For the second time in less than three years, the Liberal Party is about to select a new leader on the heels of an electoral defeat. At this very early stage in that process of change, there are two facts that Liberals must confront.
First, the Liberal Party is in very real danger of suffering further erosion in the connection it has so long enjoyed with so many Canadians. We must act urgently to re-energize our party, our perspective and renew the credibility of our claim to lead this country in time to win the next election.
Second, that challenge can best be met with a generational change in our leadership. With the kind of revitalization that comes about when a party springs itself forward with a younger, more energized leader.
Simply stated, our mission must be the great task of reconnecting to Canadians. Of igniting anew the belief that government can be a force for good. It is an effort that must be made in every corner of the country and with a passion that rallies people to not just support our party, but our plans to take the country forward.
My father served in Pierre Trudeau’s cabinet and was witness to such a passion. Later, as Governor General, he saw the greatness that gathers Canadians together. He inspired in me a belief in that kind of politics.
For that reason, I will formally launch my bid to lead the Liberal Party of Canada in the weeks to come. After a decade in Parliament, and still only 40 years of age, I believe I can bring about the brand of change required to rebuild our party, to win the next election and to guide our nation into a new era.
I will run a campaign of excitement and enthusiasm. A campaign that invites new people to our cause, that stands for new ideas and that presents a fresh alternative to the narrow-minded, us-and-them politics of Stephen Harper.
For decades, Liberals were the first choice of the broad middle class: those who keep our economy strong and who root our values in principles such as equality of opportunity and diversity. Families of all sizes, sorts and backgrounds.
Today, these same Canadians are uncertain as to who we are and what we stand for. Liberals are virtually impolitic in francophone Quebec and Western Canada, less connected to rural communities, eroding support among New Canadians and far from inspiring to our nation’s youth.
To reconnect in a real way will require hard work. We must draw people back to politics. We must inspire within them a belief in public service and the good we can achieve when we work as one. That cannot be done by simply replacing the head. We must renew the whole. And as an Acadian, I know a thing or two about perseverance in overcoming adversity.
Other political movements have faced similar moments of challenge. In the early 1990s, Britain’s New Labour remade itself, as did Bill Clinton’s Democrats. Today, of course, the example of Barack Obama inspires us all. In each case, success was built on two foundations. First, they reconnected their parties with the political centre. Second, they turned to a new and younger generation to lead the way. And they won.
Just as it fell to those in other countries in their time, so it now falls to a new generation of Liberals to do the same here. To unequivocally commit ourselves to a new path and a new attitude. To rebuild our party and regain government from Stephen Harper by the time of the next election.
During the course of this leadership campaign, I will propose new policies and new directions to better define how I would rebuild and reconnect the Liberal Party. Those ideas will be built around three core commitments. First, Canada must be an open nation. Open to new peoples and new citizens. Open to trade and commerce. Open to diverse opinions and civil discourse. Open to the aspirations of Quebecers, to the New West and to the pride we all feel in our heritage. And we must be a nation that speaks openly with an independent voice on the world stage.
Second, Canada must be a prosperous nation–with an unerring focus on sustainably growing our economy and swelling the ranks of our middle class. With a determined plan to responsibly manage public finances and to create good, high-paying jobs.
Third, Canada must be a fair nation–with strong social programs that help those in need to help themselves. With a commitment to social justice. With an embrace of responsibilities, not just entitlements. And with a fresh approach to our Aboriginal peoples.
As a party and a country, this is no time for tentative steps. A giant stride is required. Our history reminds us that we can win back the country. But that privilege must be earned. We must reconnect with Canadians. We must excite people once about the promise of politics. And that is a task for a new generation.
Dominic LeBlanc is the Liberal MP for Beausejour, New Brunswick
Looking for more?
Get the best of Maclean's sent straight to your inbox. Sign up for news, commentary and analysis.