The Road to Renewal

Well, that was fun.

It’s hard not to come out of this weekend’s Liberal Renewalfest in Ottawa without feeling good about the future. Considering the collective punch to the gut the Liberal Party took on May 2nd, it was remarkable to see Liberals out at this convention in such high numbers and such high spirits. And it wasn’t the delusional “get a new leader and we’ll be back in power” kind of optimism I’ve seen at past conventions. Most Liberals I talked to this weekend got that there aren’t any quick fixes and there’s a ton of work to do.

Luckily, the party took a few concrete steps in that direction.

I’ve been a big proponent of shifting to an open supporter system for quite some time, but assumed the motion was heading for defeat this weekend. Surprisingly it passed, and the Liberals will open the party to Canadians when it comes time to select the next leader. I don’t want to overhype the impact of this change – we’re not going to have millions of people signing up as supporters tomorrow. But it opens the party to Canadians who are political but not partisan and will expand the Liberal tent.

Also drawing headlines was Mike Crawley’s 26-vote win over Sheila Copps for the presidency. It’s incredibly unfair to Sheila and her supporters to describe her as the status quo candidate, but that was the media spin and Crawley’s win will be seen as a vote for change. More substantively, the man has an incredible platform and if half of it becomes reality, Liberal members will be more engaged than they’ve ever been before.

I didn’t expect to be talking about policy resolutions in my convention recap. After all, the party hasn’t even bothered to pay lip service to policies which are prioritized at convention. So when the legalized marijuana resolution passed with over 75% support, I figured it would be good for a few Twitter jokes and little else. Then in the closing address of the convention, Bob Rae did all but endorse it, specifically mentioning the resolution and saying “the war on drugs has failed”. I’m sceptical this will be in the 2015 platform, but I remember Paul Martin bluntly saying “no way” without skipping a beat when asked about controversial policies which had passed at the 2005 policy convention. A meaningful policy process is one of the best ways to turn new supporters into active members, so this new attitude is very much welcome.

For me, that’s really the take home message from this weekend: The new Liberal attitude. Who knows if going to a supporter system or electing campaign co-chairs will really make much difference? The key to rebuilding is to create an attitude of openness, inclusiveness, and engagement throughout the party – then keeping this in mind when making decisions. My sense from this convention is that for the first time since I became a member a decade ago, Liberals truly want to create a party like that and are willing to change.

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 and online at the National Post.

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