Liberal Leadership ’13: We Don’t Really Know What’s Going to Happen

If anyone thinks they know what’s going to be the end result in the Liberal leadership contest (which just had its new rules announced) they’re dead wrong. Nobody knows what is going to happen. The National Post is dead wrong when they write that there is a predestined winner of this race.


The Liberals have ventured out on a grand experiment this January by making their leadership race the most open and most accessible in Canadian history. You can’t predict this.

It has been tried before — by the Alberta Liberals, in fact, when the party membership voted by 95% in favour of the gamble — and was a change I championed there as I did at the federal biennial as well. Twice as many people voted in 2011 than in 2008, 27,000 Albertans said they were interested in picking the next leader of the Alberta Liberals, and a branch was offered out to Albertans everywhere.

With that leadership race a Raj Sherman, avid federal Liberal turned PC MLA then turned independent MLA folk hero, won the leadership on the first ballot far outstripping initial favourites Hugh MacDonald and Laurie Blakeman. It wasn’t until the last month of campaigning that it was seen as a MacDonald versus Sherman race and then it wasn’t expected for such a clear win on the first ballot by Sherman.

The unexpected did happen, though, and Raj Sherman was brought on as leader to lead the Liberals into the 2012 provincial election. And, with a 94% vote of approval at a party AGM, he will be leading them into the next provincial election.

Beyond this case study there is a fundamental issue of the unpredictability of democracy.

This was proven in Quebec’s 2012 provincial election, where there was a large expectation of a total implosion of the Liberals when, rather than implode, ended up with four seats short of the now governing minority Parti Quebecois. In Alberta numerous papers were writing about the end of the provincial Tories and their replacement by the Wildrose in the 2012 provincial election and all were quickly proven wrong with a slightly reduced PC majority.

The NDP were also quite unpredictable in their leadership race: the votes made at convention went overwhelmingly to third place finishing Nathan Cullen. He was almost a second Jack Layton — who also went into a convention with charm and personality to sway members — and was only defeated by Mulcair’s accumulated advance poll votes that had the whole leadership selection settled days before the convention even had its opening ceremonies. Cullen’s explosive political skill, if there weren’t advance polls, would have scored him a likely decisive win quite akin to Layton’s leadership victory in 2003.

After all is said and done there are strange, weird, and unpredictable things that happen in democratic contests. Nobody really knows what is going to happen with the leadership race, especially with the supporter system wrench thrown into the federal Liberal’s race.

One Response to Liberal Leadership ’13: We Don’t Really Know What’s Going to Happen

  • Everyone knew Raj was going to win, 94% doesn’t just happen in one month. And as such if Trudeau runs he’ll win, hands down.

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