Sooner or later, we’re going to have another federal election, and the prospects in Kamloops-Thompson-Cariboo riding aren’t overly appetizing.
Talk about a shallow gene pool. We’ll have to choose between a sitting Conservative MP nobody had heard of before the last election, a Green Party candidate nobody has heard of yet and never will, a New Democrat who has already lost two elections, and maybe a Liberal if anyone can be talked into it.
Yes, in case you’d forgotten, there is another Liberal party besides the one that screwed up the HST. The federal party has yet to find a candidate for Kamloops but not for lack of trying. After a year and a half of recruiting, the local Liberal association has so far come up empty handed.
This isn’t entirely surprising, given that the party’s leader has been such an under achiever.
Perhaps partly as a result, the Kamloops constituency association doesn’t show any obvious signs it is thriving and ready. It has no communications chair at the moment, Brenda Craig pleading lack of time and focusing her attention in the provincial Liberal realm (where they need all the help they can get). This might help explain the lack of profile for the local federal party.
Federal constituency president Murray Todd, though, says appearances can be deceiving. Membership numbers are “decent” and rising and a new communications chair will be in place after summer. And, a nomination meeting to pick a candidate is “in the offing.”
Reality is, nonetheless, that when federal leader Michael Ignatieff munches a hot dog on Victoria Street a couple of Monday mornings from now, there will be no local Liberal candidate beside him unless he appoints one.
Elections are mostly about the leader, a little about parties and policies, and a tiny bit about the candidate. Exciting, trusted leaders who capture the public imagination attract good candidates. We haven’t had such a leader in Canada for a long time.
The challenges facing the Kamloops federal Liberal party are reflected in its website, in which an anonymous blogger announces Ignatieff’s visit.
“This is Mr. Ignatieff’s third visit to Kamloops in less than two years (unlike Our Dear Leader who has never made an appearance here),” writes anonymous Liberal spokesperson.
He/she is incorrect on one score — Stephen Harper was here to take part in the official renaming ceremonies at TRU — but back to the point.
“Mr. Ignatieff is a different man in person than he is on television. He is personable, humorous, relaxed and outgoing and those of us who’ve had the pleasure of meeting the man in person, and listening to him speak ‘off the cuff,’ know that his TV persona is not who he is. Some of us just don’t film well….”
When a riding association feels it necessary to apologize for its national leader, and Liberal spokespersons prefer to remain anonymous, you know things aren’t totally copacetic.
After Ignatieff visited Kamloops a year and a half ago, I wrote that “Some people are comparing him to Pierre Trudeau as the guy who’s going to capture the imagination of the country and lead the Liberals back to power. Ignatieff doesn’t have the arrogant charisma of Trudeau; he’s certainly self-assured, but his style is much less edgy, more approachable.”
In short, I and many others were impressed. Since then, not so much.
Waiting for a plane at Vancouver airport last January, I picked up a copy of The Walrus magazine, in which political author Ron Graham deftly dissected Ignatieff’s failure to deliver. The article was cover-titled “Lost Leader, why Michael Ignatieff hasn’t knocked our socks off.”
It was a lengthy piece, but Graham summed it up pretty well when he wrote, “If a political leader isn’t exceptionally clear and courageous about what he wants to accomplish in the face of the demands and wrath of the elites, he has to have a transcending connection to the people. Ignatieff has demonstrated neither.”
On comparisons to Trudeau, Graham wrote that there’s no evidence Ignatieff has Trudeau’s sense of purpose and principle in entering public life. “Trudeau could sum up his in one sentence; Ignatieff couldn’t sum up his in a dozen books.”
In short, Ignatieff’s resume looks very attractive, but he hasn’t been able to explain what he wants to do with power if voters give it to him.
So, Ignatieff will come to town, have a decaf at Cowboy Coffee, probably buy a new pair of boots at the Big Boot Inn, and give the local riding association a boost in its efforts to find somebody to run for them when the writ is eventually dropped.
How much easier it would be if Ignatieff had turned out to be The One. There’s not a lot a local riding group can do if the national leader isn’t winning hearts and minds. Throw-away candidates quite often surprise everyone, but they need a leader with big coattails.
Unless Ignatieff catches fire, or Harper becomes even more proficient than he is now at offending Canadians, polls showing the race between Tories and Grits getting tighter will be nothing more than a blip, and we’ll end up with another clinker of a local campaign in which the incumbent is favoured by default.