Jeffrey Rebuilding, Resurgence, Return.pdf - 7 The Liberal...

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127 7 The Liberal Party of Canada: Rebuilding, Resurgence, and Return to Power brooke jeffrey Introduction When the dust had settled after the May 2011 federal election, the once mighty Liberal Party of Canada found itself on the outside looking in. With only 34 seats in the House of Commons, the party that built modern Can- ada and governed for most of the twentieth century was reduced, for the fi rst time ever, to third-party status. This astonishing reversal of fortunes was all the more surprising given that the Liberals under Jean Chrétien had only recently formed three successive majority governments. Many observers had assumed the party was fi rmly entrenched in power for the foreseeable future. Indeed, after their third electoral victory in 2000 the Liberals’ future appeared so secure that political scientist Bruce Doern wrote “Jean Chrétien stands astride the Canadian political scene without much e ff ective opposi- tion.” Doern further speculated about “the degree to which a one-party state is congealing at the federal level under the Liberals” (Doern 2003, 3). Yet little more than a decade later, the Liberals under Michael Ignati- e ff were humiliated. Ignatie ff lost his own seat in the 2011 election and promptly resigned, throwing the party into further disarray as it faced its third leadership contest in fi ve years. With so few seats in Parliament, the funding for the Liberal caucus and leader’s o ffi ce was dramatically reduced. The party’s public visibility through question period and media scrums also decreased sharply. Meanwhile, the party organization was in shambles, and the steep drop in revenue from public and private sources made attempts to rebuild di ffi cult if not impossible. The situation appeared to be so serious that many observers predicted the imminent demise of the party and the emergence of a more polarized two- party system at the federal level, one pitting the new right-wing Conserva- tive Party of Stephen Harper against the socialist NDP. Former NDP leader Ed Broadbent, for one, declared that there was no longer any room for the Liberals and their “mushy middle” (Je ff rey 2010, 10). Pollster Darrell Bricker and Globe and Mail Ottawa Bureau Chief John Ibbitson, whose book The Big Shift (Bricker and Ibbitson 2013) declared “the centre isn’t there anymore,” also concluded “the odds are good” that the Liberals would die. Their views were
128 jeffrey echoed by noted political pundit and journalist Peter Newman (2012), who by late 2011 had penned When the Gods Changed: The Death of Liberal Canada. In various interviews promoting his book, Newman declared darkly that not only the Liberal Party but liberalism itself was fi nished as a political force in Canada. To appreciate the full extent of this devastating turnaround, it is worth noting that even after this rout the Liberal Party of Canada remained the most successful political machine in the Western democratic world, albeit on the strength of past performance. The party had obtained more votes than

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