The Liberal revolution

TheStar.com – opinion/editorialopinion
Published On Thu Nov 10 2011.

People who hit rock bottom sometimes try to save themselves by getting into a 12-step program. Step 4 involves making “a searching and fearless moral inventory” of oneself as a condition of moving forward. If the “Roadmap to Renewal” document issued by the federal Liberals on Thursday is any indication, the party may finally be on the path to recovery after its historic defeat last May.

If nothing else, the party leadership is brutally frank in assessing where it stands six months after being relegated to third-party status. “The very survival of the (party) may now be at stake,” writes president Alf Apps. “The verdict of Canadians has reduced the party to rubble.” The Liberals, he goes on to say, were “simply out-smarted and out-gunned” by the Conservatives. The party failed to renew itself after previous defeats, and hasn’t got a clue about 21st-century organizational and fund-raising techniques.

All true, and all difficult to admit for a group that long prided itself as being the smartest, most successful guys in the room. Ironic, too, coming from the same backroom leadership that piloted the party through last spring’s disastrous campaign. This kind of searching and fearless self-criticism may be a necessary first step towards political recovery, but it will have effect only if it is followed by serious rethinking and rebuilding.

Fortunately for Liberals, there’s evidence that the party is learning something in these areas, as well. The document spells out key elements of Liberalism that remain as relevant as ever – a belief in freedom, diversity, free and fair markets, equality, and the power of government to do good. It also puts a welcome new emphasis on openness and new forms of political engagement.

The boldest and most controversial proposal is to choose the party’s next leader through an American-style primary system. This would be an enormous gamble – risking infiltration by supporters of other parties or fringe groups, and torpedoing the ability of party insiders to stage-manage events behind the scenes. For a party that practically defined itself as the place where elites come together to broker deals, it would be a revolution. Given where the Liberals sit now, nothing less than that will be needed.

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