That cursing was me, lamenting the end of the Liberal Party’s biennial convention in Ottawa. I wasn’t lamenting the fact that it was over – I mean, even a hopeless political junkie such as myself gets tired of seeing politicians pat each other on the back and look optimistically towards the future. No, I was lamenting the overall impression with which the convention left me – the impression of a party unused to being voters’ third choice and still blissfully ignorant of the fact that serious changes need to be made.
The convention was a real opportunity to revive the Liberal Party of Canada, reinventing the perceived “old boys’ club” into a much more modern, progressive party that could really capture the imagination of Canadians. The results of the convention, while making it apparent that the Liberals are trying to modernize, also left them looking hopelessly old and out of touch.
The two major points that came out of the convention were the promise to legalize marijuana if the Liberals are elected and the plan to choose their leader by primary, somewhat similar to the American method. While each of these changes are steps in the right direction, it leaves one with the impression that the Liberal Party is a very lame father looking to relate to his kids by buying the Backstreet Boys comeback album and wearing an army-print shirt. While you can appreciate the effort, you still know that he’ll never be as cool as your friend’s dad.
Perhaps the most damning thing, however, was the Liberals’ choice to elect Mike Crawley as president of the party. While Crawley speaks highly of rejuvenating the party and of bringing new ideas to the surface constantly, he is far from the figure that most people would see as inspiring or rejuvenating. A Toronto businessman with little prior experience in politics, Crawley narrowly defeated Sheila Copps to become president on a promise to change the Liberal Party from a party of buzzwords into a party of “values” and “principles.” It’s difficult to miss the glaring problems with that statement.
Arguably, the president of the party doesn’t need to be terribly inspiring or charismatic (cf. Brian Topp). However, when an excellent choice such as Sheila Copps is passed over – a person who could have brought a unique female perspective to the party and showcased the progressive values of the Liberals far better than voting to legalize pot ever could – it demonstrates how lost the Liberals truly are.
With Bob Rae increasingly looking like the favourite choice for permanent leader once his supposedly-temporary interim term is up, electing Copps would have demonstrated that the Liberal Party is not just a party of old men, an image it desperately needs to overcome if it wants to become relevant again and lure back the thousands of voters that fled the party in favour of the New Democrats or Conservatives.
Michael Ignatieff said in his resignation speech that he hoped the new Liberal leader would be a young woman. While much of what he said in the last election rang hollow, his final wish is one that should resound with all forward-thinking Canadians.
The Liberal Party would do well to heed his last piece of advice.