Friday, January 13, 2012

What happened to the Liberals in Quebec?

As Liberals from across the country gather in Ottawa today for the start of their biennial convention, one question on almost everyone’s lips is whether Bob Rae will eventually turn his interim position as leader into a permanent one.

Few Liberals deny that Rae has done a good job or that, if he chooses to run in the leadership race scheduled to come to a conclusion in early 2013, he would be a good candidate to lead the party into the next election. That he is the best person for the job, however, is far from a consensus opinion.

But more than eight months after the Liberals were handed a drubbing in the last federal election, Bob Rae has undoubtedly kept the Liberal Party’s head above water. Eight months down, 46 more to go.

You can read the rest of the article on The Huffington Post Canada website here.

A new poll conducted by CROP for L'Actualité was released yesterday, investigating what Quebecers think have been the causes of the poor performances of the Liberal Party in recent elections. The results are interesting.
The most common answer is the one that Liberals themselves seem to have identified as their major problem in the past. Almost one-third, or 30% of Quebecers, said that the main reason for the Liberal decline was that their leaders have not been inspiring.

For party members looking for that next messiah, this would seem to back them up.

But it isn't as simple as that. Another 25% of Quebecers blamed the sponsorship scandal, which is now getting a little long in the tooth. Undoubtedly, these Quebecers know their history - it absolutely was the sponsorship scandal that sent the Liberals on their long trip south in the province. Whether that is still the problem, however, is more difficult to say. The scandal tarnished the Liberal brand in Quebec, and while the scandal itself may not be the reason today that Quebecers are not supporting the Liberals in large numbers, its effects appear to still be haunting the party.

This convention taking place over the next three days is about re-building and renewal, and that is what 14% of Quebecers said the Liberals have not managed to do. Another 12% blamed a lack of clarity the Liberals have had in their proposed policies.

Two per cent said that the Liberals were too left-wing and were trying to resemble the NDP, while 2% said that they were too right-wing and were trying to resemble the Conservatives. Make up your mind!

A last tranche of 15% said they did not know, an opinion that is probably shared by many members at the convention this weekend.

If we look at these another way, and taking out the "don't knows", we get 35% identifying leadership as the problem, 35% identifying policy and communication as the problem, and 30% identifying the sponsorship scandal. That sounds about right. There are more than a few causes of the Liberal decline in Quebec.

And a decline it certainly has been - but not just since the days of the Gomery Inquiry. Liberal support has waxed and waned since then. The Liberals averaged 17% support in Quebec in December. While that was their best result since April 2011, it is still half of where they were in May 2009. In that month, the Liberals averaged 34% support in Quebec and were nipping at the Bloc's heels. In December, the Liberals were fourth in support in the province behind the NDP, Bloc, and Tories, a position they have owned for the last eight months.


  1. On the leadership question, it is unsaid, but understood that it includes properly answering the attacks when the new leader is chosen. I can believe that Quebeckers would go for an inspiring, bilingual leader - They flocked to Jack Layton, and to Brian Mulroney before him. Its less about ideology or even organization, and more about focus, direction, and clarity of purpose. As for the 2% saying in each direction that Libs are too far left and too far right, all that says is that they are in exactly the right spot ideologically, and moving in either direction in a big way would be a mistake. (I'm looking at you, young right-wing policy wonks...)

  2. Could someone like Martin Cauchon, who has a hospitality suite at the LPC convention, or Denis Coderre revive the Liberal Party in Quebec?

  3. I don't know if Denis Coderre is a good choice, if 25% are assuming poor performance due to Adscam, the accusations about his relationship with Pierre Tremblay may be brought up in Quebec.

    Cauchon is a good choice, but it brings up the tension between Coderre and him.

    I think it is going to have to be a politician from Quebec, I do think that Rae is a great choice (for Stephen Harper).

  4. Both Mulroney and Jack Layton moved their parties significantly on the maitre chez nous front. It would be very tough for the Liberals to do the same without angering their angrophone base in Quebec.

  5. Speaking of having a Quebecois leader, I'm personally a big fan of Irwin Cotler.

  6. Is it really about having a real leader or having a Quebecois leader??

    Because if you look over the last few decades, say since 1945, the only Liberal Govt's have ALL had Quebecois leaders until Paul Martin who didn't win an election !!

  7. Also Pearson, and Martin did win in 2004.

  8. Pearson only had a minority Govt.

    Remember Tommy Douglas ??

    I'll grant you Martin in 04

  9. I agree with the first anon, it's not about being from Quebec, it's about being able to carry a clear message to the Quebecois and make them feel like they are taken into consideration. I'm not even sure a good level of French is necessary. Sounds simple, but very difficult in practice.

    Cotler is exactly the opposite of a good Quebec candidate: English riding, extremely pro Israel, in sum a perfect example of Liberal micro-targeting in Montreal. In a word, a recipe good only for the West Island of Montreal. Coderre is a sympathetic provincial and definitely not seen as a statesman. Cauchon is a typical liberal aparatchik who is much better at dealing with his party's internal politics than reaching out to the public. I'm pretty confident Rae and Mcguinty would do better than the aforementioned two. Both very bilingual consensus centrists without political liabilities in Quebec, which seems essential at a time of deep distrust of experienced politicians in the province.

    Ultimately what is bringing the Liberals down is the divise heritage of the Trudeau - Chretien era, from the constitution to adscam. Quebecers have no desire to elect separatist busters, they seem happy to find a quiet middle ground on the "national question ". Not sure it will work out, but that's the atmosphere now. The NDP didn't carry as much baggage and that allowed them to pick up soft nationalists and soft federalists in the past election. Liberals, in contrast, will need some strong gestures to break with the heritage of the past 30 years.

  10. Quebecers always seem to vote for one of their own. With the exception of the Diefenbaker/Pearson years where neither heralded from Quebec the pattern is very clear.

    Even in 2011, the Federalist leader who came closest to being a Quebecer was Jack Layton. Every PM has either been from or had a very strong Quebec Lieutenant. Even Dief had one in 1958 - Leon Balcer. By 1962 they had become estranged and PC support fell from 50 seats in Quebec to 14. That cost Diefenbaker his majority. In 1963 PC Quebec support fell to just 8 seats and the Liberals formed a minority government. Trudeau always ruled Quebec against anglophones Stanfield and Clark. In 1972 Stanfield nearly toppled Trudeau but the formers hold on Quebec enabled him to withstand the PC surge in the rest of Canada. In 1979 the same thing happened with Joe Clark, when the PC's took every province except NL and Quebec where they managed only 2 seats. In 1972 and 1979 it was Quebec that denied the PC's. Yet in 1984 with a leader from Quebec the PC's garnered 58 seats and increased that to 63 seats in 1988 despite losing seats in the ROC.

    For the Liberals to revive their fortunes they need a credible leader from Quebec. The NDP support is soft as long as there is no Jack Layton around. What do you think would happen to the Quebec vote with Justin Trudeau as leader?

  11. "For the Liberals to revive their fortunes they need a credible leader from Quebec. "

    For once I'm in complete agreement with Earl.

    So it's Trudeau from Quebec or possibly Leblanc from NB who is close enough to work.

  12. For the moment, Justin Trudeau didn't drew much media attention apart from the "piece of shit" episode. However, he may be able to catch more votes for his party in Quebec than Stephen Harper, Daniel Paillé and Brian Topp. On the other hand, I think he'd struggle with Mulcair as NDP leader. His family name has a negative connotation and a positive one, so I wonder which one of them Quebecers would consider most. Anyway, if he doesn't change his mind, he won't run for the party leadership in 2013.

  13. At least it's clear Bob Rae understands the Liberals three greatest problems (not including the sponsorship scandal). Rae will have easily won the party leadership in 2013 if it hadn't been for his premiership in the 1990s. Personally, Mike Harris damaged Ontario more (compare Rae days to Walkerton and the 407 debacle). The Rae days are long over but the 407 is still a toll road (I'll probably be at least 110 before the contract expires).

    In the next election, the key to toppling the Tories is NOT merging parties, but rather both the Liberals and NDP choosing effective and inspiring leaders (and aiming the guns at the Tories for once and not to each other). The NDP has lots of potential out in the West, particularly in BC where they narrowly lost Conservative seats, and in Saskatchewan, where 32% has to turn up one seat sooner or later. The Liberals also have the potential to regain lost seats in Ontario (particularly in and around the GTA) and Atlantic Canada (NB, PEI, NL). The Conservatives would probably lose at least another seat in Quebec (the Lobinière seat was the closest to the NDP).

    That being said, the most realistic situation in 2015 is still a Conservative minority government. However, if both opposition parties can maximize on Conservative weakness, then there is a possiblity of an NDP minority government (110-120) with Conservative opposition (100-105) and a strong third by the Liberals (80). It would be unlikely that the Liberals would support every NDP measure, so it would be interesting to see the Conservatives be forced to support NDP legislation when the Liberals don't (Just like how the NDP forced the Liberals to support the government in the previous parliament).

  14. Why is the media playing into Stephen Harper's hands and pushing this whole Liberal party resurection thing ?

    Instead of letting the NDP take all the left votes and form government we're going to get a big split again.

    Just like how Chretien won a majority in 1997 with only 38.5% of the vote because of a divided opposition.

    Strong Liberals, official opposition NDP, an interesting Elizabeth May, and a determined BQ all hints at a scattered field that'll allow Harper to dominate !

  15. Stephen Harper is the one who wants a two party system Anonymous 06:39. Liberals can reach voters that the NDP can't, just as the NDP can reach out to voters that the Liberals can't. Personally I expect both the Liberals and the NDP to run on some sort of electoral reform in the next election, so that if a coalition is necessary we don't end up destroying each other in doing it. And btw, it was a weak Liberals and a strong NDP that allowed the Conservatives to dominate. That won't happen if both parties have their acts together.

    On the Quebecois leader point from before... obviously the leader doesn't have to be from Quebec. I personally think that we need a leader who is extremely fluent in both official languages, so that we have a credible shot in all regions of the country. The reality is that there are only a few politicians outside Quebec who are truly and fully bilingual.

  16. And lets all try and remember that yes Martin did win in 04 but where does Paul Martin come from ??

    Montreal !!

    What is needed is not a "personality" but a real politician. One who can trump the Harper/Reform machine. This person is out there. Let's find him.

    Re NDP. Their rise is mirrored by the Liberal collapse. It is reversible !!

  17. And we have a new Party President


  18. OH Peter you're a Liberal ?

    IN the past you've bristled at being labeled a partisan for any party.

  19. Anon

    If that's your delusion you're welcome to it.

    Real world says you're wrong !!

  20. BTW on the Cauchon hospitality suite that Jordan mentioned, and the Rae permanent leadership possibility that you mentioned Eric, I'd just add that the most extravagant hospitality suite was Dalton McGuinty's. Perhaps one of the McGuinty brothers will run for Liberal leader...

  21. Of course Dalton McGuinty is going to run for federal leader.

    His brother must be furious and has been trying to box him into a corner for awhile now, indeed floating the name of the premier right before Christmas just so it could be shot down.

    Two brothers running against each other for party leader ? Just happened in the UK.

    "Super-minority" or not there is no way Dalton McGuinty wants to stick around Ontario during belt tightening years.

    He's put in place his big social programs. Let someone else figure out how to pay for them.

    Time to move on. Liberal messiah here he comes !

  22. Anonymous 17:22

    Sorry to disillusion you but Dalton definitely is NOT running!!

    Get a re-run of CTV's Question Period from last Sunday. Dalton couldn't have been clearer !! NO WAY !!!

    1. Why would he admit he's running now?

  23. Peter i've got some swamp land in Florida to sell you !! Some ocean front Arizona properties !

    Just like Bob Rae said he was only going to be an interim leader ? Just like Jean Chretien was going to repeal the GST ?

    Everyone says they're not running until the very moment they announce. EVERYONE.

    In the history of all of politics.

    Because the minute you announce your day job is put on hold.

    Dalton is still premier of Ontario. He's got a budget to roll out. He has things to do.

    Until the race actually starts and he jumps in its going to be deny, deny, deny.

  24. Obviously you haven't seen the item I referred to.

    Go look and you'll understand.

    Drop the specious rhetoric. Inaccuracy remains inaccuracy !!


COMMENT MODERATION POLICY - Please be respectful when commenting. If choosing to remain anonymous, please sign your comment with some sort of pseudonym to avoid confusion. Please do not use any derogatory terms for fellow commenters, parties, or politicians. Inflammatory and overly partisan comments will not be posted. PLEASE KEEP DISCUSSION ON TOPIC.