09/17/2012 05:07 EDT | Updated 11/17/2012 05:12 EST

Limiting the Competition in Politics is a Loser's Game


According to a media report, it would appear that New Brunswick MP, Dominic Leblanc, would like to limit the number of contenders for the Liberal Party leadership.

What does he want to give the public, the same old tired crowd that got them to where they are now, i.e. third party status? Leadership races are supposed to rejuvenate a party, improve its fortunes and give it a bounce in the polls. You won't do that unless you debate new ideas, hopefully with a few new people at the table. A good recent example was the NDP leadership race which was pretty boring and had a host of relative unknown MPs running, but it still ended with a high profile leader and lots of policy discussions.

New challengers, who have not been part of the party establishment or party caucus, for that matter, can bring new ideas and policies forward. Even if that person is not elected some of those ideas might be popular enough that they become part of a winning party platform.

According to Leblanc:

"We have to be careful not to think that somebody who wants to raise his or her profile or somebody who wants to pursue a particular single issue should see this as an attainable platform to do that."

"What I think Liberals want are a number of good candidates with broad skill sets and different experiences so that the party has a choice between people they can see one day as occupying the Prime Minister's Office, not somebody who has other ambitions."

Well leadership races are an opportunity to raise your profile. They are also an opportunity to play politics and back potential leaders with the hope that your public profile and eventual support might earn you a stronger role in your party and perhaps a seat on the front bench. Come to think about it, didn't Leblanc declare he was running for the Liberal leadership in 2009 and then drop out throwing his support behind Michael Ignatieff. I suppose some might think he entered that race to increase his profile. Either way, it certainly hasn't harmed Leblanc's career.

And let us not forget that the Liberals went even further in an effort to crown Ignatieff when they successfully persuaded Bob Rae to step aside for Michael Ignatieff. Limiting the competition is not always a good thing!

Leblanc also has reservations about allowing anyone to run for the leadership if they are not presently elected and sitting in the House of Commons.

"The ability to win one's own seat is to extent a judgment of one's own electability."

"So party members will have to ask themselves a whole bunch of questions around what are the skills and the attributes they want for somebody who will be leader, and surely electability will be one of the main factors, I would hope."

Is it just me or am I hearing a touch of arrogance coming through? The last thing any leadership contender should do is sound arrogant. Not only will that be distasteful for the general public, but you just might end up turning away a lot of potential supporters

If Leblanc is right, there shouldn't be any modern day examples of unelected leadership candidates doing well as a party leader. So let's look at the recent past to see who won a party leadership while not in Parliament but then went on to be Prime Minister. Two names come to mind, Brian Mulroney and Stephen Harper.

Harper was not sitting in the House when he was elected leader of the Canadian Alliance on March 20, 2002. He would run in a by-election in Preston Manning's old riding and enter the House of Commons in May 2002.

Mulroney was elected leader of the Progressive Conservatives in June 1983. Two months later he would enter the House of Commons after winning a by-election in Elmer MacKay's former riding of Central Nova.

But wait, they were Conservatives, not Liberals and both of these former unelected leadership candidates went on to win majority governments.

Dominic Leblanc has not yet officially declared his candidacy for the Liberal leadership, but when he does would it be fair to ask him if he is in it to the end or is he just in it to raise his profile.