Jeffrey Simpson asks a question which needs asking. Peter C. Newman tried to answer it after the last election. But, like Mark Twain's first obituary, his answer proved to be premature. What is happening these days, however, raises the question yet again -- because, at the moment, the traditional Liberal coalition simply isn't there. Simpson writes:
Quebec, the federal Liberals’ bastion from 1896 to 1980, has not voted a majority of seats for that party in 35 years. Quebeckers spent many years and six elections refusing to think about participating in governing Canada, or even being much interested in federal affairs by voting for the Bloc Québécois. When they ditched the Bloc, francophone Quebeckers did not return to the Liberals, but voted en masse for the New Democratic Party, which remains their preferred federalist option.The Prairie West had departed the Liberals more than half a century ago. Voters that comprise two other elements of the Canadian political mosaic split more recently from what had been the grand Liberal coalition.French-speaking minorities outside Quebec in New Brunswick, northern and eastern Ontario and Saint Boniface in Manitoba used to be the most faithful of Liberals. Most of the ridings with these minorities have not voted Liberal in many elections.Similarly, Liberals used to dominate Ontario’s industrial cities (or parts thereof): Windsor, St. Catharines, Hamilton, (the east part of) London, Thunder Bay, Sudbury, Sault Ste. Marie, Cornwall. They don’t hold these seats any more, in part because private-sector union presence has dwindled. Liberals, not New Democrats, used to win a majority of these voters.
In 1990, when Jean Chretien won the Liberal leadership, he was called "yesterday's man:"
He had been in and around politics for most of his adult life before becoming leader. It was said that he had lost touch with his native province, Quebec; that he was a terrific handler of files that someone smarter than himself had crafted; that he was corny, folksy and likeable but lacked the gravitas to be prime minister.Not enough people understood that, as one of his female cabinet ministers once said (privately of course), he had “balls of steel.” Cross him and you paid a price. He had been underestimated politically throughout his career, and had not been accorded the respect of intellectuals and senior strategists in the Liberal Party. It was asserted that he did not know enough about the world; that he did not read his briefing notes; that complexity was his enemy; and that in due course all these alleged weaknesses, and others, would do him in.
But all of those years in the cabinet had made him a very smart politician. It remains to be seen if Trudeau knows what Chretien knew.
I'll be away tomorrow. But I should be back on Monday.