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Thread: Why the Canadian Liberals lost the election

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    Default Why the Canadian Liberals lost the election

    Martin damaged beyond repair
    Jan. 21, 2006. 01:00 AM
    JAMES TRAVERS

    Everyone knows the moment when it went so wrong for Paul Martin. It's just that every moment is different.


    In their bitter weariness at the end of a cruel campaign, Liberals trace the turning point to the RCMP investigation into suspected leaks of Finance Minister Ralph Goodale's income trusts decision. It freed the spectre of scandal to stalk Liberals who were until then holding their own. Static public opinion became fluid, and a drift toward a suddenly not-so-scary Stephen Harper became a current.


    But there are other moments that come with larger questions marks. Did the Prime Minister destroy his fiscal prudence reputation as well as a campaign trump card with a wild, pre-election spending spree? Were Liberals so overconfident that Conservatives would self-destruct that they opted for a marathon eight-week campaign that gave Harper time to find a more flattering costume? Or was it that seminal "popcorn and beer" crack that convinced voters that Martin's smart-alecky fraternity was exercising enormous power with precious little discipline?


    Each moment has merit and all certainly contributed to what promises to be a sobering election night for a party whose principal purpose is winning. But none quite captures the how and why of the Prime Minister's long fall from the peaks of the Liberal leadership to the lowlands of this extraordinary winter campaign.


    Whatever the final outcome, Martin is irreparably damaged. Even if Liberals snatch victory from defeat a second consecutive time, a party that now understands the importance of renewal won't fight another campaign with this leader.


    No, Martin's prediction that he would lead the country through 10 years of transformational change is foundering after only two. A wreck so catastrophic can't be fully explained by the curious timing of an RCMP investigation, a prime ministerial persona that became too fuzzy to identify or even the failure to replace the team that seized the leadership with one mature enough to manage and hold power.


    What's self-evident now is that the seeds of Martin's failure were sown by success. In dividing Liberals to topple a sitting prime minister, Martin and his clique so weakened the Western world's most successful political party that a Conservative revival became inevitable.


    Looking back, it's easy to see how the decision to distance the new and old regimes locked Martin's infamous "board" into subsequent decisions that would eventually bring prime minister and party to today's threshold of defeat. There's no more instructive example than the sponsorship scandal.


    With an acidic leadership campaign just behind, an election just ahead and with the promise to do politics differently ringing in his ears, Martin's only viable option was to inflate rather than deflate the government response to Auditor General Sheila Fraser's startling report. Instead of following Jean Chrétien's pattern of shoving dirt under the RCMP rug, a "mad as hell" Martin put Justice John Gomery on the case while the backroom whiz kids, disconnected from history and perspective, snapped their suspenders and insisted Adscam was the worst Canadian scandal ever.


    It wasn't then; it might be now. From tawdry Tory contracting practices, the sponsorship scheme grew into a Liberal remake of The Sopranos that drew Quebecers to daytime TV and resuscitated separatism.

    With the election just two days away, a party that tried to make itself synonymous with Canada in Quebec is in danger of becoming a rump in the province that, along with Ontario, was once its base. More remarkable still, the rising voice of federalism now belongs to Stephen Harper.

    And why not? In their desperation to repair self-inflicted damage to the brand, Liberals made serial mistakes that hurt the party, first in Quebec and then across the country. Martin made the reformed separatist and accidental comedian Jean Lapierre his provincial lieutenant, dumped Toronto's Bill Graham, one of a handful of strong ministers, to elevate the accident-prone Pierre Pettigrew into the prestigious foreign affairs portfolio, and then recklessly declared this election a referendum on national unity.


    Of the three mistakes, the third is most revealing. Voters accept that politicians will say almost anything to get elected. But prime ministers are diminished when they make national interests subservient to partisan advantage.


    That's now a recognizable Martin trait. Just as he sacrificed the party to capture its leadership, Martin twice made the country's priorities second to his own at critical times. Immediately after elevating this election to a test of patriotism, the Prime Minister jeopardized Canada's sustaining relationship with the U.S. by tilting crazily at George W. Bush's environmental record.


    Bashing the most unpopular modern U.S. president is good, if easy, domestic politics. But gratuitously attacking the U.S. presidency does lasting damage — particularly when Ottawa's greenhouse gas performance is worse than Washington's — and leads to nasty repercussions.


    In this campaign's brightest flash of dark humour, a U.S. nuclear submarine, complete with camera crew, popped through the polar ice to poke a gaping hole into empty Liberal commitments to Arctic sovereignty. More subtly, the gesture reminded Canadians that Martin the Prime Minister is not Martin the leadership saviour-in-waiting.


    When power was just an abstract concept, the former finance minister was very, very clear. He would strengthen U.S. relations, shift power from the Prime Minister's Office back to Parliament and strengthen the constant triumvirate of economy, health care and education.


    It's not that Martin didn't make progress on an impossibly lengthy priority list, it's that each advance came with an asterisk. After promising to write in public a health-care prescription for a generation, Martin applied another Band-Aid behind closed doors. A national daycare program became a provincial patchwork quilt. And a prime minister now campaigning as a staunch federalist cut serial deals with the provinces as corrosive to strong central government as anything Harper plans.


    Bit by bit, Martin prepared the ground for this election's turning points. A prime minister trying to be all things to all people, a party suffering from excessive-entitlement syndrome, and a government bouncing between policy guardrails, offered broad targets to Conservatives who committed to memory the hard lessons of the 2004 election.


    Politics abhors a vacuum, and in the weeks before the Christmas ceasefire, Conservatives eased smoothly into the space Liberals vacated. Given time and elbow room, Harper redefined himself and a reconstituted party with easily grasped policies that spoke directly to the self-interest of all those ordinary Canadians who no longer understood, liked or trusted Liberals or their leader.


    By the time the RCMP income trust investigation became public, voters who couldn't stomach Harper in 2004 were ready to tumble to Conservatives. In times as good as these, that reversal is extraordinary.

    Canadians are turning away from a party inextricably linked to a strong economy and from a prime minister promoting what should be popular policies on issues that make a difference. On cities, stimulating innovation and international competitiveness, Martin is safely aligned with younger, urban and highly educated voters.


    But is anybody still listening? It's this campaign's phenomenon that a soundproof glass wall now separates Martin from those voters who rescued Liberals in the last election's final hours. In marked contrast to that pivotal last weekend, a prime minister who says so much about so many things isn't being heard when it matters.


    Liberals still hope for a repeat of that 11th-hour recoil from the prospect of a Harper government. Conservatives are confident the preconditions for another last-ditch Liberal rally have vaporized.


    Opinion polls argue the Conservatives' case. In 2004, residual optimism that Martin might yet fulfil those great leadership expectations trumped the unpleasant experience of his first months in office, making it possible to demonize Conservatives as Reformers. This time the winds of change are howling at Harper's back and Liberal warnings about neo-cons storming Parliament Hill sound like what they are: fear-mongering.

    Remember too, Liberals and Conservatives have effectively flipped election roles. Instead of Conservatives exposing their default characteristics with uncensored comments, it's Liberals who are tripping over their tongues. Instead of Liberals setting the pace with a razor-sharp campaign, it's now Conservatives.


    Of the many reasons for that reversal, one stands in sharp relief. Between elections, Conservatives looked unflinchingly at why they lost while smug Liberals convinced themselves they had won because they were smarter, shrewd, more compelling. One party was honest with itself and learned, the other wasn't and didn't.


    A few days before the first campaign shot was fired, a senior Martin cabinet minister confided how Liberals planned to morph a minority into a majority. They would make Stephen Harper the ballot question one more time.


    What the strategists missed is that all those moments, all those turning points, changed the campaign dynamic. This election is not about Harper and an apprehended Conservative threat, but about Martin and the Liberal record. Rather than a referendum on unity in Quebec, the second election in less than two years is a national referendum on this prime minister.


    Harper's small missteps earlier in the week could still make this election close. But unless the polls are wonky and the political scientists deluded, all that remains to be decided is the size of the Conservative win.

    If voters give Harper a majority, that will be this election's final turning point for Paul Martin and the Liberals.


    Just to give a perspective to those outside of Canada what really happened.

  2. #2
    Elite Member Grimmlok's Avatar
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    Default Re: Why the Canadian Liberals lost the election

    Harper's idea for national daycare is giving a few bucks to people. That's not a program, that's a cop out.

    NEXT!
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    Gold Member ohmygoodness's Avatar
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    Default Re: Why the Canadian Liberals lost the election

    Mmm. Beer and popcorn!

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    Elite Member Grimmlok's Avatar
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    Default Re: Why the Canadian Liberals lost the election

    He was right with that comment anyway. People are stupid.
    I am from the American CIA and I have a radio in my head. I am going to kill you.

  5. #5
    Gold Member ohmygoodness's Avatar
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    Default Re: Why the Canadian Liberals lost the election

    ^ ^ I thought so too. Lol. Have you read Rick Mercer's blog on that topic? I love Rick Mercer, he's hilarious. I totally voted for him for Greatest Canadian.

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