ON LEADERSHIP AND WINNING, SAGE ADVICE FROM AN OLD PRO
By Susanna Kelley
It may not be an election year either federally or provincially, but there's still a lot of political buzz in the air.
Politics, like nature, abhors a vacuum. And living up to its reputation as a "blood sport," it's in the very nature of the political beast to always be on the hunt for a way to become the alpha of the pack.
When a party loses, after a justifiably necessary period of blood letting and licking their wounds, political animals start to plan their next political contest.
That means going through the sometimes-messy business of leadership reviews and, if necessary, electing a new leader.
Right now, leadership contests and issues abound in losing parties.
In the US the Republican debates and primaries are prime time viewing.
In Ottawa, the second place New Democrats and third place Liberals are both consumed with electing new leaders.
Here in Ontario, PC leader Tim Hudak's leadership will face a constitutionally mandatory review in a few weeks at the Tory AGM.
Grumbling and outright anger in the Ontario PC party over what many felt was an unexpected and unjustified election loss has some operatives ducking for cover (although an argument could be made that at least some of the high polling results for the PC's for months before the election were the usual opposition vote-parking between elections that Ontarians tend to do.)
And others on Mr. Hudak's team are protectively rallying round him, happy to take the blame on themselves for the defeat.
Some PC's are also mindful that the party gained 11 seats, from 26 to 37. So long as the party is going in the right direction political leaders are often given a mulligan on their first election. Not always, but often.
At the federal Liberal convention, Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty had some words of wisdom for parties contemplating leadership changes.
Without referring to Paul Martin, Stefan Dion and Michael Ignatief by name, he warned against the delusional idea that all parties have to do is pick the right leader and they'll win:
He spoke of work to renew moribund riding associations, develop new policy and reinvigorate the grassroots.
Mr. McGuinty, who's been in the campaign trenches since his teen years, noted it usually takes more than one election for a leader to win government.
He also showed an amazing humility for someone who has spent eight years in the Premier's chair, an ability to remain grounded that's rare in those who hold the highest of our political offices, because of all the surrounding sycophants that come with the office:
The advice is some the Ontario PC's might ponder as well.
It took Mike Harris and Bob Rae (in his previous incarnation as Ontario New Democratic) three elections each as leader to win government.
At this point, it doesn't appear Hudak will have any problems winning a leadership review at the party's AGM in several weeks.
But in Ottawa the Liberals were campaigning for a new leader in plain view for all to see at the Liberal Party of Canada's recent convention in Ottawa.
Bob Rae, who promised not to run for leader if allowed to stake out the coveted interim leader position, spent the weekend (as he has for months) refusing to say he'd keep that promise.
In journalism, a non-denial is, 99.9 per cent of the time, a confirmation. It doesn't take much to read between the lines.
The buzz created at the convention about Mr. McGuinty as federal Liberal leader is real. His speech was a big hit and there are powerful federal and provincial Liberal insiders pushing him to go for it.
He'd have to give up being Premier to become leader of a third party in Ottawa, and spend years rebuilding it.
And he'd have to resign in just a few months in order to mount an effective campaign.
It would be extremely difficult for those wishing to succeed him to run leadership campaigns while in a minority government situation. And all this at a time Ontario is facing economic instability.
On the other hand, the Liberals retaining power under Mr. McGuinty next time here in Ontario is no sure thing either.
Mr. McGuinty will need the political wisdom he showed at the federal convention and more as he makes up his mind over the next few months.
You can find Susanna here: @susannakelley