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A Political Forest Fire

Through Fire, New Growth

For much of the history of forest management, it was thought that the devastating impact of a forest fire must be avoided at all cost. Whether man-made or naturally caused, forest fires destroyed years of growth that would take decades to replace, if at all. More recently, forest fires have been looked on more favourably and are now seen as an essential part of the life-cycle of forests.

The extreme heat of a forest fire causes, for example, the cones of conifer trees to open and drop seeds on the forest floor. After countless seeds fall, some germinate and within weeks of a destructive fire, new growth begins to appear. Within only a few short decades, the new growth forest will be comprised of trees that tower over all who walk through and easily disguise the fact that a fire ever tore through that forest.

Without fire, forests fail to regenerate along a natural timeline and new growth is hindered. When fires are delayed, the impact is much more devastating and can actually reach a scale that makes regrowth extremely difficult. Forest fires help to regularly reset the cycle of forest growth and help continue the sustainability of that growth.

Liberal Seedlings

In May 2011, the Liberal Party of Canada was dealt a devastating blow. The Party was razed, winning just 34 seats and losing both senior and long-serving members in the blaze. Now sitting in third place in the House of Commons, many have written off the Party for good, suggesting that this was a special kind of defeat that the Party cannot come back from.

I hold a different view. I believe occasionally it is good and even necessary for an organization to be torn down so it can build again. The Liberal Party of Canada has a long history of decisive and prolonged losses that actually made the Party better and stronger afterwards. That is because the largest losses instil a deeper commitment to doing things differently, to bringing in new faces, and for calling on new, previously unheard voices.

Some of our longest droughts have been followed by some of our lengthiest periods in government. And that is because the losses made the Party re-evaluate and led to recognizing new talent, new voices, and new ways of thinking.

Wilfrid Laurier entered federal politics at 33 barely in time to serve in the Cabinet of Alexander Mackenzie. It would be eighteen long years in opposition before Laurier would lead the Liberals to victory in 1896. He then governed Canada for fifteen years straight. This despite entering federal politics through a Liberal government in its dying days.

Mackenzie King, born the same year Laurier became a federal politician, would himself enter federal politics at 34 and become the first ever Minister of Labour in Laurier’s government. His term was short lived as the Laurier Liberals soon lost power to Borden’s Union government. King did not sit on the government benches again until he became Prime Minister a decade later. Over the course of several stints at the helm of government, King would govern for 22 years, the longest in Canadian history. This too despite entering politics through a Liberal government in its dying days.

In 1962 a 33 year old John Turner joined the House of Commons and in 1963, a 29 year old Jean Chretien entered politics. Both joined the Liberal government that formed after six years in the wilderness and would play substantial roles in the governments of Pearson and Trudeau before each becoming Prime Minister. Turner’s term came after nearly 21 years of uninterrupted Liberal governance and was he turfed as a result. Chretien, however, would come to power after nine years out of power and led the country for the majority of the next 13 years of Liberal governance.

Pearson’s rebuilding in the 1960s played a major role in putting Liberals in office during the four decades that followed his time as Prime Minister. This despite the fact that his introduction as Liberal leader was being walloped by Diefenbaker in the 1958 election that placed Pearson, as Leader of the Official Opposition, squarely across the aisle from the largest majority government in Canadian history.

Death and Rebirth of the Liberal Party of Canada

Liberals found themselves in the wilderness from:

  • 1867 to 1873 (6 years)
  • 1878 to 1896 (18 years)
  • 1911 to 1921 (10 years)
  • 1930 to 1935 (5 years)
  • 1957 to 1963 (6 years)
  • 1984 to 1993 (9 years)
  • 2006 to 2015 at minimum (9 years)

Liberals followed these periods with governing records spanning from:

  • 1873 to 1878 (5 years)
  • 1896 to 1911 (15 years)
  • 1921 to 1930* (9 years –  brief interruption of Meighen government)
  • 1935 to 1957 (22 years)
  • 1963 to 1984* (21 years – brief interruption of Clark government)
  • 1993 to 2006 (13 years)

The Liberal Party of Canada has a long history of starting over again as far back as Confederation and coming out the other side stronger for that effort. We can either see this period as a challenge we might not be able to overcome or an opportunity to improve. I have full faith that if we remain focused, patient, and hard working we will see new and lasting growth take root.

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