It's not easy being red

Even though I have been interested in electoral politics since I was a kid, I had never been a political party joiner. I had briefly been a member of both the Democratic Party and the Republican Party in the States only because membership happened automatically as soon as you voted in a primary. Usually I voted in the Democratic primary, but in 1980 many people voted in the Republican primary to cast a ballot for John Anderson. Normally you could unregister as soon as you had voted, but that year there were so many people doing the same thing as I did that the polling station ran out of forms. It took me years to get off the Republican mailing list!

When I became a Canadian citizen in 1997, I had no thought of joining a political party. I briefly belonged to Gordon Wilson's quixotic provincial party, the Progressive Democratic Alliance, but when he sold his soul to Glen Clark for a cabinet post, that was the end of the PDA and of my involvement in provincial parties. But I had always had an affinity for the Liberal Party of Canada, an affinity that really went all the way back to when Pierre Trudeau was Prime Minister (and we were stuck with Richard Nixon). I generally liked what the government of Jean Chrétien was doing, fending off a takeover by the International Monetary Fund by making severe cuts, getting the books in order (which was hard on a lot of people, I know), and then restoring a bunch of spending. (For a great behind-the-scenes look at what went on, see Double Vision: The Inside Story of the Liberals in Power by Edward Greenspon and Anthony Wilson-Smith) I knew nothing of internal Liberal battles. I liked Paul Martin as well as Chrétien. I didn't know I wasn't supposed to like both!

I joined the party in 2006 because I wanted a say in selecting a leader to replace Martin. I attended an event in downtown Vancouver in which all of the contenders made brief pitches. I remember being impressed by Martha Hall-Findlay. Ken Dryden's passion for the country was inspiring! I thought Scott Brison and Bob Rae came off well. Stéphane Dion wasn't bad, Gerard Kennedy was meh, and Michael Ignatieff was a stiff. Not long after that, it became apparent that the race was really among Dion, Ignatieff, and Rae. I backed Dion because I liked his focus on the environment. I also chatted with him a couple of times. He wasn't good on the stump, but he was intelligent and well-spoken in person. I had run as a delegate, but I was not selected to go to the convention in Montreal. I was listening to the radio in the car when I heard that Dion had come up the middle and won the leadership. I had to pull over because I was crying so hard!

Sadly, Dion proved to be a disappointment as leader. I don't remember there even being much if any contest when Ignatieff took over. He was a disaster, leading the party to its worst ever defeat and a rump of 34 seats.

The next leadership contest featured some new faces. Hall-Findlay was still there, and she was my first choice, but on the preferential ballot I also selected Justin Trudeau, Joyce Murray, and a fourth choice (I think). It seemed obvious that Trudeau was going to win, and although I wasn't that impressed with him, I thought it might not be bad to get back a bit of star-factor. And the more I learned about him, the more I saw how he operated, the more impressed I became. At an event in Vancouver, I carefully wormed my way through the throng and put myself in just the right place to shake his hand and say a few words. I was never star-struck. But I did think he could be a winner.

It all turned out rather well as far as I'm concerned. Quite a number of my friends and acquaintances disagree, sometimes in ways that are hard to take. But Liberals have to develop a thick skin, take the blows, and prove the critics and cynics wrong—or eat crow if our leaders fail or bail out. At this point, I'm cautiously hopeful that the new government will produce real and necessary change. Given time, I guess I'll look back to see whether this post was naive or prophetic.

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