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The Defiant Ones

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MICHAEL IGNATIEFF PHOTO
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"All politics is local, all politics is personal, and everything is political."

So said the intrepid Shaughnessy Cohen, Liberal MP from Windsor, who fatally collapsed in the House of Commons on Dec. 9, 1998 from a brain aneurysm.

Her observation, recorded in Susan Delacourt's book Shaughnessy, was as pertinent then as it is now. I wonder what the fearless advocate would think of the state of her beloved party at the moment. The Globe and Mail's Rob Silver says that roughly 4,000 columns have been written since the election on what the Liberal Party must do if it is to be resurrected from its near-death experience.

Indeed, most Canadians were left in confusion following the recent election results. Pundits, for all their opinions, got a lot of it wrong. It wasn't expected that the Liberals would take such a severe drubbing, leaving the party with slightly over 30 seats in Parliament. No sooner was the writ dropped than countless opinions were expressed that Bloc leader Gilles Duceppe was indeed master of his own Quebec domain, I overheard in the House of Commons prior to the election. He's now gone and everyone wonders as to the state of separatism in that mercurial province.

Most surprising of all was the unforeseen launch of the federal NDP to official Opposition status in Ottawa. At the start of the campaign almost everyone believed it would be Jack Layton's last. It was an election that was invigorating and troubling at the same time. The change so many voters wanted wasn't the change they ended up with, leaving many again calling for some kind of electoral reform.

While pundits and citizens alike have blandly accepted much of what transpired, the same can't be said for the state of the Liberal party; everyone seems fixated on its future prospects. With Michael Ignatieff gone as its leader, the way has been cleared for observers to fix their collective gaze on the entrails of the party's defeat and wonder what went wrong. Some say it is moribund, merely passing through its final gyrations of demise, while others look to what must be undertaken to bring the party back to a place of relevance.

For Liberals it has been a deeply painful season of self-examination. John Ibbitson recently wrote a fulsome analysis of the various stages of grief presently being endured by Liberals. He begins with denial and then runs quickly through the remaining four stages -- anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. He might have overlooked one: defiance.

For many of us, the cause of Liberal decline has been apparent for a long time, but we could never get past the party's fixation with leadership politics and its "father knows best" approach to Canadian challenges.

Yet this past campaign also revealed that the grassroots of the party itself was, in fact, alive and well. When Michael Ignatieff came to London in the first week of the campaign, I hadn't seen that many Liberals with that kind of energy in years. Other ridings across the country reported the same. By most accounts, Ignatieff ran a pretty good campaign that for some reason wasn't at all reflected in the final results. He was engaging, almost viscerally open to all questioners, and maintained that grassroots campaigning was really where politics should be all the time.

All good Liberals want to be part of that discovery. We should remain deeply occupied in our respective communities, enticing Liberals to that level, while at the same time drawing our regions back to the great centrist causes that have been part and parcel of the Liberal legacy to this country.

We might label those faithful Liberals across the country as the 'defiant ones,' wishing to stay involved and refusing to disappear following the last disappointing election. By continuing to fight for the manner in which average citizens can find their aspirations and pragmatic solutions through linking up with a national identity, they are refusing to pass away silently into the night.

They are Liberals of all ages on the hunt for a relevant liberalism once again, subscribing to Einstein's view that "we cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them."

They're not so much interested in going back or even going forward; they desire to journey down to their communities -- the place where all good politics finds its source, for as Shaughnessy Cohen rightfully reminded us, everything is local, personal and political.

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