Saturday, June 04, 2005

Succession Crisis?

Civitatensis and Angry in the Great White North have been considering the question of the Liberal leadership succession.

Part of the Liberals' electoral success can be attributed to their relatively smooth handling of its leadership succession.

At each leadership convention, one of the losing candidates has been identified as the new leader's heir apparent: John Turner in 1968, Jean Chretien in 1984 and Paul Martin in 1990.

The practice of alternating between anglophone and francophone leaders has also made it easier to select a successor and his heir apparent.

Thus the transition between leaders has been smooth and free of the rancour that has been a hallmark of Tory and Reform/Alliance leadership races.

Paul Martin's success in squeezing out all of his opponents from the race has changed the Liberal leadership succession dynamic greatly. For the first time in recent memory, the Liberal Party does not have one obvious heir apparent. The wounds caused by the Chretien-Martin civil war have not healed, and may never completely heal.

Moreover, the Liberal Party's collapse in Quebec has left it without a strong francophone leadership contender with enough of a national profile to be regarded as the natural successor to Martin under the principle of alternance .

Whoever succeeds Paul Martin will have succeeded under quite different circumstances from those of his predecessors. He may have to spend much more time protecting himself and trying to keep the party together after a divisive leadership race.

The Liberal party is used to coronations, not civil wars. They've never had to face a Tory-style leadership race before, and it shows.

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