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Rebuilding The Liberal Party The Old Way

The recent appointments of Chrystia Freeland and Andrew Leslie as Co-Chairs of a Liberal Council of Economic Advisors harkens some back to the old days of Liberal politics; back to the days when the party held power and bringing momentum and new blood into the inner circle was important to maintaining power. Some people might be asking the questions:  Are these the best people to provide top-level economic advice to a future Prime Minister? Are these recent converts to the Liberal Party cause the best people to re-energize the Party at a time of rebuilding, where there are literally a hundred or more ridings without active EDAs? Are there people in the caucus and party now who could have also given sound expert advice in these areas?

These are good questions indeed but they are probably immaterial to the  real objectives of the new Leader and the people around him. The leadership wants to show that new, experienced and high profile people with competence in new areas are eager to put their name beside the new leader. They want to show that the team is building and that momentum is on their side. They want to show that the new Leader can attract big thinkers in policy areas important to him and the people around him.  They also want to show that an inexperienced leader can create a strong team around him. The fact that Ms. Freeland has written extensively on the hollowing out of the middle class supports Mr. Trudeau’s message of concern for the shrinking middle class.  Retired General Leslie’s stature as an internationalist and successful commander of the army will help bolster the international Liberal policy dynamic. To informed observers, it also makes it clear that General Leslie intends to run or at least seek a nomination.

Some in the Liberal Party may be offended by Instant Liberals being promoted so quickly to the inner circle.  But the fact is that all the objectives of the new leadership are being met by this initiative.

Interestingly, we should contrast this candidate building process with the one employed by the Conservatives.  The Federal Conservatives have been far less inclined to bring in star power; rather they look for loyal party workers who are members of the community they wish to run in.  Conservative leadership is more concerned about people that are believers, that appeal to the base of the party and who are good foot soldiers that will follow the script when asked. They have a formula for running campaigns based on the leader, the messages and the brand. They expect their candidates to knock on as many doors as possible, repeat the party messages but otherwise stay out of the public eye. The Conservatives have clearly done well with their approach so far.

Which candidate selection and team building methodology is better? Does one approach create a stronger caucus with more potential front-bench material? Who knows? We will see what happens after the next election.    Presumably that will give us some guidance as to the relative strengths and weaknesses of each approach.

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