Liberals must end 'top-down directives,' Bertschi says

An Ottawa lawyer considering a run for leadership of the federal Liberal party says the party's past leaders made mistakes and it is time for the party to apologize and move on.

Ottawa lawyer is waiting to hear Liberal leadership rules before declaring candidacy

David Bertschi, a former Liberal candidate, says he is 'seriously considering' running for his party's leadership but hasn't made a decision. (Economic Club of Canada)

An Ottawa lawyer considering a run for the leadership of the federal Liberal party says the party's past leaders made mistakes and it is time for the party to apologize and move on.

David Berstchi told the Economic Club of Canada in Ottawa Tuesday that the Liberal party has a long list of accomplishments, but it also needs to face up to its failings.

"I fail to see why the past leaders don't have the intestinal fortitude to say, 'We made a mistake, we're sorry ... and we've learned from those mistakes and we're prepared to rectify the situation and move forward'," he said in a lunchtime speech.

"We've had top-down directives as well, that's not the way to go. We've implemented policies in the past without consultation. We've had infighting, and yes, there have been broken promises and that appears to be part of the reason why Canadians over time are losing confidence and faith in the Liberal Party of Canada."

Bertschi, who ran for the Liberals in the last election, said he's "seriously considering" running for his party's leadership but hasn't yet made a decision. He's launched an "exploratory committee" and produced a slick online advertisement and has been travelling around the country meeting people.

"I'm seriously considering a bid for the leadership but I have not yet made that decision as I have more to hear and more to listen and learn. I will make the decision when the time is right and when it's best for my party and it's best for my country," he said.

He elaborated to reporters after his remarks that he thinks it's important to meet with Canadians and understand their issues "before you come up with policies."

Bertschi, who lost last May's election in Ottawa–Orleans to Conservative Royal Galipeau, said he will make a decision after reflecting on what he learns from Canadians.

But he's also waiting to hear the rules for the leadership race. The Liberal party's national board is expected to meet June 13 to set some guidelines, including whether interim leader Bob Rae will be asked to step down if he decides he wants the job permanently.

Rae agreed not to run for the permanent leadership when he accepted the interim job but there are currently no rules barring him from running. The next leader is to be chosen some time between March and June of 2013 and the national board could narrow down the date when it meets next week.

"I think it's important that before you jump into something, that you know the rules, you know the players and what's best for the party," said Bertschi.

The bilingual Ottawa resident who grew up mostly in Montreal has been involved with the Liberal party for a long time but he said he has "never been a backroom boy." His history with the party gives him a good understanding of the party's problems, but Bertschi said he has spent more than 27 years working in the private sector and the Liberals need fresh ideas from a broader spectrum of people.

Canadians don't want 'professional politicians'

"I think a lot of people are professional politicians and I think, frankly, Canadians don't want professional politicians," he said.

Bertschi, 52, didn't commit to throwing his hat in the ring Tuesday but during his remarks he talked a lot about leadership and about what he thinks his party needs to do to rebuild after last year's disastrous election result.

He said leadership involves listening, consulting, developing policies that are right for Canada and taking decisive action when necessary. He also said "it's not about merging totally opposite philosophies and parties into one entity."

Bertschi was referring to the idea of a Liberal-NDP merger to try to knock the Conservatives out of power.

The challenge in Canadian politics today, according to Bertschi, is that the Conservatives subscribe to a survival-of-the-fittest philosophy and the NDP thinks you can spend your way out of any problem.

"We all know neither option is good, neither option is legitimate," he told the audience. "And we have to design and come forward with an acceptable, reasonable, pragmatic and practical alternative, and that’s what liberalism is about."

He said his party has talked a lot about being open to new ideas and now has to "practice what we preach."

"We need to welcome and integrate new ideas and new people with open arms," he said.