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Liberal supporters react to early election results at Michael Ignatieff's headquarters in Toronto on May 2, 2011. (Peter Power/Peter Power/The Globe and Mail)
Liberal supporters react to early election results at Michael Ignatieff's headquarters in Toronto on May 2, 2011. (Peter Power/Peter Power/The Globe and Mail)

The Liberal culture of defeat Add to ...

With a majority government, the Liberals actually have time to slow down, think things through and undertake the grassroots-driven reform needed as a first step toward recovery.

4. Merger is the only way forward

This is a newer myth, but it shares the "elites holding onto power" structure of earlier ones.

Simply put, the Liberal Party won't merge with the NDP. It would fracture even more than the Progressive Conservative Party did, with its organizers scattering to the NDP, Greens, Conservatives and some staying in the old vehicle or trying to form a new party.

The math simply doesn't work. NDP plus Liberals is not going to create 1+1. Both parties have partisans who won't work with the other.

More to the point, these two parties fight head-to-head in British Columbia, Northern Ontario, Windsor, Hamilton, Toronto, and Atlantic Canada.

What does the BC Liberal Party do, as a centre-right coalition? Or the Quebec Liberals, who are to the right of the social democrat Parti Québécois?

Brokering some kind of elite compact between elements of the two parties is unacceptable to significant portions of the grassroots of the two parties, and would result in a revolt on both sides.

There are many Liberals who are scared in the aftermath of Monday. The myth is designed to exploit their fear.

5. We just need to get the Chrétien and Martin guys working together

The 2002 quitting/firing of Paul Martin as finance minister was nine years, four elections and 138 seats ago. During that time, everyone has had a turn at driving, and it really hasn't gone so well. I agree that moving beyond past hurts is critical to the future of the party. But that's just starters.

Unifying the party elites is just a first step. It is an important one.

Having smart people who understand the technical aspects of policy, party organization, voting tracking, fundraising and strategy are vital to success. But we just ran a technically strong election campaign and got our asses turned into hats.

Far more critical is rejuvenating the grassroots by letting real democracy into the party and making a membership card mean something more than a tool for fundraising. Far more critical is standing for something, in good times and bad, that matters to Canadians. Far more critical is attracting new people who weren't active in politics ten years ago to feel a home in this party.

* * * * * * * * *

The message from Schievelbusch is ultimately hopeful. Many countries have faced defeat and recovered to find happiness, prosperity and strength. "The defeated ultimately emerge healthier, stronger, and smarter than ever before - that is, if they can avoid fantasies of denial and revenge and learn from their failure (and perhaps their conquerors)."

Liberals must abandon the fantasies of denial that have been our curse, really since 1984. The proud reality is that we are the party of minorities, be they religious, linguistic, cultural, gender or economic.

We held the West when they hated those Toronto bankers, until they got rich and became bankers. We held Quebec until francophones stopped thinking of themselves as minorities in Canada, and started thinking of themselves as majorities in Quebec. We held rural and Northern Ontario until they began to see us as too elite and downtown. We held the cultural and ethnic minorities of the Greater Toronto Area and Montreal and Vancouver until we stopped defending them and the Charter.

Now we are left with a handful of seats held through incumbency and organization and tribal loyalty, but without a regional base that unites them. The best choice for Liberals is to return to our core principal to protect the sanctity of the individual to be themselves.

In the past, we protected vulnerable people from government excess with the Charter and eliminating the deficit, and protected vulnerable people from economic catastrophe with pensions and medicare. We legalized same-sex marriage and produced a Canadian flag and introduced multiculturalism, acts that infuriated many people at the time, but made Canada a country where you can be proud and free to be yourself, as a minority or not. But mythologizing our past has made us forget the values that underlay it.

Being a Liberal is hard. We speak for the rights of minorities. Sometimes minorities are unpopular. But all of us are minorities, in some way. That makes our party the biggest tent possible.

The future of the Liberal Party comes from these values, this timeless defence of a person's right to be themselves. That is our foundation and the beginning of our path forward.

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