Or, to keep it in driving terms, the Liberals have been simply taking leaders out for a spin since Chrétien made his exit, and then trading them in for a newer model.
At the moment, Justin Trudeau, the MP for Papineau, seems to be looming in a lot of Liberals’ eyes as next year’s model — at least until something else comes along.
This disposable-leader culture may tell us something deeper about why the Liberals are mired in third place — a sign of their inability to commit, or to tolerate anything except victory. That may not be the ideal quality to transmit to voters.
Within other parties, including the one in power in Canada at the moment, leadership comes with second chances.
Conservative leader Stephen Harper failed to win the 2004 election, even after uniting the right-wing parties. He almost resigned and consigned himself to history’s dustbin, according to subsequent stories by insiders.
But Harper ultimately decided to hang in and landed the prime minister’s job in 2006, where he remains today.
Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty didn’t win on his first try as provincial Liberal leader in the 1999 election, but he endured and led his party to victory in 2003. Nor did Mike Harris do well in the 1990 election, but by 1995, he earned the job of Ontario premier.
Perhaps with those McGuinty or Harris examples in mind, the provincial Progressive Conservatives in Ontario are sticking with leader Tim Hudak, even though he didn’t deliver an expected victory last fall.
The federal New Democrats also endured with Jack Layton through four elections from 2003 to 2011, their eyes fixed on long-term growth. The investment paid off with the reward of official Opposition status after the last election.
Liberals, though, don’t seem to have cultivated that kind of patience.
Martin struggled for 13 years to become prime minister, got the job for two, and walked away the night of his election defeat in 2006.
Some Liberals have since wondered whether this was the right decision — whether Martin, with his record as a finance minister, would have been seen by Canadians as the right man to steer through the 2008 economic downtown and the election that year.
She ends with this.
If history is a guide, anyone running for the Liberal-leader job —including Trudeau — should have two career plans.
Plan A should be focused on winning power in the 2015 election.
Plan B should be something out of politics, because Liberals haven’t been in a second-chance kind of mood since Chrétien began his exit 10 years ago.