The Conservatives are at it again. Warring, big time, among themselves in the leadership campaign. Moderates vs. hardliners. The temperates vs. the troglodytes, with the trogs said to be in command.
The party has long been afflicted by fratricidal urges. But a saving grace has been that infighting on the Liberal Party side has often been just as bad, if not more corrosive.
Recall the drawn-out dagger fest between Jean Chrétien and Paul Martin; Mr. Chrétien’s never-ending conflict with John Turner; the furor touched off by then-finance minister Mr. Turner’s flight from Pierre Trudeau’s cabinet in 1975.
There were schisms in the party over paramount issues such as free trade and the Meech Lake accord. Later came despair and disunity under the anemic leaderships of Stéphane Dion and Michael Ignatieff.
But what now? Today, there’s not much of that. Rarely a peep of protest from within the ranks. No big divide in the party on the major issues of the day. No one openly challenging the leadership of Justin Trudeau despite his losing the popular vote in two straight elections. No flare-ups of note between the centrist and left-leaning wings of the party.
Some Liberals go so far as to suggest that the party has not seen this kind of internal harmony in decades – a half-century even.
And the cohesion does not stop there. Courtesy of the compact worked out between Mr. Trudeau and NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh, the peace extends to the broader progressive community. It wasn’t long ago that the two progressive parties were parallel in the polls, at loggerheads.
All this can hardly be a welcome sight on the right, especially since it’s happened under a Liberal leader whom conservatives perceive and loathe as hardly a unity man but rather the country’s divider-in-chief. They surely delighted in American hotshot podcaster Joe Rogan calling him a “creepy dictator” the other day.
But all that could change. Don’t be fooled by the silence in the party, a prominent, former cabinet minister warns. If and when the Liberals get a sniff that Mr. Trudeau may not run again, open combat will commence. Potential aspirants, he says, are already quietly engaged in planning and lining up support.
While there is calm on the surface, there are many in the Liberal caucus who would be pleased to see Mr. Trudeau depart. As party leader, he hasn’t exactly gone out of his way to be accommodating.
One of the controversial things he did was shut out the party’s old guard – Chrétien-era veterans and others who had served the party well. It led to many complaints that Mr. Trudeau’s office lacked adult supervision. In hardly a unifying move, he killed the Liberal senate. All members were cut loose, barred from the party caucus.
After promising to end the concentration of power in the Prime Minister’s Office, Mr. Trudeau did no such thing – rather the opposite. This factored into the colossal controversy that saw the resignations of former ministers Jody Wilson-Raybould and Jane Philpott, and the exit of top adviser Gerald Butts.
But despite it all, despite the failure to win majorities, the bulk of the party remains loyal. And loyalty breeds unity.
What need be remembered, says Peter Donolo, who served as Mr. Chrétien’s press secretary, is that the party was in third place when Mr. Trudeau became leader. “He rescued it from Palookaville. Liberals don’t forget that.”
Mr. Trudeau has also been lucky in that he’s drawn two Conservative opponents in Andrew Scheer and Erin O’Toole who made it easier for him to win, just as Mr. Dion and Mr. Ignatieff made it easier for Stephen Harper.
A key to the party’s current unity, says John McKay, who has served as a Liberal MP for 25 years, is that no power-hungry rival has openly challenged Mr. Trudeau. The Prime Minister has also, Mr. McKay says, been adept at finding consensus in the party on major issues, such as his handling of Donald Trump and the coronavirus pandemic.
It was feared his savvy stroke in making a deal with the NDP would alienate party moderates. There is little evidence of that.
Also helping to unify the party and progressives generally, says pollster Bruce Anderson, has been the abnormal politics on the conservative side of the spectrum, as well as the threat of the new forms of populism in Canada and elsewhere.
With all the disruptions on the right, the Liberals see a house divided. They like their chances with a house united. For the time being, they have one.
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