Canadian Politics from Canada's Centre

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Gerard Kennedy

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Other Candidates:
Michael Ignatieff
Bob Rae

(Cross-posted at Clear Grit)

What can I say about Gerard Kennedy?

Scratch that. What can I say about Gerard Kennedy that won't result in his cult-like supporters attack my intellectual integrity? The answer is, not much that's all that interesting.

I don't want to knock Gerard. He's an impressive guy and I have not a word to say against him. But I do have to say right now, before I give my assessment of him, that I don't think a noticeable contingent among his supporters helped his case. Not all, not even the majority of Kennedy supporters are like that, of course, and there are many I respect among his supporters. But he has generated some strong feelings among certain members, and I have seen many unfortunate attacks by Kennedy supporters directed at their fellow Liberals that were hardly constructive. I do hope that if Kennedy loses, which is quite likely, especially now that he has taken a principled stand against the nation issue, these supporters will not go about creating divisions within the party.

It's hard to argue against Kennedy's credentials. Ten years as an elected MPP and three as a cabinet minister is certainly more political experience than Stephen Harper had when the Conservatives elected him their leader, and far more than Michael Ignatieff. Sure, he didn't graduate from university, but instead of that he started a successful food bank and ran another one. How do you run an attack ad against that?

I've warmed to Kennedy a great deal. I have been hoping for a Dion-Kennedy alliance going into the convention because if Dion can't take it, Kennedy would be a very close second choice for me. I agree with him on virtually every issue, and he has a charisma about him that is indeed Trudeau-esque. In fact, were it not for one fatal flaw, he would probably be my first choice.

The fatal flaw is - I don't think he can win in Quebec. And here is why:

Kennedy is an English speaker from Ontario. Of the four front-runners, he is the weakest in French. He has only 2% of the Quebec delegates to this convention on his side, and he is unlikely to pick up more than that because of his stance on the nation question. That stance, in itself, is the final stake in the coffin.

I support Kennedy on the nation question. But the optics of him, an Ontarian with hardly any support from Quebec Liberals and hardly fluently bilingual, arguing against it could easily guarantee the Liberal party's failure in Quebec. I was hoping that Dion would oppose that motion, because frankly as the truism goes, "Only Nixon could go to China." Only Trudeau and Chretien could fight those referendums. Only Dion could introduce the Clarity Act. Kennedy would simply have no credibility to the people of Quebec arguing against a Quebec nation.

It's a tough call. If Kennedy can't win an election against Stephen Harper, though, then what is the point of electing him leader? His supporters argue that this doesn't matter. Kennedy has inspired some strong feelings in people precisely because he represents something so fresh, so hopeful, so young. Who cares if he can win?

Actually, his supporters would be done a bit of a misdeed if I didn't point out that most of them believe that he can beat Stephen Harper in an election. Fair enough; I disagree, but that's fine.

But it's a bit of a moot point, because I don't think Kennedy will take this one. I'm becoming increasingly convinced that this convention will come down to either Ignatieff v. Dion, or Ignatieff v. Rae, likely the former, because the Quebec delegates are likely to regard Kennedy as anathema. His best chance to win is to score the endorsement of Stephane Dion. If Dion can bring his Quebec delegates with him to Kennedy, Kennedy will gain both a powerful Quebec ally and a sizable contingent of Quebec delegates.

But it is thought that Dion's Quebec delegates will bleed heavily to Ignatieff if he is knocked off the ballot. That could make it hard for Kennedy to win this convention. If Dion doesn't endorse him, he will almost certainly go down, so whether or not that happens will be one of the turning points of the convention.

I wish Kennedy all the best. If he wins this convention, I will be proud to say I'm a Liberal.


At 8:51 a.m., Canadian Politico Blogger Mark Dowling said:

Kennedy's experience would be suited to being a minister for social programmes rather than prime minister. I would argue he didn't exactly deliver the kind of revolution some had hoped for (and the Liberals had promised) in Ontario education funding but then we get into arguments about deficits etc. Personally I would have liked to see him finish the job in Ontario before running off to federal politics.

He also has to get elected - and where will that be? His previous constituency is even more firmly in the grip of the NDP at federal, provincial and municipal levels, not to mention our NDP Mayor being a former councillor there and the hatred of the rest of the country for the thought of a Toronto PM.

You compare him to Ignatieff, who is one of those guys who is probably more suited to being prime minister than a cabinet minister. In this respect I regard his international experience as a plus, not least from watching his contributions on the BBC when he lived in the UK.

So what if he thinks "dangerous" thoughts. "The State has no place in the bedrooms of the nation" and "Just watch me" were "dangerous" thoughts too.


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