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Thursday, October 16, 2008 

Politics of Defeat: The Decline of the Liberal Party in Canada

Firstly, let me say that I am not trying to be cruel to Liberals, mere hours after their dismal electoral showing on Tuesday. However, for students of political science, and those Liberals who still care about the future of their party, there is a book that you should dig out of the dusty shelves of your local library.

In 1980, a Saskatchewan writer wrote a brilliant analysis of what had happened to the once great Liberal Party of Saskatchewan. He traced the history of the party from Saskatchewan's entry into Confederation in 1905 up until they were completely wiped out of the Saskatchewan Legislature for the first time in 1978.

His analysis traced how the Sask Libs went from being a broad based rural and urban party to a minor urban rump party ... and finally into the dumpster electorally. It observes how Liberal ranks dissolved and polarized to either end of the political spectrum.

There is a clear similarity to what may be happening with the Liberal Party of Canada as demonstrated in the 2008 Election.

Students of political science should talk to their local librarian and get your hands on a copy of Politics of Defeat: The Decline of the Liberal Party in Saskatchewan. Wilson, Barry. 1980. Saskatoon: Western Producer Books.

Interesting. Dare I ask if you would consider that to be a good thing or a bad thing? Has the polarization been a positive or a negative for Saskatchewan? And did those orphan Liberals who joined the other parties end up drawing them closer to the middle?

I am not completely adverse to the idea of the NDP replacing the Liberals as one of the two major parties federally. I am just concerned that it would lead to the kind of extreme polarization and political warfare we've been seeing in the U.S. I am also concerned that the NDP would either be unable to win broad enough support to come close to a majority, or be forced to severely compromise their principles to do so.

Since the last Saskatchewan Liberal government was defeated in 1971, the New Democrats have won 7 provincial elections and the
'conservatives' (P.C. and Sask Party) have won 3 times.

The Liberals did not elect ANY Members of the Legislature in 1978, 1982, 2003 and 2007. The elected only ONE MLA in 1986 and 1991.

What finally killed the Liberals were the Right Wing grits whose hatred of New Democrats was stronger than their Liberal loyalty and they moved to the Progressive Conservatives. Most progressive Liberals moved to the New Democrats allowing for so many successful elections.

There are a lot of Federal Libs who hate the New Democrats so much (should I mention Cherniak) that the seeds for the demise and polarization of grits are already germinating).

I personally believe that the once Great Liberal Party of Canada is in decline ... and may not recover.

Interesting. From what I understand, though, all these shifts resulted in the Saskatchewan NDP being far more of a centrist party than the NDP in the rest of the country. So doesn't that just mean that Saskatchewan still has a two party system with centre-left and centre-right parties with different labels?

But anyway, yes, I can see more Trudeau Liberals like me moving to the NDP if Dion's demise turns out to be the death of the left wing of the party, which I suspect it will. I plan to wheedle my way into the convention to see if anything can be done about that, but I'm just not sure there are enough of us, and I'm concerned that the exoduus to the right will be even larger, particularly in ex-urban Ontario and BC.

You are hitting the nail on the head. Yes, under Romanow, the New Democrats held the Left/Centre and did quite well. Under Calvert, the NDP moved somewhat to the Left and lost the Centre to the Saskatchewan Party ... even though in reality the Sask Party is quite far to the right, the Centre in Saskatchewan just hasn't figured that out yet.

Like it or not, polarized politics could become the new reality in Canada over the next decade. It is that way in Saskatchewan where no 3rd party can make ANY inroads whatsoever.

For all of his attempts, Sask Libs like John Murney just can't figure out that they cannot recapture the Centre/Right in this province. Murney was predicting a major breakthrough for the Libs during the 2007 provincial election ... but they didn't win even one seat!!

I rest my case!

Hi. Like your blog.

The Grits will bounce back. The Liberals ran this campaign with the wrong issue, and with a very weak leader.

They have the opportunity for a leadership campaign to rekindle interest in the party. If they can find someone with a bit of charisma, I think they'll reverse many of their losses in Ontario.

The Grits still attract stronger candidates nationwide than the NDP (my opion obviously), their economic policies are taken seriously by the electorate (the Achilles Heel for the NDP), and their brand name is stronger than the NDP.

The next election could well see the Grits taking seats from the NDP if the electorate decide they've had it with the Cons.

"His analysis traced how the Sask Libs went from being a broad based rural and urban party to a minor urban rump party."

This is a downward trend for both the NDP and Libs, nationally. Neither are unable to connect with rural Canada - from Ontario to BC. I don't see the connection that you do that this is somehow more of a threat to the Libs than the NDP - a threat you're wondering could mean the end of the Libs nationally.

When the NDP win 60 seats nationally, I think maybe then you can make your argument.

UPDATE FROM 2011:

Hi G2 - you were wrong in 2008. The Liberals did not reboud & the NDP have won far more than 60 federal seats. You were wrong ... I was correct! ;)

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