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In this film publicity image released by Paramount Pictures, Jeff Bridges is shown in a scene from, "True Grit." (Lorey Sebastian/AP)
In this film publicity image released by Paramount Pictures, Jeff Bridges is shown in a scene from, "True Grit." (Lorey Sebastian/AP)

Globe Editorial

The federal Liberals can re-discover their True Grit Add to ...

The federal Liberals should concentrate on re-establishing themselves as a major centrist party, and should postpone their choice of a leader for the election of 2015, for two years or even three years from now.

Some Liberals are rightly deprecating "leaderitis" or, in more heightened language, the search for a messiah. Nor should they be tempted to give a preference to those who have dynastic-sounding surnames such as Trudeau or LeBlanc.

Whoever the interim leader may be, his or her job will be to lead the Liberals in Parliament and to facilitate the party's rebuilding - but not to dominate the party organization or to recruit leadership candidates. The identity of the next Liberal leader should not be anybody's primary goal - not yet.

The Liberals do not need to retreat into a state of siege, or accept a minor or eccentric role, as the British Liberals did, starting in the 1920s. They are still one of the two - the only two - large, historic Canadian political parties capable of forming a national government and occupying much of the centre of the political spectrum. They have suffered a defeat arguably less grave than they did in the "khaki" election of 1917, when they actually split, with many of them joining the Conservatives in the Unionist coalition. 2011 saw no such Liberal schism - or indeed anything like the Progressive Conservatives' crack-up in the early 1990s.

The New Democrats have a long way to go toward showing that they can metamorphose themselves from a party that exerts pressure for certain chosen causes, from outside power - like the "ginger group" of the early 1930s, from which they evolved - into a party that is a plausible government-in-waiting.

Though the federal Liberals have successively lost their grip on the regions of Canada, they can - and should - reconnect with their provincial counterparts, especially in populous, vote-rich Quebec, Ontario and British Columbia. These relationships are complex, but the premiership in B.C. of Christy Clark, a lifelong Liberal activist, is a vivid reminder of the reality of the overlaps - the B.C. Liberals are not simply a centre-right coalition with a name accidentally similar to the federal party's.

Among the ancestors of the Liberals are the Clear Grits of the 1840s and'50s. That metaphor signified the right kind of sand for use in stonemasonry. Today's Liberals need to restore their once-solid structure, for the sake of Canadian politics as a whole.

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