs, MPs, candidates and Air Inuit flight attendants who all know that the only problem with the Liberal Party is Stephane Dion. Once he's gone, Canadians will beg us to return to power again. They are desperate for us to be there, us being Liberals other than Stephane Dion...

When I see overly simplistic and self-serving explanations for what just happened to the Liberal Party in Ontario in particular... I'm saddened. Well, not really saddened. It makes me mad, but knowing the direction the party is likely headed in, my anger quickly turns into sadness and then my attention floats elsewhere.

You read accounts of the post-mortem that Stephan Harper did after the loss of 2004 and the changes he made and then contrast it to the accepted Liberal interpretation of what just happened (it was all Dion and the Green Shift, change those two things and we're back, baby!) and you have all you need to know about the current state of the Conservative and Liberal parties.

Just as GM now deserves what is happening to it because it refused to evolve and innovate, the Liberal Party of Canada deserves what is happening to it unless it realizes its real problems go way deeper than a face on a poster. "

Well GM is turning itself around, how are things going for my political party?

Just like Dion booked his own Air Inuit plane, ran his own tour, drew-up the Green Shift in a room by himself and was otherwise responsible for 100 per cent of the bad things that happened to the Liberal Party in 2008, so too Michael Ignatieff is an out of control, lone-wolf, shooting down tens - nay, hundreds - of policy proposals emanating from his caucus and grass-root Liberals and is ultimately responsible for everything that currently ails the Liberal Party, right? Oh, ok, his downtown Toronto advisers get some of the blame too. But really, it's all Ignatieff.

Right.

But as my anger subsides and my attention floats elsewhere, all hope is not lost.

I finally found time to read Fearful Symmetry over the weekend (you can't keep your Canadian pundit card this fall unless you've consumed it whole). As others have written, it is a striking, important, profound book about Canada, our history and our future. It also provides a potentially exciting answer for how the Liberals could redefine itself to once again be relevant to a larger swath of the country. I will discuss the book and its potential implications for the Liberal Party in much greater detail in a future post.

For now, let me just assure you that my arguments on why the party should consider the policy prescriptions in Fearful Symmetry will have nothing to do with House of Commons tactics, nothing to do with which date the election will be called or today's polls and frankly, have nothing to do with who our leader happens to be or all the dreamy alternatives that could one day replace him.

Weird thought: a strategy for a political party not based on short term tactics or leader-centric considerations? One that may take a number of years to fully execute on. I know, post-Thanksgiving hangover crazy talk.

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