Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Since when did Martin go away?

Anyone else remember, in the heady days circa 2006, how Michael Ignatieff's leadership was key to resuscitating Liberal fortunes in Quebec? Good times.

There's a growing meme out there that somebody's really going to have to explain to me. According to a number of voices -- including, I think [1] Paul Wells [update: listening to it online, it seems this was Susan Delacourt, though Wells certainly agreed] on CBC's The Current this morning -- the problem with the Liberal Party today is that both the Chretien and Martin camps have collapsed, leaving no core of leadership to keep the party from drifting aimlessly.

Except. I can get that Dion was basically a surprise to the Party -- they had their man (Ignatieff) picked, and if he'd actually been a competent politician he probably wouldn't have barfed up all over the silver platter they'd prepared for him. But Ignatieff is the leader now. And Ignatieff was hand-picked and parachuted in to his riding by... Paul Martin. Moreover, wooing Ignatieff in 2004-5 was an explicit slap to the final great moment of Chretien's Prime Ministry: keeping Canada out of the war in Iraq.

The Martin wing, then, hasn't really gone anywhere. It's a bit much to say that Ignatieff was Martin's chosen successor -- for that to be true, Martin would have had to acknowledge the reality that there would be one day when he wouldn't be leader -- but certainly the policies (move right, always right!) and even the staff are largely the same. (Denis Coderre, as just one example, began his cabinet career under Chretien but was elevated substantially under Martin.)

Now clearly I lack the sources that Paul Wells does. But from where I'm sitting, the problems isn't that the Martin camp and Chretien camp have disappeared. Rather, the problem is the Martin camp keeps failing miserably under both Martin and Ignatieff, but maintains a blatantly autocratic habit of forcing its candidates to the commanding heights without bothering with anything so plebian as a competitive election -- because in a competitive election, candidates like Ignatieff and Martin keep, um, losing.

Now, surely Dion is not the poster boy for electoral success either, but I know I'm not alone in thinking that had he not had to deal with a constant barrage of knives coming from his own team, Dion would have put up a better fight in the last election. Not a few people have used the words "treated shamefully" to describe Dion's handling at the hands of his own party. One guess as to who was wielding most of the knives, 2006-2008?

Now, clearly, I'm not an objective observer when it comes to Michael Ignatieff. I am, as they say, not a fan. But I thought it was clear that the Martin wing of the party was very much still in control, having helped ruin Dion and elevate Ignatieff. So people, if I have the basic facts of this matter wrong, please illuminate me.

[1] My apologies if I've misattributed a statement to Paul Wells, but I was just waking up to my alarm clock and couldn't sort out voices and statements right away. [Clearly, I did misattribute this.]


The Mound of Sound said...

I doubt that Martin intended for progressives (card-carrying and non)to be driven out of the LPC as Iggy has done. Until some Liberal leader brings the party back to centre-left, it'll get mighty thirsty in the desert Harper has created for it on the right.

john said...

Hm. I was unimpressed with Martin, and feel like he spent as much time demonizing the left as Ignatieff has. Certainly, he didn't seem to like relying on the NDP for survival. But then, I think relying on anyone else for political favour is difficult for Liberal PMs bred to believe a majority government is their due.

Chet Scoville said...

I think that a lot of people, for understandable reasons, have a very hard time coming to grips with a fairly simple truth: Paul Martin was just awful, not only as PM but as party leader. He and his faction cut an incredible swath of destruction through the Liberal Party, and it's going to take them years to recover from it.