“There’s a guy out there peddling a book talking about the death of the Liberal Party of Canada,” mused Michael Ignatieff yesterday. “What is he talking about?”
It was another easy standing ovation at Peter C. Newman’s expense. Amid the heady hoopla of this convention, the octogenarian author of When the Gods Changed: The Death of Liberal Canada has been second only to Stephen Harper as an object of derision and ridicule. Don’t pity the man; scorn sells books.
Listening to some of the speeches this weekend, you’d think that this whole Liberal get-together was all an elaborate attempt to rebut Newman’s argument that the party is on its deathbed. If that’s the case, then it’s a waste of time—not because Newman is right, but because this weekend can’t possibly prove him wrong.
Yes, the Ottawa Convention Centre is packed with happy Liberals. Yes, this is Canada’s biggest political gathering since last May’s election. Yes, this is the first Liberal conference in memory not to be sullied by leadership intrigue. All of this proves that the Liberal party has not yet perished. It does not prove that it won’t.
Everyone here—every delegate, every journalist, every defeated candidate, every former leader, every MP—has their own account of how the Liberals ended up in third place. Mine goes something like this: we didn’t get enough votes. The reasons abound, but none of them made a bigger difference than the whims of individual voters. Remember, you don’t need vast amounts of money or organization to win 59 seats in Quebec.
By the next election, this weekend’s proceedings will have long been eclipsed by a leadership race, an election campaign, and three years of happenstance. The Death of Liberal Canada will sound as scandalous as The Secret Mulroney Tapes, or even Renegade in Power, which I can only assume was a racy name for a book in 1963.
Newman’s latest has a saucy title, but it offers prognosis, not diagnosis. No amount of argument can disprove a prediction. In the meantime, insisting that the party is still kicking only comes off as defensive.
So Liberals: don’t waste time arguing with Peter C. Newman. Prove him wrong instead.