Saturday, May 07, 2011

Liberals seek not a Leader, but Leadership, and within 6 months

And leadership does not consist of seeking to avoid the clear wording of the Constitution of the Liberal Party so as to suit the needs of certain party officers.

What we need to rebuild the Liberal Party is strong, decisive leadership, from a strong, decisive leader. We do not need waffling or subversion of the party's Constitution, or fear of the future.

Justin Trudeau recognizes that just a name does not cut it; that the rebuilding needs to start from the bottom up, and is not just a job that can miraculously be done by only one person, a new messiah-leader. This is how Susan Delacourt put it:

Can a new leader fix the Liberals? Call this the oh-no-not-again scenario. The most blunt answer to that question arrived in the immediate aftermath of defeat last week — and it came from Justin Trudeau, the 39-year-old son of the former prime minister, re-elected on Monday night in the Quebec riding of Papineau.

Trudeau was asked by the CBC about the fact his name has risen to the top of prospective successors to Michael Ignatieff. His reply was a cold bucket
of water over the hopes of any Liberals still clinging to leadership change as a quick fix for the party.

“There has been an expectation that if we just pick the right person at the top, everything is going to be fixed,” Trudeau told CBC-TV on Wednesday. “Because of the history packaged into my name, a lot of people are turning to me in a way that actually, to be blunt, concerns me.”

Trudeau has put a finger on the most chronic ailment of Liberals over the past few years — its leadership-messiah complex.

Spot on, Justin. Your name helps, but nobody should look to you to work miracles – fixing what is broken with the Liberal Party will need a leader, a Renewal Plan, a timetable, lots of commitment from lots of people, and time to do this.

We have four years before the next election. With luck we might be well on the way to renewal by 2015.

What are members of the Liberal Party seeking?

But we are seeking leadership, not just a leader.

We had a leader in Paul Martin, but he was conspicuously lacking in leadership: he did not earn the nickname Mr Dithers for nothing. Under Martin we seemed to have a party that consisted of a Big Tent but had no contents in the Big Tent. It was more like a Big Bazaar like the one in Cairo, with a gazillion items for every conceivable shopper, but not defining theme that could captivate party members first and the rest of the voters thereafter.

We had a leader in Stephane Dion, but he likewise tried to simply tell the party what to do without winning our hearts and souls with a cooperative, we're-all-together-in-this effort to build a properly functioning party. Dion's Green Shift is perhaps the classic example of what went wrong with his leadership: a good policy, perhaps, meeting a real need in the world, perhaps, but designed in one man's mind, brought down to the party faithful as if a latter day Moses had suddenly arrived in Canada, with one stone tablet and one entry carved into it (Thou shalt implement The Green Shift). Very few within the party bought into it; it's launch was so badly done that very few Liberal members understood and agreed with the Commandment; and the public in general bought the Tory framing of the Green Shift and said Thanks, but No Thanks.

We had a leader in Michael Ignatieff, hurriedly foisted on the party during a manufactured panic, and subsequently chosen by acclaim at a convention that very few of the party members attended. And for a few years we stood placidly aside while Harper spent millions defining Ignatieff as a leader, and by so doing defining his leadership, and the party's policies; and then in the space of just over 30 days ending on May 2 we were suddenly presented with a Liberal Party platform and policies, and we went down in flames.

What is leadership? Ask the Bloggers ...

Leadership means what so many bloggers have said: start from scratch, with party members as well as party executive officers and elected MPs and appointed Senators getting together to decide the most essential matters, such as What do we stand for? Why do we exist? Should we continue to exist? And from that point, leadership means figuring out what went wrong on May 2 and before that, what needs to be done to fix it, who should do what, and when it should be done.

Leadership by fiat, by an arbitrary order or decree, is not the leadership that will rebuild this shattered party.

And leadership from our party officials who seem intent to start out by disregarding the Constitution is leadership by fiat, with the use of weasel words to disguise what is being done.

The Liberal Party Constitution

This  is not the time to ignore the rights of the members of the party, as set out in the party Constitution.

James Curran has waxed eloquent on this point, and Curran makes a very telling point indeed.

Google Ignatieff and resignation. See how many newspaper headlines quote Michael Ignatieff as saying he is resigning as leader of the Liberal Party. Within a day or so he accepted a new job, as lecturer, announcing that he was satisfied with his career change because he was a born teacher.

So, at that press conference, and on later occasions,  did Michael Ignatieff "publicly announce an intention to resign" as leader of the Liberal Party? You be the judge.

Just about 99.99% of Canadians, and of the media, and of LPC members, think he did.
And the rules in our Constitution are pretty clear:

If the Leader publicly announces an intention to resign the National President must call a meeting of the National Board of Directors to be held within 27 days, and at that meeting the National Board of Directors must in consultation with the Caucus, appoint an “Interim Leader”, and also set a date for a Leadership Vote to be held within five months.

Liberal Members have every right to expect an Interim Leader to be appointed within 27 days of Michael Ignatieff's public announcement of his intention to resign (which happened on May 3), and we have every right to have a Leadership Vote to be held within 5 months.

And that vote will be a vote of every single member of the Liberal Party.

So in a little over 6 months the Liberal Party should have a new leader chosen by a majority of members of the Liberal Party, a first in its long history.

No palace coups, no weasel words, no attempts to favour one person at the expense of others.

We, the people – we, the members of the Liberal Party – have a right to choose our next permanent leader within 6 months, according to our Constitution.

Alf Apps nonsense about Michael Ignatieff not having resigned as of yet is just that: the scurrying around court of courtiers, intent on ignoring the clear words of the party's Constitution.

Pray tell us, Michael Ignatieff, if you are going to be teaching students soon, how can you also be leading our party in its attempts to rebuild?

You are either our leader, or not our leader. 

And you certainly did publicly announce your intention to resign as party leader. 

The fact that your written resignation handed to the President of the party talks about a suitable date for "your departure" does not alter your public announcement of your intentio to resign. This is one of the three tests that trigger the 27 days and 5 months clauses – section 54(2) of the Constitution says (I have capitalized the words OR so that you can see how clear the choices are):

If the Leader publicly announces an intention to resign OR if the Leader delivers to the National President a written resignation OR a written request to call a Leadership Vote, then the Leader ceases to be the Leader on the earlier of the appointment of an Interim Leader and when a new Leader is elected by the members of the Party.

This is what the Globe & Mail reported Ignatieff said when he publily announced his intention to resign:

Michael Ignatieff is resigning as leader of the Liberal Party after presiding over the most devastating defeat in his party’s history.

He made the announcement Tuesday morning in an emotional press conference – his team stood at the back of the room, some in tears – just hours after he watched the election returns, seeing his party go from 77 seats to 34 and losing official opposition party status to the NDP...

Ralph Goodale the deputy leader, has been asked to convene the Liberal caucus next week to allow them to make a recommendation to the party on an interim leader.

He [Ignatieff] said he will be working out with party officials the “best timing for a departure so we can arrange a succession in due time.”

The 'due time' for Ignatieff's departure is when an Interim Leader is chosen, as the Constitution requires.

Now let us obey our Constitution and elect a permanent leader within 6 months, so that we can start the rebuilding.

We only have 4 years.


  1. Pearson was one of my favourite leaders.... that and PET

  2. You obviously didn't read Linda Diebel's piece in the Star the other day.

  3. I just don't see any renewal taking place ever if we begin the renewal by ignoring our own constitution. It's bad karma. It's bad governance. In 2008, the rule worked FOR Michael Ignatieff and Rae and Leblanc had no way of catching him by an earlier spring convention because of this very rule. No it's time for this rule to work FOR the party. A beach of theis single fundamental and all Liberals should just pack it in and either join another party or start their own. One that respects the rules put in place by its members.


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