Boring internal Liberal Party matters

Liberals Now Going for Gold

Posted on by CalgaryGrit in Boring internal Liberal Party matters | 12 Comments
Justin Trudeau reacts to the results of the delegate vote for a National Transportation Strategy

Justin Trudeau reacts after delegates vote to adopt a National Transportation Strategy

When a new narrative sets in, it’s oh so easy to forget the old narrative. But as I compared this weekend’s Liberal Party convention to the last time Liberals gathered, I was reminded at how quickly the story has changed.

First, let’s flash back to January 2012. Newt Gingrich was alive and well in the Republican presidential race, Miley Cyrus was still Hannah Montana to most of us, and our biggest concern about Rob Ford was that he sometimes texted while driving. A few people worried about the Mayan Doomsday, but the larger concern for Liberals gathered in Ottawa was not the end of the world, but the end of the Liberal Party. Nearly every article about that convention speculated about the party’s demise, and the very real possibility they could be squeezed out of existence by the Conservatives and NDP.

It wasn’t farfetched. It had happened in the UK and in several provinces, and while the “Nycole Turmel bump” had the Liberals showing signs of life, the leadership picture was murky, at best. Bob Rae had agreed not to run for leader, but was definitely thinking about it, leaving a lot of Liberals uneasy. Not that the alternatives were setting the world on fire – David McGuinty or Denis Coderre, anyone? While it feels like we’ve been living in Trudeaumania forever, fewer than 1 in 7 people thought he’d actually run for leader on a straw poll I posted on my website that winter.

I wouldn’t call the mood bleak at the 2012 convention, but there was definitely a lot of trepidation and nervousness.

Flash forward two years and the picture is unrecognizable. The Liberal Party is coming off its best fundraising quarter ever, and candidates are lining up for hotly contested nominations. For the first time in 50 years, there wasn’t a whisper of leadership speculation in convention hospitality suites. The fact that those same suites contained late night poutine bars is certainly a sign these are times of plenty.

This all led to a more energized atmosphere among delegates. I’m sure even Green Party conventions feature speeches describing Elizabeth May as the “next Prime Minister of Canada”, but in candid conversations, even the most optimistic delegates have a sense of realism. Two years ago, there was a lot of talk about “two election strategies” and “catching the NDP”. This time, the focus is squarely on making Justin Trudeau Prime Minister on October 19th, 2015 (or earlier).

That may still be an overreach. But it serves as a reminder of how quickly things have changed in Liberal land, and the type of game changer Trudeau has been.

Leadership for Change

Posted on by CalgaryGrit in 2013 OLP Leadership Race, Boring internal Liberal Party matters, Ontario Politics | 9 Comments

Yesterday, Steve V blogged about why he’s running as a delegate for Gerard Kennedy in the OLP leadership race, and the point he circled back to was that, for better or worse, Gerard is more genuinely committed to changing the way politics is done in this country than any politician you will ever meet. Kennedy was talking about renewal long before it became an empty buzzword, and he has walked the walk by engaging and empowering grassroots Liberals and constituents throughout his entire political career.

So it should come as no surprise that he has released a substantive party renewal document today. It’s a meaty list of proposals, but here are a few of the reforms that I’m most excited to see:

1. Have the party leader meet with every riding association at least once a year.

2. Increased communication between the party leader and riding presidents, including a “hotline” that will respond to all messages within 24 hours.

3. Creation of an advisory council that will draw on the talents of past MPPs and candidates.

4. Support for one member one vote leadership races in the future (possibly using the federal “supporter” system).

5. Development of targeted youth intern, mentorship, and candidate development programs.

6. An open Wiki for discussion on policies being considered for the party platform.

7. Giving youth a real voice and real responsibility, by allowing them to develop and pass one policy each year that will be included in the platform, without reference to the senior party.

8. A concrete 107 riding strategy.

9. Less rigid party discipline, with free MPP votes on everything outside of budget and platform items.

10. Open nominations in all ridings (under normal circumstances).

I should point out that these are not earth shattering proposals. Indeed, most of the ideas in the Change Document are things Liberals have been talking about at “renewal” roundtables for years – many were taken directly from suggestions made by over 750 Liberal members who took a Kennedy campaign feedback survey on this topic back in November.

The difference, as I see it, is that Kennedy has made a career of advocating for a more open political process, so you know this will be a top priority of his – not just a hollow document that will gather dust in a binder after the leadership race.

The Third Way

Posted on by CalgaryGrit in Boring internal Liberal Party matters, Federal Politics, Policy, Polls | Leave a comment

The latest Ipsos poll paints a rather dreary picture of Liberal fortunes, with what was once the natural governing party languishing more than 15 points behind both the NDP and the Conservatives.

Of course, the NDP are in their post-leadership honeymoon, the Liberals don’t have a permanent leader, and a horse race poll when politics is the farthest thing from the electorate’s mind won’t tell you a lot. But I think we can safely assume the Liberals are a distant third, trailing two parties who are both intent on hugging the centre of the road, making it almost impossible to pass them. So what’s a centrist party to do?

I agree with Rae’s message of staying to the middle of the spectrum, but the days of finding sunny compromises between the NDP and Conservative extremes on every single issue are numbered. When you’re the third place party you need to give people a reason to vote for you, and a milquetoast platform topped with some language about the “extremist” positions of two very non-extremist parties isn’t going to be convincing.

Faced with this new reality, the challenge is standing out and being noticed. That likely means on occasion passing the two parties ahead of you on the right, and on occasion passing them on the left. So maybe the Liberals adopt a few “right wing” economic policies even the Conservatives dare not touch, like the abolishment of supply management. Maybe it means “out-NDPing” the NDP by proposing a national pharmacare program.

Of course, the entire concept of a left-right political spectrum is somewhat arbitrary when you think about it. Is democratic reform a right wing or a left wing issue? Either way, parties talk a lot less about it the closer they get to power, so there may be an opening there for the Liberals who are decidedly nowhere near power. There’s certainly an opening on the “Quebec question”, given the PQ may be in power a year from now, and both the Tories and NDP have spent long nights flirting with the separatists in recent years.

The other thing to consider is the dirty little secret that most voters aren’t reading through party platforms and casting their vote based on policy. Did Jack Layton leap from third to second because voters found his policies that much more compelling than Ignatieff’s? Most voters would be hard pressed to identify a single area of cleavage between the two party platforms.

Now, I’m not saying the Liberals are one leadership change away from power. As I’ve written before, there’s a lot of structural work to be done, and even if voters didn’t know the intricacies of the Liberal and NDP platforms last election, they had a clear impression of party brands, and an overall sense of party values. But a party’s leader does matter, and it’s just as important to have a leader who can differentiate himself or herself from Mulcair and Harper, as it is to have policies that can be differentiated from the NDP and CPC platforms. That doesn’t mean the Liberals should search for the anti-Mulcair or shy away from an experienced and polished politician like Harper – only that there needs to be some kind of “value add” that makes their leader stand out. The brilliance of Jack was that he always smiled and could connect with voters – that’s an ability Michael Ignatieff lacked completely, and one both Harper and Mulcair struggle with.

In the past, all the Liberals needed to do to get elected was wedge themselves squarely between the extremes. There are still many issues for which that strategy makes sense from both an ideological and political perspective. But adopting that knee-jerk approach on every issue and failing to stand out is a sure fire path to irrelevance.

Why the Liberal Party Took a Chance on the Supporter System

Posted on by CalgaryGrit in 2012 Liberal Bienial | Leave a comment

The boldest and most surprising outcome of this weekend’s Liberal Renewalfest in Ottawa was the party’s decision to open its doors to all Canadians by adopting a supporter system. As a result, any voter who supports the Liberal Party will be able to vote for its next leader – no need for a membership card or membership fees. I’ve blogged ad nauseaum about why I like this system, but I never expected it to pass – and neither did a single person I talked to at the convention.

So what caused Liberals to support the supporter system? How did this come about?


Systems like this are hardly new. The Americans have been using variations of it since the 1952 New Hampshire primary, but the rules and mechanisms have varied from state to state and from year to year. Currently, Americans register as Democrats, Republicans, or Independents on their taxes, and vote for their party’s candidate – though rules on who specifically is allowed to vote vary from state to state.

The French socialists opened their leader-selection process to the public in 2011 and 2.7 million voted – this to choose the leader of a party with 200,000 members. The British Conservatives mailed an entire riding ballots to pick their candidate in Totness in 2009, and about a quarter of eligible voters participated. Despite these largely successful case studies, the idea of the Liberal Party trying this wasn’t on anyone’s radar until 8 months ago, when two events softened the ground enough to made it a distinct possibility.

The first you’re all familiar with. On May 2nd, the Liberal Party was obliterated. After making excuses for years (“we lost because of Adscam“, “we lost because of the income trust investigation“, “we lost because of the Green Shift“), Liberals realized the party needed to change and try something new. Many of the speakers in support of the supporter resolution on Saturday gave variations of “we have nothing to lose but our third party status” – when you’re down, you’re a lot more willing to take a risk and try something new.

With the Liberals down, it didn’t take long for them to start considering an open primary – I heard Alf Apps float the idea at an Edward Blake Society gathering in Toronto just two weeks after the election.

The Alberta Trial

Also in May, the first Canadian case study of the supporter system was launched, when a room full of Alberta Liberals voted overwhelmingly to give Liberal supporters a vote in the party’s upcoming leadership contest. The party’s young executive and executive director Corey Hogan had drafted the resolutions and run an aggressive “Yes” campaign with buttons and pamphlets, but even the party’s 83 year old former leader Nick Taylor spoke in favour of the move. Like the federal grits, the Alberta Liberals were down and out, and were willing to take a chance.

In effect, it was that feeling they had little to lose that got the ball rolling on the supporter system in Alberta several months earlier. On February 1st, Hogan and party president Erick Ambtman held a press conference to discuss ALP leader David Swann’s resignation, and fielded question after question along the lines of “Does this mean the Alberta Liberal Party is dead?”. Hell, most reporters weren’t nice enough to include the “does this mean” part.

According to Hogan, that’s when he began seriously floating the idea of allowing all Albertans to vote for the party’s next leader. Having flirted with the idea of free memberships and registered supporters for some time, Hogan and Ambtman decided to go all in. Within a week, resolutions were approved by the party’s Executive Committee. Within two weeks, they were approved by the Board of Directors.

Despite this enthusiasm, many party officials described themselves as “blown away” when 95% of Liberal members not only voted in favour of the supporter system, but voted to use it in the current leadership race. They needed to draft rules, iron out logistics, and administer this new system in a matter of days.

The results of this rushed and messy experiment in democracy were mostly positive. Twice as many Albertans voted in this leadership race than in the 2008 contest that had elected David Swann, and the party added the contact information of 27,000 voters to its database. Removing the $10 fee and the stigma of being a Liberal in Alberta certainly helped, but the big catalyst in this supporter drive was the ability to sign Albertans up over the phone – a technique used to great success by the contest’s winner, Raj Sherman.

That’s not to say there weren’t problems. Runner-up Hugh MacDonald complained about the lists, but since they were cross-checked with the Elections Alberta voter list, they were arguably more accurate than party membership lists – no cats or corpses allowed. There was a takeover attempt by Craig Chandler’s right wing PGIB group, but it failed spectacularly with their candidate finishing fourth with just 7% of the vote.

The impact of the Alberta “case study” cannot be understated – it was mentioned by Sheila Copps repeatedly during her presidential campaign, and pointed to several times during the floor debate on the LPC constitutional amendment as a reason to embrace or avoid this system. Liberals are always wary of following the Americans and few had heard of experiments with this system overseas – I think it was reassuring to many that the system had been tried successfully by their fellow Liberals in Alberta.

The System Goes Federal

But it was still far from certain to go federal. After the outgoing national executive floated the idea over the summer and formalized it in November, Liberals were still mixed. I called in to a telephone debate among Presidential candidates in December and a push button straw poll showed attendees split – 40% in favour, 40% opposed, and 20% on the fence. Three of the four candidates for Party President were against the idea, and even Sheila Copps had begun muting her language around the concept as the convention approached.

The pundits were split. The blogs were split. Twitter was split. There didn’t seem to be a large “vote yes” campaign in the lead-up to the convention beyond a modest “Liberals for Open Leadership” website. The atmosphere at a Friday discussion on the proposed changes was downright toxic, with former MP Maria Minna leading the charge against the ammendment.

Despite a strong Saturday push by the Young Liberals, and words of support by author Don Tapscott and a pair of Obama organizers, I fully expected a 50/50 vote, far short of the two thirds majority needed to pass this resolution.

Then on a Saturday night, with 2000 delegates watching in the convention hall (and dozens of Canadians watching on TV), Bob Rae stood up to argue passionately in favour of the supporter amendment. A murmur went up around the room – even though Rae had previously voiced support for the resolution, I never got the sense he was fighting for it. I turned to my friend and said “This could be a game changer – I was wrong, this thing could pass“.

Rae was followed by a young girl…then by Justin Trudeau. Suddenly, we had a ballgame. Supporters of the supporter system spoke of “renewal”, “openness”, and “historic change”, playing off the mood of the convention. Opponents focused on logistics and warned of outsiders hijacking the party. Then a Liberal delegate got up and said how he’d supported the Liberals for years but this was his first convention – he was here to “hijack” the party and he hoped millions of Canadians joined him in hijacking the party. Game over.

It’s not often that high profile constitutional resolutions are won and lost on the the convention floor, but I truly think the speeches from the floor – especially Rae and Trudeau’s intervention – tipped the scales.

And just like that, a resolution that looked dead a week earlier, and which no one would have contemplated a year earlier had passed. As the great philosopher Bob Dylan said “when you’ve got nothing, you’ve got nothing to lose”. The Liberals took a chance on change – who knows what the repercussions will be, but we’ll soon find out.

Convention Recap

Posted on by CalgaryGrit in 2012 Liberal Bienial | Leave a comment

Despite the “blogger ban”, the interwebs are full of LPC Bienial reaction. For those of you thirsty for more first hand recounts, here’s what some of the Liberal delegates who were there thought about the weekend:

Also at the convention were CoaLM, Impolitical, Calgary Liberal, and others.

The Road to Renewal

Posted on by CalgaryGrit in 2012 Liberal Bienial | Leave a comment

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.

2012 Liberal Biennial in Pictures

Posted on by CalgaryGrit in 2012 Liberal Bienial | Leave a comment

The drive to Ottawa. Had there been an “annex the Turks & Caicos” policy, it would have passed overwhelmingly, simply on the prospect of a sun destination convention.

Munir Sheikh – the Bono of former StatsCan heads – gave a 9 am talk on survey sampling methodology.

The voting clickers predictably had some glitches – I think I accidently voted for Pat Buchanan on one of the policy resolutions. Luckily, Peter Miliken was there to oversee voting and “Miliken” anyone who dared bring up an ill-constructed point of order. He was hands-down the convention MVP.

Sheila Copps’ “rats nest” was one of the many hospitality suites at the convention. However, the Westin shut them down at 11…something which would never have happened if the Liberals were in power.

For those of you out there who have always wanted an Edward Blake or Alexander Mackenzie button…

The momentum around “Coyne 4 leader” was unstoppable this weekend. In fact, a rival leadership camp stole his coat, in a bid to derail his campaign.

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

Posted on by CalgaryGrit in 2012 Liberal Bienial | Leave a comment

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.

Primary Debates (2)

Posted on by CalgaryGrit in 2012 Liberal Bienial | Leave a comment

Myself and Jeff Jedras follow up our online debate, with a video chat over beers on the primary resolution which will be up for vote at this weekend’s convention.

After the video ended, the rest of the bar patrons joined in on the argument and it ended in a brawl.

Meet Charles Ward

Posted on by CalgaryGrit in 2012 Liberal Bienial | Leave a comment

On Monday I voiced my support for Mike Crawley for LPC President, after profiling Crawley, Sheila Copps, Ron Hartling, and Alexandra Mendes over the past month.

I mostly glossed over the fifth candidate, Charles Ward, since I really didn’t know much about him. Luckily, Charles gave me a call yesterday and remedied that problem, so I am pleased to present the thrilling conclusion to my 5 part series on the race for the Liberal Party’s Presidency.

I give you Charles Ward:

Who is Charles Ward?

Ward has been an active Liberal in four different provinces for over 40 years, and moved to Alberta in 2009. He is currently the president of a Lethbridge riding association and describes himself as a plain spoken man who has avoided the spotlight this race, as he feels the party President should stay behind the scenes.

1. Why did you join the Liberal Party?

Frankly I was born a Liberal. Began my political career at age 14 campaigning door to door for John Matheson, Parliamentary Secretary to Lester Pearson. Graduated to campaign organizer/manager.

2. In 20 words or less, describe the type of party president you would be.

This is more than 20 words.

Facilitator, initiator, member driven, operations, nuts and bolts, processes and execution, to ensure a clean, open and fair situation for potential leadership candidates.

The Presidency is a behind-the-scenes volunteer business position, charged with putting consistency in place through defined, fiscally responsible processes, enabling Liberals to effectively use time and money participation to generate Canadians’ votes.

3. Name one thing the Liberal Party should do to make the policy process more meaningful.

The question must be asked for answers – how did we get here?

We need define goals for achievement; communicate the information to EDAs and throughout the organization. Then allow the grassroots to release their skill sets and innovation to develop their own ideas and bring them forward – grassroots driven, from the EDAs, and up. See below.

4. Name one thing the Liberal Party should do to improve its fundraising.

It all starts with effective EDAs, engagement and participation. See below.

5. Name one thing the Liberal Party should do to engage members.

One at a time, participation means different things to different people. See below.

6. List one other key change the LPC needs to make.

As National Office department, revitalize the Research Bureau to work with the EDAs on real value policy development. See below.

The above four questions’ answers are encompassed within my plan for the Party and EDAs. The National Executive, National Office and PTA staff will work with and be responsible to the Council of Presidents and their Riding associations to ensure plans are prepared and Party processes are in place. Training will be provided to all associations to ensure they fully understand the workings of the tools to successfully organize their area to reach its full potential.

Example: piece of a Riding plan. Identify polls that have members. Set a target of having at least one member per poll at the end of year one; two members per poll at the end of year two; and six members per poll at the end of year three.

If achievable by the Riding Associations they will have sufficient membership to fulfill the various functional requirements of the Riding; membership, election readiness, fund raising, policy initiatives, constitution, media, local issues, etc.


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