Political parties, Robin Sears writes, tend to make the same mistakes. That is true of Canada's three major parties -- particularly true when a new generation of leaders takes over. Consider what has happened to the Ontario PC's and other federal parties:
The Mike Harris and Tim Hudak generation were shown the door by the Brown team. They may have earned their banishment in terms of successive self-inflicted defeats, but they sliced off nearly two decades of party history and experience all at once.
The Liberal Party of Canada went through a decade long civil war as a result of the vanity of two men. One can, therefore, sympathize with the young team around Justin Trudeau, who sent every one of the lieutenants to either leader to purgatory.
Sadly, the consequence was to cut themselves off from some of the best minds in Canadian politics: a generation of Liberal strategists and former ministers. The absence of their access to that collective political wisdom has emerged over and over in weak political and communications management.
New Democrats have just come through a similar six “lost years,” between the death of Jack Layton and the arrival of Jagmeet Singh. The failure of Thomas Mulcair’s leadership had roots similar to the Liberal and Tory experience: a leader and his team who knew little about the institution they were given command of.
It's a familiar story. The young reject the wisdom of the old. There are times when the old become foolish. The current gun control debate in the United States is a case in point. But, as a general principle, it is unwise for the next generation to cut itself off from its elders -- in part because of the nature of political parties:
Those who ignore the fragile bonds of a political party, who ignore unhappy riding presidents, who look to poll numbers for proof of future success, make serious strategic blunders.
For institutions essential to a functioning democracy, political parties are almost uniquely archaic institutions, culturally and organizationally: their history is mostly oral, their principles and values passed from veteran to newbie verbally, and their real decision-makers and opinion-influencers are often well-hidden from all but the cognoscenti.
Sears believes that the NDP under Jagmeet Singh will not make the mistakes it made under Tom Mulcair. We'll see.
Image: Knightsbridge Robinson Surette