Friday, February 23, 2007

Picking Scabs

Being a centrist party has its advantages when you're in power. Jean Chretien's ability to ride waves of public opinion -- a little deficit reduction here, a little health care spending there -- was as much due to his own skill as it was to the nature of his party. As an ideologically-diverse coalition united, at times, only by their desire to hold power, theirs was a fairly easy caucus to control. Chretien's grip on his party was built on the same foundations as his grip on parliament -- what he said, went. You don't recall him ever issuing a three-line whip, do you?

Oh, how a few months can change things. Only now, after moving across the aisle, do we out now just how divided the Liberal Party is. The party is split over Anti-Terror legislation, and will soon divide over Afghanistan and the CN Rail dispute. A "united" Liberal Party passed the ATA less than two years ago. Are we to believe that half of them have suddenly had a change of heart -- that they've just recently become Charterphiles? No. The divisions were there under Martin and Chretien; they were simply papered over by power.

No amount of whipping will help Dion out of this situation. And he knows it. You need some source of authority if you are going to keep your caucus from falling apart, let alone drive it to reverse its own position. Withholding nomination papers is the last-ditch act of a desparate leader -- a threat that has little hope of working anyway, considering many Liberals are seriously re-considering their re-election bids.

It's plain to see: Without Chretien-like control of cabinet postions, election timing or the budget -- and without popular support both inside and outside the party -- Stephane Dion has lost control of his fragile coalition.

Actually... let's be truthful: He never had control of his party. Anyone who watched the Grits' convention in Montreal could see the divisions in the party. New versus old. Old versus young. Corrupt versus fresh. Left versus right. West versus East. French versus English. It didn't take placard signs or fake smiles to see the cleavages within the Liberal ranks.

Not that these emerged, magically, during the convention. Chretien's long goodbye left over a year for these wounds to fester. Martin's 'victory' only added salt. The convention-night: a massive exercise in scab-picking.

Not that the Liberal Party is unique in this regard. Masochism has become synonomous with Conservative Parties when they're out of power, particularly when polls show little hope for a return to office. It's just a little satisfying to learn that the "Tory Syndrome" isn't uniquely Tory after all.

1 comment:

whichwaysthegym said...

Good Post! Although I fear Harper may have hurt the chances of widening the rift in the party with the Vancouver Sun article.