Last week Stephane Dion, soon to be former leader of the Liberal party, got his name into the history books. Unfortunately for him, he will be known as the first ever native-Quebec leader of the Liberal Party not to become Prime Minister. Aside from the luck that afforded Dion the top Liberal job, his track record has been a complete disaster.
The big red machine is used to running cohesive, strategic, well-planned campaigns yet this last election was anything but. Out-fundraised by the Conservatives almost four to one, the Liberals find themselves broke and demoralized. Even worse, they might have given the Conservatives a nice gift: a majority-light parliament.
Stephen Harper probably won enough seats to guarantee him a pass at the Conservative policy convention in Winnipeg this fall, but the other four main parties have some soul searching to do.
Firstly, Jack Layton has been at the helm since 2003, enough time to lead the NDP through three elections with marginal gains. Aside from winning the first ever NDP MP in Quebec, Layton has still yet to reach the Ed Broadbent high water mark of 40 seats. Although very popular within his own party, Layton must feel quite discouraged to still be a footnote in Canadian politics.
After his abrupt entry and exit from the provincial Parti Quebecois leadership race, Gilles Duceppe has lost virtually all credibility as leader. Being in charge for 11 years, bringing the separatist cause as far as possible, his departure is almost imminent.
Elizabeth May has ruffled Green Party feathers over the last year. From her decision to enter into a semi-coalition with the Liberals to running in an impossible riding this election, many are upset with her. Although she did manage to force an appearance in the leadership debates, it has not been enough to stop top advisors from resigning. There have even been rumours of May joining the Liberal leadership race. Only time will tell.
And then there is the sure exit of Stephane Dion. Monday afternoon, Dion resigned as leader, but will stay on until someone new is selected. If the last Liberal leadership convention is any indication of the next one, the Liberals are still fractured and no obvious candidate is in the waiting.
The new leader for the Liberals faces an almost insurmountable task. Assembling the party and unifying the membership after a painful leadership convention is hard to begin with and even worse with little to no funds.
If the scenario of four new leaders becomes reality, Harper might find himself in possession of a minority-majority government.
Once this is all said and done, the parties-- especially the Liberals-- and most leadership contenders will have high debts.
In addition, compared to most other jobs, the leader of a federal party faces an incredibly steep learning curve. Remembering how to find the bathroom might be hard enough for some, let alone a national election. Surely, this will be the last thing on their mind.
It is inconceivable that any leader will be ready for an election in the next couple years.
Now comes the gift to Harper: a guarantee that no party wants to face an election. In other words, the Conservatives can continue to govern as though they have a majority. Last Tuesday, Stephen Harper might have been disappointed about not winning an absolute majority, however, he won't complain if he can govern as though he did.
Even more charitable than John Turner, Dion seems to be a gift that keeps on giving to the Conservatives. It is sad that Dion couldn't have saved himself, let alone his party, presumably he was too busy being Mr. Nice Guy to Harper.