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Rx for Liberals: Einstein meets Darwin

Einstein defined insanity as "doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results." I believe that the disastrous result of May 2, 2011 will end the insanity.

Over way too many years, divisions within my party have made it very difficult for talented leaders to work together, and for all our members to feel at home in their own party.

This dysfunction has put our country in the hands of a prime minister who campaigns instead of governs -- attacking his opponents instead of protecting Canadians. We will rebuild our party into a modern democratic institution in which the finger pointing finally stops. We will make the changes necessary to ensure a party which is once again responsive and relevant to the needs of all Canadians.

Einstein defined insanity as "doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results." I believe that the disastrous result of May 2, 2011 will end the insanity.

The Liberal Party seems ready to learn the lessons from the past. Many of the difficulties we have experienced, the divisions and the energy we have wasted, have contributed to the success of Harper's tactics. Many now acknowledge that our problems were twofold:

1) We allowed a civil war in our party to foment, with brutal 'take no prisoners' tactics dividing every riding.

2) As the governing party, we did not listen sufficiently to the grassroots of our party. Riding associations in held ridings were often dominated by MPs' offices. As long as we were winning, the grassroots grumbled quietly but still joined and voted for us. However, in the past two elections the Liberal vote diminished by 800,000 votes each time.

But to paraphrase Will Rogers, rumours of our demise have been greatly overstated.

Liberals have finally realized that 'leaderitis' has got us into trouble.

Many had hoped that a 'messiah' unaligned with previous factions would be the cure. Genuine renewal must start with respect for the grassroots of our party. We must begin with debriefing the lessons learned from this campaign, but also make a brutally honest assessment of the weaknesses that left us unable to break through into the hearts and minds of Canadians, and even some life-long Liberals, despite what some thought were a quite reasonable campaign-platform and leader's performance.

All ridings need to be able to grieve and rant and provide constructive advice for the future. The debrief for this election must also deal with the hard feelings of over a decade of the grassroots not feeling listened to, which have led to the entrenched melancholia.

Thankfully we have decided to put off yet another leadership campaign for 18 months or more. I believe that under the leadership of Bob Rae, we will this time undertake a root and branch renewal process that is truly bottom-up.

As we let go of the fantasy that Liberals have to choose an Obama-esque messiah who can single-handedly lead them out of the wilderness, we need to recall that the rebuilding of the Democratic party took time.

Their bottom-up renewal began with Governor Dean's candidacy for the Democratic party presidential nomination with his focus on the Internet, and more importantly his determination to 'walk the talk' of relevance and responsiveness to the grassroots. As president of the party, Gov. Dean was able to effect his 50-state strategy.

The Liberal Party of Canada needs a 308-riding strategy. Finally we will begin a therapeutic journey which will heal the past hurts and put in place the governance, structures and processes to ensure that our next leader will have a healthy and truly democratic party to lead -- a party that is fair, transparent and takes people seriously.

A key part of Obama's success was a more modern infrastructure and an inclusive culture that was able to attract good ideas as well as the commitment of legions of new volunteers.

After our defeat in 2008, Stéphane Dion and Michael Ignatieff supported the creation and work of the Change Commission with the mandate to go out and ask Liberals for their responses to three prompts:

1) I would be proud of a Liberal party that...

2) The greatest challenges facing the Liberal Party of Canada are...

3) The Change Commission will be a success if...

The meaningful grassroots consultations revealed important and sometimes brutal observations and even more important concrete recommendations.

We tabled the report in April 2009 but, unfortunately, the ongoing 'election readiness' preoccupation meant that many of the recommendation have not been implemented.

Re-reading the report and implementing the recommendations that are still necessary but as yet outstanding will be an important starting point for the path forward. A majority government means that Liberals now have time. The removal of the per vote subsidy presents a serious fiscal challenge. People give money when they feel they are being heard, that their story is being told and their values expressed.

Charles Darwin said, "It is not the strongest of the species that survives, not the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change." The Liberal Party has remained one of the strongest brands in Canada because of its ability to adapt to changing needs while holding fast to the core Canadian values of fairness and respect.

Liberals have never been stuck in the ideologies of the left or the right. We rely on our ability to draw on the experience, values and priorities of Liberals and small 'l' liberals in the trenches, whether they are a young volunteer in a food bank or an immigrant settlement worker, an defense counsel or an enlightened CEO.

I remember being invited to lunch with former Trudeau minister Alistair Gillespie during the Chrétien years, at a time when the Liberal Party found itself in turbulent waters. He spoke about the medallion of the historic Beaver Club. On the front was engraved a beaver with the words 'Industry and Perseverance.' On the back was an image of voyageurs in a canoe with all paddles in the water and the words 'Fortitude in Distress.'

It is indeed time for every member of the Liberal Party of Canada to demonstrate both industry and perseverance. Fortitude in distress will require all Liberals to have their paddles in the water -- regardless of who's in the stern!

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