Saturday, October 15, 2011

On survival strategies

For all the talk about whether Canada's Liberal Party is dying, let's note that one of the most important determinants of its future is the question of how its supporters are prepared to survive.

After all, there are two radically different paths available to the party which might help it to rebuild from its current third-party standing. And the steps needed to carry out each one may serve to rule out the other.

If the Libs see their raison d'etre in the terms which seem to reflect the party's main self-image - as a natural governing party which attracts members of disparate ideological persuasions by offering the prospect of power, and adopts policies put forward by others based on outside pressure rather than advocating for strong positions itself - then they figure to have little choice but to spend much of the next four years trying to regain their previously-assumed standing as a government in waiting by challenging the NDP directly. Which offers the most direct path back in the general direction of power for those who see the Libs as a vehicle to get there - but also leaves open a strong possibility of the party becoming truly extinct if it loses the contest.

On the other hand, the Libs could start to adapt to a more traditional third-party position. To start with, that would involve coalescing around a set of comparatively distinct and consistent principles and advocating for policies based on those principles. And in the longer term, it would also involve taking on more of an anti-establishment outsider persona - even if that might make for a rather uncomfortable fit for a lot of current Libs (not to mention a complete brand reversal which might take some time to sink in with the public).

In effect, the Libs' strategies figure to be almost diametrically opposed based on whether their top priority is to win back the life they enjoyed just a few years ago, or ensure their long-term survival in some form. Which means that the most important question the Libs' core supporters may face is whether they consider life as a third party to be worth planning for.

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