27 September 2006

How I'll Choose

Since I have put my name forward to stand as a delegate in my home riding of Trinity-Spadina, it is now time to do what so many other bloggers have been doing since June, which is lay out how I will make my decision (if I am chosen). I will start by describing the three elements I see as being determinative in this leadership race: renewal, ideas, and action. I will then assess the leading candidates on these elements. Since I conveniently already know the result, while you are just reading it for the first time, I will put the candidates in order of preference (starting with Gerard Kennedy, who I have committed to support and who I continue to support).

The Principles

Renewal: if there is one thing this convention must stand for, it is the renewal of the party. Jean Chretien's election as leader in 1990 was the last time our party had a real leadership contest. Paul Martin (the only other contender in that contest) waited 15 years for his chance, and was essentially coronated. As everyone knows, he got trounced in the ensuing general election, leading to the sad condition we see today. Now, Paul Martin was a good man with a fair amount of personal popularity; he had done lots of good work as Finance Minister in particular, and he was able to dish out money like crazy in his brief time in office. He was a far better speaker (in both languages) than was Stephen Harper. Canada did not reject Paul Martin. Canada rejected the Liberal Party. The party was a bureaucracy, dedicated to maintaining its own power as all bureaucracies are. It was powerful and, with power, became corrupt.

Nonetheless, most Canadians support Liberal values and reject Conservative values. Our defeat in the last election was not a rejection of what the Party stood for, it was a rejection of what the party had become. Nothing demonstrates that more than the manner of our loss which, while shocking, must be put in perspective: the current government rules with the smallest minority of any government in our history, and only remains standing because of the political calculations of the other parties (largely the Bloc, with whom the conservatives share the smallest iota of common ground) who do not wish to face an early election.

Now, unlike some candidates I will not say this race isn't about ideas - it is. But I think all but one of the leading contenders in the race stand for Liberal values, and are leaders whose ideas I could support. To choose among those leaders, I will look for the candidate that unequivocally represents a break for the old tradition, the back-room politics, the power plays, and the long knives.

Ideas: I don't believe leaders should figure out where people are going, and then get in front of them. I don't believe in the Rule of Pollsters. The masses have rarely risen up in revolution without a leader willing to be first in the firing line, and committees have seldom produced real innovation. I want to elect a leader who has a positive vision of Canada, both in terms of what we can achieve at home and how we can relate with the rest of the world.

At home, we have plenty of problems. I expect our government to exert its utmost good faith in resolving ancient disputes with the first nations, and ameliorating the poverty in which so many of them live. This is a disgrace to us all. The same must be said for women and immigrants, groups which also face deeply systemic barriers to success. I cannot tolerate a leader who is comfortable with the language of 'us' and 'them'.

While we are prosperous, we can both achieve greater wealth and distribute it more justly. Therefore we require a leader who, on the one hand, has a vision of an economically productive Canada and, on the other, is sympathetic to those who have not enjoyed the benefits of our production. This former proposition requires genuine strategic thinking. We cannot put our faith in those industries that have been successful in the past; we must build the successful industries of the future. The coal mines, the railroads, the automobile assembly lines - each in turn fades, and we can fade with them or break with them. The choice is ours.

Similarly, we must recognize that Canada is a significant actor on the world economic stage, but not a star. Economic success will require us to develop our competitive advantages (and these go beyond a wealth of resources) and to engage in global trade that can maximize those advantages. One of those advantages is a skilled workforce, and so among other things our next leader must have a real vision for education.

The global economy is also increasingly a global polity. The next Liberal leader must have a vision for Canada's place in the world that reflects our unique outlook and abilities. It must be a vision that recognizes the importance of our Southern neighbour without placing its interests and objectives on par with our own. While I expect any leader to ensure our armed forces are ready both to defend at home and respond to threats and disasters abroad, the vision must not be aggressive. Nations that are strong and confident have no need for aggression.

Finally, the environment presents genuine concern for most Canadians - concerns I share. We need to lead by example at home, and work with the international community abroad, to slow the degradation that is currently taking place.

Action: SWe cannot let a platform of good ideas distracts us from what can actually be accomplished. The best ideas aren't worth the hot air it takes to pronounce them if they will not be put into practice, and if in practice they will not generate results. Since none of the candidates has been Prime Minister, this is also the hardest factor to determine in advance, but I'll take a good crack.

The Candidates

Gerard Kennedy is my first choice candidate. Only Ignatieff rivals him with respect to his obvious distance from the politics of the past that Canadians so obviously rejected. He has among the best, if not the best, of the policy platforms: he led the debate on Afghanistan; he has a genuine education policy; he has a strategy for improving the economic status of women and immigrants; he is planning for an industrious and economically successful Canada. And he's more than nice words: the results he obtained at the Food bank speak of more than a purely ideological commitment to social justice, as does his success as Ontario's education minister. I'd like to see more highly developed policy in some areas, for example aboriginal issues, but quite frankly Kennedy has shown the sort of guts and integrity that lead me to have faith that he will face these problems head on. He also has the sort of optimism that I think is contagious and will lead Canadians to do better, rather than bribing or coercing them as has so often been the case. He has more experience and better French than Stephen Harper did when he won office, in spite of the fact that these two elements are considered Kennedy's weakest. He also comes from Alberta, and that's just gotta help in a race against the Harper Tories. I wrote somewhat more extensively on Kennedy here.

Stephane Dion runs a tight second with Scott Brison. M. Dion has the most robust environmental policy, but has been a bit light in the foreign affairs department in spite of holding the Ministry in a previous government. To me, this is inexplicable, especially considering the wide gulf between Liberal and conservative values on those issues. Also, he had a crack at doing at least some of the good work he talks about when he was in cabinet, and has relatively little to show for the experience. That does not give me faith that he will be able to effectively implement his ideas. It also means, of course, that he does not represent a clear and obvious break from the past, and I think failure on that count will be absolutely fatal to forming the next government. Nonetheless, I think he has electoral cachet in Quebec (which would have seemed shocking only a couple of years ago) and this will nudge him ahead of Scott.

Scott Brison is a good maritimer and therefore close to my heart. He placed last in his run for the Tory leadership back in 2003, which is not surprising and also not that long ago. It is perhaps unfortunate for him that he did not realize earlier that conservatives don't like gays. In any event, he does represent a clean break from the old traditions, and has quite a robust platform (which one of his supporters does a good job of outlining here). It unfortunately includes some Tory elements, like support for the war, that drop him way down the list. And because I don't think it will be a blue liberal that will wrest power from Stephen Harper, I just don't think Scott is the man for the job.

Ken Dryden- who doesn't like Ken Dryden? No one, that's who, and that's clearly Dryden's biggest advantage. Enough to win the leadership and the next election? I doubt it. Firstly, like Dion, he had the opportunity to make his presence felt in cabinet and did not seem to do so. But secondly, and more importantly, I really believe that we need a leader who will strike a positive and courageous new direction. I don't believe Canadians will go to the polls to put someone in the PMO just because they're generally more likeable than the alternatives (and if they will, then we don't need to look far). Dryden still has the opportunity to impress me, and right now I would absolutely vote for him long before the next two guys, but I hope I don't find myself in that position.

Michael Ignatieff- Iggy shares the 'clean break' leadership with Kennedy, but after that he falls off the wagon completely. Normally I try to be nice to all the candidates, and I could just say (as I said with Brison) that I don't think a blue liberal is the right way to go for the party. But on this occasion I will go farther. To be honest, I can't understand how anyone who supports an aggressive war can possibly be described as a human rights scholar, period. The path to hell is paved with good intentions and someone as educated as Iggy should realize that: no amount of good words about the status of women can make up for the fact that thousands of innocents have been killed in Afghanistan (not to mention those rotting in jail); it's back up to 90% share of world opium production; girls still can't go to school because those schools get bombed (and their supporters assassinated) when our soldiers turn their backs. I also can't understand how someone who has been absent for 30 years can presume to return to lead the country. I think that reopening the constitutional question at this time is a sucker's game. Iggy has lots of support, but I believe it's game theory support. I only hope that someone I have already discussed gathers the momentum and support to make it to the last ballot, because I would hold my nose and vote for Iggy instead of...

Bob Rae. If you had told me three months ago I would say that I would have laughed in your face. And hey, there's two months left, so it might not have been the last laugh anyway. But although I admire many of his principles, Bob has managed to become the leading candidate of the old guard. Between Chretien and Power Corp support and the odd manner in which the drop-outs have come to support him, I have been forced to conclude that although I like him and think he's an intelligent man, Bob has basically sold out. Until I stop believing that I can't trust a thing he says, and therefore I won't even bother analyzing his policy. I should add, however, that every time something good happens to Bob's campaign, every Tory I know and every Tory blog on the web crows with glee. Long story short: Bob is the surest way to a Harper majority government. And that's why I would vote even for Iggy over Bob.

Thanks for reading, and thanks even more for commenting. If you are a member of Trinity-Spadina, then I hope I've earned firstly your respect and secondly your support - even if you don't support Kennedy. Good luck to all of us.


Blogger Ryan said...

I agree with your reasoning on selecting the next leader. I too am a delegate candidate for Trinity-Spadina. Your assessment of the leaders is reasonable, though as an Ignatieff supporter I have to disagree with your take on his judgements on Afghanistan and the Constitution. I will be posting my views on Ignatieff's stances on my blog (Davey's Politics) over the next couple of days. Good luck on Sunday.

September 27, 2006  
Anonymous Crescent Canuck said...

zowreI concur. I put put Bryson below Ignatieff though.
- Crescent Canuck

September 28, 2006  
Blogger Gavin Neil said...

CC - as I have admitted privately, I probably put Iggy lower than he deserves because he gets so much press as the presumed frontrunner. Also I think his chances are akin to those of the proverbial snowball, so I'm betting I won't have to eat my words.

September 28, 2006  
Anonymous grace said...

Very interesting read. I agree with the platform and good luck this weekend with the voting. Who knows, maybe we'll both wind up at the convention. I still haven't decided who I'm voting for which could cost me votes given the huge support for Rae out of our constituency office. I've started leaning towards Ken Dryden based on things I've read, along with Kennedy and Dion. Ignatieff and Rae are off in the distance.

September 28, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

gavin, you forgot to mention the honourable, not to mention miraculous, joe volpe

September 29, 2006  
Blogger DivaRachel said...

Gavin, very interesting analysis. I hope to meet you at the convention.

September 29, 2006  
Blogger Gavin Neil said...

NeoCon - I wouldn't really say that I 'forgot' to mention him...

Rachel, Grace - thanks!

September 29, 2006  
Blogger Shelagh said...

I'm impressed by your articulation and well thought out arguments. I too have been leaning toward Kennedy. Do you think he has a real chance, though? Everyone seems to be jumping on the Ignatieff bandwagon, somehow equating him with Trudeau. But then, Kennedy may come from behind like David Miller in the last Toronto mayoralty race.

September 30, 2006  
Blogger catharine said...

Kennedy knows from experience that it's best not to be the frontrunner. From the beginning there was an "Anybody but Iggy" camp and now there is an "Anybody but Rae" camp. Bodes well for Kennedy and Dion. And maybe even Dryden (long shot - but stranger things have happened).

September 30, 2006  
Blogger Gavin Neil said...

Shelagh - in short, yes. See Catharine's comment, for example... I think that THIS race will be a real race to the finish, I think a lot of it will be decided on the convention floor, and I think that the supporters of other candidates in the top tier will face some tough choices when their candidate is forced to drop out. Given the adamant nature of many people's dislike for both Bob and Iggy, I think (and hope) that the support of these other members will shift to GK, who offers them the best aspects of their chosen candidate without the incredible drawbacks of the 'frontrunners'.

September 30, 2006  
Blogger Penny said...

There's a helpful article at the
Globe & Mail today, which explains why some people are committed "undecideds" - or probably better: "undeclareds", if anyone hasn't already read it. And there seem to be enough of them, so far, that they could have quite an impact at the Convention.

So this vote will be meaningful, I gather, but nothing's decided til the fat lady does her thing?

Although I'm standing for Scott Brison, I almost hope I don't meet any of you at the convention!! The thought of the noise, the crowds, the expense, the cold....!! Eeek!!

As an anti-war freak, I could still defend Scott and the Afghan position, but he ought to have done a better job of it himself, and besides, it seems to me that we've all made up our minds - for the time being anyway,

Anyway, if I do get there, Dion and possibly Kennedy would be second choices.

September 30, 2006  

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