Okay, I get why the Liberal Party decided that it couldn't handle a leadership campaign right now. To call this party "traumatized" might even be too kind. Whether it's the sheer fact of having lost three times in a row now, or the additional trauma of Stéphane Dion's poor choices as leader, many people in the party leadership have concluded that now isn't the time for something as messy as democracy to break out in party ranks. And -- I want to stress this part -- they might be correct.
But let's not pretend for a minute that there aren't costs as well as benefits to forgoing a leadership process. First -- and most importantly -- it would have given Ignatieff the chance to work on, or demonstrate, his political skills. His last leadership race was successful only to the extent that it united his opponents against him, something he and Stephen Harper have in common.
Imagine what the recent US election would have been like if the DNC had decided to give Hillary Clinton the nomination sometime before the Iowa caucuses. I think we'd all be talking about President-elect McCain right now. Not because I think Clinton is a bad politician, but I think that absent the strong challenge from the Obama campaign, her bid would never have gotten even half as strong as it was. (And of course, it wasn't the strongest bid in play.)
Politics really isn't unlike any other field of human activity: you get good at it by working hard. In his last leadership bid, Ignatieff didn't work hard, instead believing that the strength of the Liberal machine would make him leader, even if it took a few ballots. A leadership process would have given Ignatieff the opportunity to actually earn the leadership he now holds, instead of having it handed to him by a terrified, shivering party.
Do you think that Harper keeps beating the Liberals by accident? Look at the record: before Harper led his party to minority government in 2006, Harper had run in two separate leadership contests in 2002 and 2004 and humbled Paul Martin in 2004. He's gotten good at this by working hard at it, and whatever else we can say about Harper he didn't have these things handed to him. He's within a hair's breadth of having a majority in Parliament, and it's about time that Liberals realize what's truly terrifying about Harper is that he's beating them fair and square. The party of Chretien the brawler is getting their ass handed to them, something I never thought I would see.
A leadership process would have also given Liberals the chance to energize their grassroots once more. It's difficult to remember back in the days of yore, immediately after Dion was elected, how excited the Liberal grassroots were. That fact, and the fact that it was never really capitalized on, stand as probably the most damning thing about the Dion years.
In all of this, I'd like to say that my distaste for Ignatieff doesn't blind me to the realities of Canadian politics, and if he wins the next election to become Prime Minister I will be right their in line thanking him for relieving us of the current one. Let's just say I'm not optimistic at this point.