So I have been struggling with my choice for leader. Several weeks ago, I did some research and I talked to a number of people. At that time, I had made a choice. It was George Takach. However, he left the race a while ago, so I have been left to contemplate my vote for leader again.
Since the 2011 Election, I have thought a lot about what the our Party needs and I have found myself looking at other Canadian Politicians and other Canadian Political Movements to see why some of them have been successful. Over time, I thought about Elizabeth May, Mario Dumont, Danielle Smith and Brian Mulroney. I thought about Jack Layton and Preston Manning. One remarkable thing links all of those individuals mentioned: all of them built or rebuilt their movements while not holding a seat in a legislative chamber. In Jack Layton’s case, he became leader of the NDP in January 25, 2003. Given that he was not an MP, he took the year to criss-cross the nation. He took the year to build relationships or extend existing relationships that he had built. After all, at one point, he was the president of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities. He made it clear that he would run in the next General Election and not try to create or take advantage of a by-Election Opportunity. For, there were a couple of opportunities. After taking the reins of the NDP on January 25, 2003, three By-Elections were called: Perth—Middlesex, Témiscamingue and Lévis-et-Chutes-de-la-Chaudière. Yet, he chose to ignore those opportunities, so that he could run in the next General Election. Or put differently, Mr. Layton understood that he did not have to be in the House of Commons immediately and he did not do too badly.
This type of strategy is strong. I noted a while back that Danielle Smith, leader of the Wildrose Alliance in Alberta, did the same. If one listened to the pundits at the time, she was dead in the water. For, she became leader of the Wildrose Alliance in 2009 and did not take any steps to win a seat in the Alberta Legislature. Ms. Smith ignored various by-elections because she said that she would run in her riding in the next General Election. She could not have known that the next election would take place in 2012 – nearly three years after she first assumed leadership. Her notion was simple: build the Party for the next election. Being outside of the Alberta Legislature, she could spend the time doing so. That was her argument.
In the meantime, the world did not stop. Raj Sherman, the PC parliamentary assistant to the Minister of Health and Wellness, criticized his own government. He did so with such force that he was forced out of the Alberta PC party. As a result, he cross the floor and eventually became leader of the Alberta Liberal Party. The Alberta Liberal Party even created a supporter system to try to become the “most democratic party in Alberta”.
In spite of all of this, Danielle Smith kept her head down and did the hard work of building a Political Party in the province of Alberta. What was remarkable was how she was rewarded. She stole seats from the Alberta Liberals and the Progressive Conservatives of Alberta. In fact, Ms. Smith was so successful that her party went from no seats in the 2008 election to 17 seats in the 2012 election. Her party’s success allowed her to capture the Office of the Official Opposition from Raj Sherman. However, this is not the only lesson that we as Federal Liberals have to learn.
Just look at our experience with Mr. Ignatieff. Mr. Ignatieff found himself hit from both sides because he was rarely in the House of Commons. For, he had a choice: he could either sit in the House and rise to criticize the Government or go on the road and rebuild his party. Mr. Ignatieff chose to go on the road and Mr. Layton hit him hard in the 2011 election because of it. Mr. Layton, in fact, ran ads talking about Mr. Ignatieff’s attendance record. Liberals argued that this was unfair, yet Canadians disagreed. For in the 2011 election, Mr. Layton was seen as the leader that could best hold Mr. Harper to account.
In fact, look at Mr. Mulcair. He desperately wants to build his party in a number of areas – Quebec and the West. Yet, he is hamstrung by his need to be in the House of Commons. What is even more insulting is that Mr. Mulcair is having a hard time getting noticed because of the effectiveness of Bob Rae – our interim Liberal Leader – in the House. In retrospect, the NDP could have done better; they could have chosen Brian Topp. They could have chosen a non-MP to build their party throughout Canada. They could have chosen to be a real threat in 2015-6. However, they did not.
With the departure of Marc Garneau and George Takach, our Party has the opportunity to rebuild our party in Western Canada and Quebec. We have the opportunity to create a new Canadian Vision for this new Century. We have the chance to choose a non-MP for leader. That person – male or female – would have the chance to travel the country and speak to Canadians. That person would have the opportunity to build a personal brand which is not based in Ottawa; but based on the day to day actions of a true leader. Each conversation and speech in local media will allow that leader to learn about and communicate to the people of Canada. A non-MP would not be a distant or comical figure. A non-MP would not be a person that can be caricatured or tarred. They would be a real person speaking to Canadians. A non-MP would get outside of the Ottawa Bubble. A non-MP would have a chance at winning seats in Alberta and rural Canada. If our leader was a non-MP, we might even become relevant. Wouldn’t that be nice? Then take my advice and vote for a non-MP for our next Liberal Leader.