Liberalism might not be dead.

It is easy to be a liberal.  Being a liberal most of your life is not a particularly demanding challenge.  You do not have to hate anybody.  You can live and let live.  You can accept diversity—of lifestyle, of sexuality, of thought, of religion and even of political persuasion, within reason.

Having known many members of the Liberal Party over the years, it has always been amazing to note the breadth of that acceptance.  Last year, listening to Michael Ignatieff promote his ‘Big Red Tent’ approach to the party, one could wonder who was excluded from squeezing under that all-enveloping canvas.  At least the tent illustration is better than the one about the need for the right and left wings of the party to flap in unison.

One of the observations made over the years is that there are right wing members of the Liberal Party who can embarrass a conscientious conservative.  No Conservative finance minister in the last 100 years could have been more ruthless than Liberal Paul Martin during the 1990s.  He did not just rename the unemployment insurance system, he gutted it.  If he had wanted to destroy Medicare, he could not have done it more damage than he did by stripping its funding to the provinces.

When Martin replaced Chrétien as Liberal Leader, the left wing of the party had been decimated.  Paul had rejected their pleas for some common sense in his crusade to cut the deficit.  They, in turn, rejected his pleas to continue to support the party.

There was little choice for the voters in 2006.  You had the real right wing of Stephen Harper or the de facto right wing of Paul Martin with its thin veneer of left-wing promises.  As the marketers of Coca-Cola can tell you, people opt for the ‘real thing.’

But it was obvious that nobody trusted Mr. Harper.  It took him three tries to get a majority.  And even his working majority on May 2 is no ringing endorsement of him, his party or his platform.

The Liberals had good reason to dump an unrealistic Dion after the 2008 disaster.  They should have taken more time.  The rushed imposition of Ignatieff on the party was a serious mistake.  There should have been a proper leadership convention instead of a coronation.  The convention would have served to introduce Ignatieff more effectively and short-circuited some of the effectiveness of Harper’s attack advertising.

With the time the party is now contemplating taking to find a new leader, we will have lots of opportunity to consider our wishes.  Instead of settling for one of the contenders now emerging, we should build a model of what we want and then we can look for someone to fill those shoes.

One thing for sure, we must find a leader who recognizes the need for democracy in the party.  The new leader must agree to only authorize candidates for an electoral district who have been chosen democratically by the members of the Liberal association in that area.  We must also have a party hierarchy that works for the people in the electoral districts.  Liberals can do no less.

Liberals must rebuild.  They must decide what they represent.  They must democratize the party.  And then they can choose a leader who can speak for that party.

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