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Monday, October 20, 2008

Liberal leadership changes all too predictable

As I write this column Liberal Leader Stephane Dion has announced he will step down as soon as the federal party chooses a new one. As I predicted in my last column, the Conservatives won an increased minority.

In fact if not for Newfoundland Premier Danny William’s political jihad against Prime Minister Stephen Harper, and some ill advised Conservative attacks on the cultural community which helped lend new relevancy to the Bloc Quebecois, the Conservatives could have won a majority government.

In any event the Liberals lost and lost badly, making the resignation of Dion all but inevitable. Almost as inevitable is who the next two leaders of the Liberal Party of Canada will be.

The two main contenders will be Michael Ignatieff and Bob Rae. Both are extremely intelligent and capable individuals. Bob Rae’s problem is that prior to becoming a Liberal MP he served for one term as the NDP Premier of Ontario and much like when Glen Clark was the NDP Premier of BC, it is not a time fondly remembered by many.
As Ontario (along with Newfoundland) is one of the few strongholds the Liberal Party has left, they are not going to risk alienating moderate voters there by electing Rae as their next federal leader.

Instead they will elect Michael Ignatieff, a descendent of Russian Aristocracy, who was born in Toronto and after becoming a history professor at UBC, was a research fellow at Cambridge, Paris and then Oxford. Then most recently and famously went on to become a Professor of Human Rights Practice at Harvard University.

When Ignatieff is elected head of the Liberals he will certainly be the most academically qualified candidate to ever seek the office of Prime Minister of Canada. That doesn’t guarantee that he will be able to win but he will almost certainly prove to be a more formidable opponent to Prime Minister Harper than Dion was.

The length of Ignatieff’s tenure will depend entirely on how well he does over the next two federal elections. The federal Liberals will likely be willing to give him one electoral mulligan as long as he increases the number of seats they hold. But if he has not been able to secure at least a minority government for the Liberals by his second election then like Dion he will resign.

That will then leave the door open for Justin Trudeau, the son of our most famous Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau, to become leader of the Liberal Party of Canada. In this most recent federal election Justin Trudeau was able to get elected in Papineau, a riding in Quebec.

In addition to a slavish devotion to alternating between Anglophone and Francophone candidates, the Liberal Party of Canada is desperate to scare up some of that Trudeau mystique that captivated our nation for so many years.

Justin is far too green to handle the mantle of leadership in this go around, but after a couple of more elections and who knows perhaps even a stint in cabinet should Ignatieff secure at some point a minority government, then Justin would then be seen as having sufficient experience to be a credible federal candidate.

So far Justin Trudeau has shown that he has more charm than his father and perhaps almost as much charisma. The key challenge for Justin will be demonstrating that he also has his father’s keen intelligence and toughness. If he can then don’t be surprised if 40 years after the first wave of Trudeau mania struck another wave doesn’t start building.

Michael Geoghegan is a government relations consultant based in Victoria, B.C. He can be contacted via his website at www.mgcltd.ca

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