First aired on The House (19/11/11)
When political journalist Peter C. Newman hitched a ride on Michael Ignatieff's campaign bus in the May 2011 election, he thought he would be chronicling the Liberal leader's rise to prime minister. Instead, he found himself writing not just about the political death of Ignatieff, but the demise of the party itself. At least that's the argument he makes in his controversial new book, When the Gods Changed: The Death of Liberal Canada.
In a recent interview on The House, Newman talked to host Evan Solomon about his reasons for believing that the Liberal party is finished. He started to rewrite his book at the end of the campaign, after having seen the writing on the wall. Newman said he talked to the audience at campaign stops and began to realize, "Hey, these are all Liberals. He [Ignatieff] was talking to the converted...Those people were going to vote Liberal anyway. So if that was all he had to show for all that work, and it is hard work, then I knew it was all over."
According to Newman, Ignatieff may have been the "agent of destruction" but the real blame rests with Liberal party organizers. In his book he writes that the party lost touch with its roots, and "evolved into a bunch of independent political entrepreneurs who mainly looked after themselves and ultimately didn't deserve power or office."
The election results could be seen as merely the consequence of a bad campaign and a poor performance by a leader and his team. Why is Newman convinced that they herald the "death of the Liberal brand"? After all, the Tories were down to two seats in 1993, but they regrouped.
Newman argues that the Conservatives had natural allies, but the Liberals don't. "Yes, they are still a party but they have no power base," he pointed out. "Every political party must have a power base, a geographic power base where they feel at home...they have 34 seats now, and they're all scattered."
Newman also pointed out that the number of Liberal seats has been steeply declining since 1993, when Paul Martin succeeded Jean Chrétien. They have been losing 30 seats every election. "If they lose 30 more in 2015, they'll just have enough for a game of bridge," he said.
Newman also sees the collapse of the Liberals as part of a global trend. In Europe, he said, politics is becoming more polarized and centralist parties have lost ground.
Liberals themselves have been vocal in recognizing the need to rebuild the party from the ground up. But unlike Newman, they believe they can revitalize the party, and that there is room on the political spectrum for a centralist party.
Newman thinks any revitalization will be slow. "I think it will take several elections...There is a solid, loyal core. But I don't think they're in the mainstream. And once you leave the mainstream you have a hard time in this country to be a third or fourth party."
When the Gods Changed: The Death of Liberal Canada
by Peter C. Newman
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From the publisher:
"The May 2, 2011, federal election turned Canadian governance upside down and inside out. In his newest and possibly most controversial book, bestselling author Peter C. Newman argues that the Harper majority will alter Canada so much that we may have to change the country's name. But the most lasting impact of the Tory win will be the demise of the Liberal Party, which ruled Canada for seven of the last ten decades and literally made the country what it is. Newman chronicles, in bloody detail, the de-construction of the Grits' once unassailable fortress and anatomizes the ways in which the arrogance embedded in the Liberal genetic code slowly poisoned the party's progressive impulses..."
Read more at Random House Canada.