As you know by reading the blurb to the right, I once served on a Liberal Riding Association as its Policy Chair. Prior to holding that position, I was involved with the Kelowna Liberals' efforts to elect Vern Nielsen in 2004. Though I didn't know much about Mr. Nielsen when it was announced that he would be the candidate, it didn't take very long to get the measure of the man and his strong desire to give Kelowna an active MP that would strive to work hard to represent the interest of the people in the riding. I never thought that much of Werner Schmidt, someone who got the Ottawa position pretty much by default after getting the nomination for the then-Canadian Alliance--a trend that has continued with his successor, Ron Cannan, under the Conservative banner.
Nielsen was a good candidate, and he was chosen by the (admittedly small) Liberal grassroots in Kelowna to be their candidate, to carry the red torch in an area that hadn't elected a Liberal since 1968. It was an uphill battle, but it was one that all of us who worked on the campaign--including some really good friends--believed we could win, the sponsorship scandal and its implications notwithstanding. It wasn't meant to be, as Schmidt won re-election but with a smaller percentage of the vote and by a smaller margin than in 2000.
As disappointing as the sting of electoral defeat was, I cannot even imagine how disappointed the Liberal grassroots of Central Nova are. They will not even have the opportunity to field a candidate in the next election--whenever that may be. I know that if some sort of arrangement had been made by Paul Martin and the Green Party in 2004, there is no way I would have voted for that Green candidate. Truth be told, I don't know what I would have done, but I know one thing that I wouldn't. This is the dilemma that Central Nova's Liberals face today. A lot of people there have been Liberals for life, some are Gritus Inheritus, as Chucker puts it, and they have been put in a very awkward position because of the short-sighted and opportunistic grab of a largely meaningless endorsement from a fringe party by their leader. Unless one is really gung-ho about the environment, there is little that links a mainstream Liberal with Elizabeth May. She is anti-choice, anti-same sex marriage, anti-free trade, and her party has more nutbars than even the nuttiest wings of the Liberal Party. She believes that Canada is suffering a "crisis of democracy," even though Canada's democracy is exceptionally healthy. Her comments on abortion--including this one: "I'm against abortion. I don't think a woman has a frivolous right to choose," implying that a woman's choice to terminate a pregnancy is something undertaken flippantly or without due consideration in some cases--have led Judy Rebick, author of the book that Anna Lou is presently reading, Ten Thousand Roses, to withdraw her support for May and the Green Party.
Were I still a Liberal that followed the party line on these major issues, I would have serious concerns about my leader conceding the ground of Central Nova to Elizabeth May and her lunatic fringe party. It was only four months ago that Howard Dean urged Liberals, to thunderous applause, to not cede ground, not one vote, anywhere in the country. They've flip-flopped on that for no good reason, unless you count the quid pro quo of the Greens agreeing not to run a candidate in Stephane Dion's riding as a compelling reason to undermine the party's stature of being a truly national party committed to advancing Liberal values in every riding of the country. The criticism that Dion is facing today as a direct consequence of this strategy, not only from the peanut gallery, the blogosphere, the media, and his opponents, but also some very high-placed people in his own party. Domestically, this will do far more damage to the Liberal brand than virtually any other misguided tactic or policy announcement in recent years, and there have been no shortage of those.