Guest Post: Why I’ll Be Voting Against Nearly Every Policy At the Convention

A few years ago, I was at an Liberal Party of Canada in Alberta AGM voting on policies to go forward to the Vancouver Biennial in 2009. We were debating a policy that called for a 25% reduction in greenhouse gases. A funny thing happened; someone stood up and declared that this was too high, it would hurt the economy too much and that it should be a 20% reduction instead. Cue a half hour debate over the proposal. Tempers flared, people took sides. A frustrated friend of mine stood up and asked a very simple question; did anyone know what 5% of GHG entailed? Sure enough, nobody did. The environmental-focused Liberals just lined up behind the 25% while the more fiscal-focused Liberals went for 20%; nobody had any context and the whole debate was effectively meaningless.

There’s no doubt that our policy process has significant flaws and is in need of serious reform. However, even if we had an efficient and engaging process, we would still have the serious problem of “garbage in, garbage out”. If we don’t take this process seriously, why do we expect others to?

I’ve read the resolutions for this coming Convention and I’ve come to three conclusions. First, we seem to be actively avoiding substantive policy. I don’t want to pick on anybody, but I am going to use an example; one policy calls for a national housing strategy to address homelessness. Alright, noble enough goal, but that’s all it does. No mention of what might actually be in said strategy, other than it’ll address homelessness. Well, what does that mean? Clearly we’ve entered some metaphysical realm where we have a policy in favour of having a policy (and we’ll get back to you on what it is exactly). We may as well have a policy condemning nuclear war, just in case people weren’t clear on where we sat on that issue (naturally there’d be an exemption for the leader to support nuclear war in “special circumstances”).

Second, we need to put a lot more actual research into our polices. For instance, the call for a National Food Strategy. Well, I Googled “Canada National Food Strategy”. The first hit was the Canadian Federation of Agriculture’s National Food Strategy. The policy we’re looking at calls for us to work with them to develop a policy. Well, they seem to have done the work for us. What our policy should actually have expressed is what we want a national food strategy to say, and we can then say “Hey, the CFA supports this approach”. Or, “Hey, we disagree with this aspect of the CFA’s policy”.

Third, party members are obsessed with making sure they have a policy that passes (even if it then disappears into the ether). We’re so focused on making sure our policy passes that we water them down into striking committees and seeing what other people think rather than statements expressing the will of the membership. Here, I’ll use the example of a proposal that’s been getting a lot of ink – the Young Liberal proposal to abolish the monarchy…except that’s not what it does. No, it wants to strike a committee to examine rules to establish a Canadian Head of State.

If we want to have a debate, let have it. Debates are good, they focus us, challenge us, make us better. But even if we can’t reach that level of discourse, lets please stop having water cooler conversations designed to not offend anyone and calling these debates and policies. So what if your policy doesn’t pass? A failed proposal that started an important debate can alter the course of our thinking and a few conventions later, the membership may express a different opinion.

So aside from the few good ones that I’ll be supporting, I’ll be voting against most of the polices at Convention. Policies that try to be all things to all people (a real problem we’ve had lately, n’est pas?), that don’t actually do anything, and that haven’t been adequately researched do not deserve our support. Canadians aren’t stupid; if we vote down a toothless call for a National Housing Strategy, they aren’t going to suddenly think we’re in favour of homelessness. They’re going to get the message and know that we’re taking this process seriously and going back to the drawing board to create policies for the next Biennial in 2014 that are important to us and mean something to them.

Glen Krueger is a Past President of the Dalhousie Liberals, past Board Member in Calgary and Halifax constituencies, and is currently articling at a law firm in Toronto.

Posted on by CalgaryGrit in 2012 Liberal Bienial

About CalgaryGrit

A former Calgary Liberal, now living in Toronto. My writings on politics can be found at www.calgarygrit.ca and online at the National Post.

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