Vancouver-Quadra MP Joyce Murray has been gaining momentum in the last few weeks in her bid to become the next leader of the Liberal Party of Canada. She's received endorsements from David Suzuki, former Vancouver mayor and current Senator Larry Campbell, political science professor emeritus Peter Russell, Senator Celine Hervieux-Payette of Quebec and David Merner, a former prospective leadership candidate from Victoria, who said, "As a Western Canadian, Joyce is most likely to be able to rebuild in Western Canada and create a truly national party."
Vancouver lawyer Alex Burton, also a former leadership candidate, must not be convinced. He bowed out of the race and endorsed Justin Trudeau (as did Vancouver-Centre Liberal MP Hedy Fry). Despite her momentum, Murray and six other candidates must have awakened Monday morning in Halifax, a day after the fourth of five leadership debates in the Nova Scotian capital, gobsmacked to find out that Trudeau had signed up 150,000 supporters who are entitled to vote in next month's leadership contest (as long as they are not members of another party.) Looks like the "largely talentless and insufferably foppish celebrity drama queen" as writer Terry Glavin described Trudeau in a National Post piece last week, could take it on the first ballot.
Undaunted by Trudeau's numbers, it's full steam ahead for Murray, who told Carol Off on CBC's As It Happens program Monday night, "The federal Liberal leadership is wide open and I'm actually very happy with where I am at in this stage in the race."
Midnight Sunday was the cut-off to sign up new supporters and Murray was working hard to recruit. (Her campaign said she signed up "tens of thousands.") We spoke on the phone last Thursday while she was in Quebec City where she was promoting her concept of political cooperation and electoral reform. For those who are hell bent on getting Stephen Harper and his Tories out of government in 2015, Murray's ideas must have huge appeal. "There are 57 ridings where Conservatives won with less than 50 per cent of the vote," she said over the phone "In Calgary Centre, the Tory candidate won with only 36 per cent of the vote." (Another of those 57 ridings is Vancouver South where Tory MP Wai Young edged out Liberal candidate Ujjal Dosanjh.)
Murray's priority is to defeat Harper, who she believes has inflicted long-term damage on Canada's reputation abroad and democratic institutions at home.
"The majority of Canadian voters hold progressive values, but our values aren't reflected in government unless we figure out a way to overcome our dysfunctional electoral system," she said.
Murray believes her cooperative approach will encourage the voters who stayed home in 2011 to vote in 2015. She's proposing a one-time agreement with the NDP and Green Party to put forward the strongest candidate who can take a seat in the ridings where the Tories won with less than 50 per cent of the vote. She is not in favour of a merger with the other parties. "We have too many differences."
Political cooperation isn't a new concept, but University of B.C. political science professor Philip Resnick says it's worth noting that in both the NDP and Liberal leadership campaigns, it has been the B.C. candidate who has advanced the concept of political cooperation. "Nathan Cullen in the NDP contest, Joyce Murray in the Liberal one. Add Elizabeth May to the mix and you have three," he told me by email. "The idea would appeal to a lot of ordinary voters across the country, and given our current electoral system of first past the post, would greatly facilitate the defeat of Harper and the Conservatives. Folks in B.C. are more open to political experimentation - the B.C. Citizen's Forum on Electoral Reform, the referendum on the HST - which may explain Cullen's and Murray's stance. Having said this, I don't think the party apparati in either case is open to pre-electoral cooperation. Partisanship runs deep in both camps and each one dreams of winning the big enchilada on its own."
No kidding. Marc Garneau, considered to be Trudeau's main rival, rebuffed Murray's inter-party cooperation idea as "a fantasy." Trudeau is also not keen on the idea. "I understand that people want proportional representation, but too many people don't understand the polarization and the micro-issues that come through proportional representation," he said during the Halifax debate.
Is it me or did Trudeau make it sound as if Canadians are too stupid to understand the idea and that he won't promote electoral reform if he becomes leader.
Makes you wonder if we'll ever see electoral reform. "Arguably, if we ended up with a coalition government (Lib-NDP-Greens) after the 2015 election, the issue might well re-emerge," said Resnick. "But even then, it's not obvious that the party leaders would reach easy agreement."
The final debate is March 23 in Montreal. The vote for the new leader is April 14.