Seamanship Quotation

“In political activity, then, men sail a boundless and bottomless sea; there is neither harbour for shelter nor floor for anchorage, neither starting-place nor appointed destination.”
— from Michael Oakeshott's
Political Education” (1951)

Monday, May 23, 2011

Liberal protocols on a Canadian life raft

Canadian Liberals are in a very dangerous place. The chances that they can return to office thinking of Canada, their opponents, and themselves as they have in the past are long. Without power but awash with fond memories of due process, they are busy establishing rules of conduct—for the years they must spend at sea. Before securing food and fresh water or, say, a compass, they want to make sure that they will share the experience equitably.
The immediate worry is truly liberal: if their pro-tem life raft leader actually gets them within sight of shore, they may not feel totally free to pick someone else for the heavy lifting on dry land. The provisional leader might look better than the alternatives.
Bob Rae, an elected MP from Toronto and former Premier of Ontario, is the focus of their concern. It’s widely suspected that he might do an excellent job. Sensitive to this problem he has agreed to abide by the latest rules that require that the interim leader not run for the permanent job at the next leadership convention in 18 or 24 months.
Some want him to swear in blood, to “clearly pledge” he’ll not run for the permanent leadership even if the rules are changed again in six months. The membership is “desperate to have a wide-open, friendly” leadership race. Click on:
Their desperation is misplaced.  
Liberals miss power but have lost their confidence in exercising power’s first imperative—recruiting talent and selecting the right leader. In their last three tries they got it wrong. First, they picked Paul Martin Junior, a man who’s ambition to lead was forced. Then, they rewarded Stephen Dion, a good man from the wrong region and, recently, not trusting their collective judgment they simply appointed Michael Ignatieff, an individual whose reputation was earned and appealed abroad. Each error was prescribed by miscalculations over who they were electing and who they needed. Despite their dire circumstances today they’re setting themselves up to fail again—possibly, fatally.
Their present obsession with harmony and a “level playing field” is nothing more than misplaced remorse about the vacuous clich├ęs that failed them in the recent past. How well an individual actually exercises power is far more relevant to finding the right person to take power away from Stephen Harper than a likable resume.
Several candidates touted for the permanent job don’t have any proven executive experience in politics. That is a disadvantage, and that disadvantage shouldn’t be disguised by excluding those who do. If Bob Rae’s performance as interim leader turns out to make him the most attractive and credible Liberal politician in the country a year from now, he should get promoted, not be asked to leave the room. If the young Turks don’t think they can look as interesting as or more promising than Bob Rae they shouldn’t run.
Besides, what’s all this egalitarian talk about a level playing field? The four most frequently mentioned alternative permanent leaders proudly carry the names: Trudeau, LeBlanc, McGuinty, and Kennedy. Three of them are from great Canadian Liberal families and the one American name can still make hearts warm in Canada. Is that fair?

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