National Column: Parties of Canada’s left, right bereft of proper leadership

by Chantal Hébert

What do the federal New Democrats, the Alberta and federal Conservatives, and Quebec’s two main
sovereigntist parties have in common?

These days they are all looking for someone to lead them out of the wilderness.

The similarities don’t stop there. In none of their cases is the quest for a new leader just a routine changing of the guard.

To varying degrees, the long-standing flagship parties of the Canadian right, the country’s left and Quebec’s secession movement have lost their sense of their place in a shifting political universe.

They are all struggling with divisive existential issues that will have to be resolved before they can take the fight to their political rivals. And none has a larger-than-life figure in sight to paper over the cracks.

The Parti Quebecois will be choosing a leader for the second time in little more than a year on Oct. 7. It’s hard to know just how many diehard sovereigntists saw media tycoon Pierre Karl Peladeau as the last possible figure liable to breathe new life in the flagging cause of Quebec independence. But as the dust settles on his abrupt resignation, it is clear that number had been underestimated. The lifelessness of this PQ leadership campaign suggests that hope – even among staunch believers – does not after all spring eternal.

It does not help that the main point of contention between the five leadership aspirants revolves around the timing of a referendum that every single poll indicates a substantial majority of Quebecers do not want.

Or that none of the contenders would have been considered a serious against the likes of Pauline Marois, Bernard Landry or Lucien Bouchard, who all failed as premiers to rekindle the sovereigntist flame.

Or that two of the five candidates, including presumed favourite Alexandre Cloutier, were on the last leadership ballot. Neither he nor MNA colleague Martine Ouellet was described then as having won the battle of original ideas and neither is exceeding expectations in this repeat campaign.

The PQ has a star lineup in comparison to the Bloc QuÈbÈcois. The federal sovereigntist party has no money to give a seatless leader a salary but at the same time none of its 10 MPs is considered permanent leadership material. The Bloc’s existence was never supposed to be counted in decades. But more than 20 years later, no one wants to be caught calling an end to the experiment even if many wonder why it is still ongoing.

Over on the NDP front, it has now been four months since members showed Thomas Mulcair the door, and still there is not a declared contender for his job. Mind you, the NDP has pushed the leadership vote off to the fall of 2017 – a move that means there is no hurry for anyone to declare.

But that comes at collateral cost to the party, especially on the front of fundraising. As a lame duck leader, Mulcair is hardly in a position to fill NDP coffers. Alberta Premier Rachel Notley is now the main New Democrat fundraising attraction. But she is unlikely to work overtime for a federal party whose activists would have the next leader declare war on pipelines. It is a rare chicken that fundraises for Colonel Sanders.

Mulcair’s successor will have to bridge a widening gap between the party’s activist base and some of the more electorally successful provincial wings.

Is it any wonder that volunteers are few and far between?

In comparison to the New Democrats, the federal Conservatives – who will be choosing Stephen Harper’s successor next spring – have an overabundance of candidates. Five have entered the race, with more apparently to come. So far, mainstream Canadians and card-carrying Conservatives agree on one thing:Polls show neither constituency is terribly impressed by the choices on offer.

When one thinks of unifying figures in Canadian politics, former federal minister Jason Kenney does not readily come to mind.

But of all the candidates who are flirting with, or engaged in, a leadership bid this summer it is Kenney who brings the strongest personality and strategic skills to his self-appointed mission of reuniting the right in Alberta.

As luck would have it, in the larger scheme of Canadian politics, what happens next in Alberta will almost certainly matter more, at least over the next few years, than Quebec’s latest sovereigntist leadership or the makeup of the next federal opposition duo.

Chantal Hébert is a national affairs writer. Her column appears Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday.

Copyright 2016 – Torstar Syndication Services

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