2012 Liberal Bienial

Why the Liberal Party Took a Chance on the Supporter System

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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)

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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.

WEBSITE: http://www.charleswardliberal.ca/

The Presidential Election

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For somewhat inexplicable reasons, the race for Liberal Party president has been generating more ink in recent weeks than the race for leader of the opposition. And if you’re going to this weekend’s convention in Ottawa, you’re probably getting 5 or 6 calls a day from candidates asking for your support.

Given the importance of this vote and the impressive field of candidates, I didn’t rush into a decision, and I encourage any undecided delegates out there to do their research before voting. Read pamphlets, e-mail the candidates, and talk to them at convention. Ask them tough questions, and press them on specifics.

The Candidates

Sheila Copps: Q & A profile, website, Twitter, Facebook
Mike Crawley: Q & A profile, website, Twitter, Facebook
Ron Hartling: Q & A profile, website, Twitter, Facebook
Alexandra Mendes: Q & A profile, website, Twitter, Facebook
Charles Ward: website

The Race

The media narrative in recent weeks has framed this as a “too close to call” Copps-Crawley showdown. That jives with what I’ve heard in Liberal circles, but given the media has a hard time handicaping leadership races, I have my doubts about their ability to call a party president vote.

Despite Copps’ high profile and media savvy, Crawley actually seems to be “winning” the air war – in the past week, nearly every article has framed him as the candidate who represents “generational change” and “new ideas”. That’s probably not fair to Sheila, and it certainly isn’t fair to the other candidates being overlooked, but you have to tip your hat to whoever is in charge of the Crawley’s media strategy.

My Take

Although I have a soft spot for Alberta Liberals, I simply haven’t heard enough from Charles Ward to consider him.

One candidate we’ve all heard plenty from is Sheila Copps. I’ve been a fan of Sheila since I joined the party, was a Copps delegate at the 2003 leadership convention, and many of the first posts I ever wrote on this blog lamented the defenestration of Sheila Copps from the Liberal fold. I’m a huge Sheila fan, but I’m looking for a President who will work quietly behind the scenes, and that’s just not her style. Moreover, her frustrating position on Bob Rae running for permanent leader makes me worry about the controversy that would follow her as party president. I hope Sheila finds in a prominent role in the Liberal Party, and maybe even as a candidate in the next election – but I just can’t bring myself to vote for her in this contest.

On the other side is Alexandra Mendes who declares in bold font on her website that “the Leader is the face, voice and final authority of the Party, not the president” – something I firmly agree with. Alexandra is perhaps the most qualified candidate for the job. She has experience in the party as an MP, riding association president, and volunteer, and outside the party running an NGO. She was born in Portugal, is a Quebecer who describes herself as a “fierce federalist”, and is quite personable in both English and en français. It’s hard not to like Alexandra, and she likely would have earned my vote if I’d seen a little more meat from her in terms of concrete reforms.

One candidate who has given voters plenty of meat is Ron Hartling. I’ve chatted with Ron several times this campaign and have nary a bad thing to say about him. Ron has been writing strategic plans to reform the party since 2006 and has the track record to back it up – what he accomplished in Kingston-and-the-Islands is remarkable. Win or lose, the party would be well served to have Ron speak to as many riding associations as possible about how his team found local wedge issues and built alliances with activists. Ron is as dedicated a Liberal as you’ll find, and would make a great President.

And before Christmas I was leaning towards casting a vote for Ron. Then I took a close look at Mike Crawley’s platform and came away thoroughly impressed. For a long time, no one in the Liberal Party recognized the many problems we were facing – now, the biggest risk facing us is that we’ll all spend a lot of time talking about the problems and talking about “renewal”, but nothing will ever get done. In my endorsement of Kyle Harrietha for VP Membership earlier today, I marvelled at the concrete changes he was proposing. I’ll do the same for Mike Crawley here.

Despite the media spin, Mike isn’t just the guy talking about “big ideas” – he actually has ready-to-implement reforms of all sizes. Expanding BC’s microtargeting experiment, community outreach packages for ridings, a databse of advocacy groups, the end of leader appointed candidates, an electronic welcome kit for new recruits, online polls of members, asking Liberals to submit QP questions to caucus…these aren’t flashy ideas and they won’t show up in newspaper profiles, but they can be implemented easily today and will eventually lead to a more engaged membership and more functional party.

So it’s a good platform, but talk is cheap. What else does he offer?

I share Crawley’s overall vision of the Liberal Party and feel he’d be able to “play well with others” on the national executive. He has experience running the LPCO board and people I respect who have dealt with him in that capacity speak highly of the man. I never base my vote on endorsements, but he’s got a nice list of endorsements from people who have been talking about party reform for a long time and who I know put a lot of thought into their decision – Joseph Uranowski, Jeff Jedras, Steve V, Rob Silver, Gerard Kennedy, Navdeep Bains, and many others.

This election for party president is one of the most important, and most interesting, in a long time. Luckily for the grits, it’s a strong field of candidates who all recognize the problems facing the party. I think any of them would make a fine President.

Preliminary Thoughts on the LPC Presidential Race

Posted on by CalgaryGrit in 2012 Liberal Bienial, Boring internal Liberal Party matters | Leave a comment

Elections for Liberal Party President have tended to be mundane affairs in recent years. In 2008, Alf Apps was the only candidate – either because the powers-that-be made it known he would win, or because everyone else was too lazy to run. In 2006, the presidency was overshadowed by the excitement of the leadership race. Before that we were in power, so no one really cared who the party president was, perhaps explaining how Stephen LeDrew found himself holding that office.

But this year, there’s a veritable buzz in Liberal circles about the contest. Maybe it’s because Liberals have bought into the renewal talk. Maybe it’s because Borys Wrzesnewskyj seems to be the only person interested in the party’s leadership. Maybe it’s because there’s a diverse and high-profile field of candidates for President.

I had my first opportunity to seriously size up the contenders on Monday, at an Edward Blake Society event, recapped here, here, and here. I’ll be posting candidate profiles in the coming weeks, including their answers to a short questionnaire I sent them – today I offer my preliminary run-down of the field.

Full disclosure: I have nothing to disclose, because I’m still genuinely undecided on who to support. I am, however, quite impressed with the entire field. While I’ve offered a few gentle critiques of each candidate, in each case their strengths far outweigh their weaknesses, which is why I haven’t ruled anyone out at this point.

Sheila Copps: Sheila is loud, proud, and can still fire up a crowd. I’d likely prefer a “behind the scenes” president who will build the party and stay out of the limelight, but there is something to be said for a president who will rally the troops and energize the base.

Behind the flash, there’s also substance. I share her desire to open the party, and she showed the strongest understanding at Monday’s Q & A of what the party needs to do to reach out to new Canadians. All that said, her incessant talk of “letting” Bob Rae run for leader has injected leadership politics into a convention that should have stayed clear of the topic.

Copps is a polarizing figure, but it’s a first-past-the-post vote, so you have to consider her the front runner at this point.

Mike Crawley: I generally share Crawley’s view on the state of the Liberal “brand” and where the party needs to go; his Star op-ed on this topic was fantastic. The man is energetic, thoughtful, and well spoken.

While Crawley has the vision thing down, I’d be more impressed with a few unsexy nuts and bolts proposals to make the party more efficient than by speeches about what the party stands for.

Ron Hartling: Hartling, meanwhile, is all nuts and bolts. His website contains a detailed platform, full of flowcharts and graphs, and his speech Monday was all about the need for a plan.

His record as Kingston and the Islands riding president is impressive, but his message often sounds like “if all ridings did what we did in Kingston, we’d be in government“, which ignores the millions of other factors that go into play during an election. Similarly, blaming Mike Crawley for the Liberals losing Ontario seats is an unfair attack Hartling should have avoided.

Alexandra Mendes: If the voting system favoured a consensus candidate, Mendes would probably win. There’s nothing about her campaign that especially stands out, but she has a lot going for her – she’s likable, has a good understanding of the challenges facing the party, and has experience as an MP, organizer, and in running non-political organizations.

Charles Ward: Charles is an Alberta Liberal, which gets him a few marks in my books. Beyond that, I know absolutely nothing about him.

Primary Debates

Posted on by CalgaryGrit in 2012 Liberal Bienial, Boring internal Liberal Party matters, Featured Posts | Leave a comment

In his Macleans.ca debut, my friend Jeff Jedras takes aim at the proposal Liberals will be voting on in January to move to a US-style primary system to choose the party’s next leader and nominate candidates.

While I’ve already voiced my support for this system, Jeff raises three valid critiques which I want to take the time to rebut – one logistical, one conceptual, and one on the decision-making process.

1) Logistical: “One concern is the potential for shenanigans; supporters of another party signing up as Liberal “supporters” to vote in the primary and negatively influence the process, such as voting for the least-favoured candidate.”

Again, I point to the Alberta Liberal example, where such shenanigans were tried (against a much weaker party) and failed spectacularly.

The reason for this is simple enough – most people don’t give a big enough damn to try something like this, and those who do are too high profile to risk getting caught. Finding 50,000 rabble rousers willing to sign up and make Tony Genco the next Liberal leader simply can’t be done under the radar, and whoever tried to organize a campaign like this would seriously hurt their credibility.

Seventeen US states let Democrats vote in Republican primaries and vice versa. Their rationale is that a candidate who earns primary votes from across the aisle, will also earn general election votes from across the aisle. If Karl Rove can’t find a way to get Denis Kucinich the Democratic nomination, then I don’t think we have much to fear here.

I know some are concerned about special interest groups taking over a nomination meeting, but a $10 membership fee isn’t going to stop them – if anything, a supporter system makes a takeover harder since it takes more votes to win. If an anti-abortion group goes from needing 100 votes to 120 votes to win a nomination meeting, it makes it that much more difficult for them to get their candidate of choice nominated (remembering of course that all candidates still need to be green lit by the party).

2) Conceptual: “One of the key incentives for joining a political party is the opportunity to vote in leadership and nomination races. This proposal devalues membership. Already, during each successive election, it has become harder to get Liberals to volunteer to knock on doors, stuff envelopes, and get out the vote. We need committed members, and more of them, to successfully rebuild this party.”

Here’s the thing. By itself, party membership means nothing. The point of signing someone up to be a member is to get their contact information so that you can get them to knock on doors, stuff envelopes, and get out the vote. I agree we need more of these people, but the way you get them is by making it easier to join the Liberal fold. Consider the supporter system a gateway drug to lure liberal-minded Canadians into the big red tent (and yes, I totally intend to put that line, creepy as it is, on a button at the Ottawa convention). Once they’ve registered, they can be invited to become full fledged members, volunteer, and donate money.

Yes, we need to make membership meaningful to retain and engage members. But if we want to grow the membership, we need to tear down the barriers to becoming involved, and a primary system would do just that. You don’t think a few of the millions who signed up to vote for Barack Obama in the 2008 primaries also gave their money and time to get him elected in the ensuing general election?

I know many are uneasy about “instant Liberals”, but if this change means thousands of new Canadians pouring into our ranks, then that’s fantastic. There are instant Liberals I signed up for leadership votes who are now more involved in the party than I am.

3) The Process: “The party executive wants to amend the constitution so the new leadership selection process can be adopted at the biennial convention in Ottawa January 13-15, 2012, barely two months from now. Meetings to elect delegates to that convention are happening now, and many are being cancelled and the delegates acclaimed due to a lack of people willing to fill all the available spots. It’s not as if this concept has been debated in Liberal circles for months. We’re just getting this now. We’re talking about fundamentally changing the most important thing we do—selecting a leader—and we’re rushing into it.”

I know the Liberal response to every problem is to call a Royal Commission, but this gives delegates to the January convention two months to debate the idea – plenty of time to make up their minds. Liberals have talked about “renewal” for years without anything happening – it’s time to get off the pot or shift the way we do politics.

The reality is we need to lay down the ground rules for the next leadership race before we find ourselves in the next leadership race. We’re now a third party, and a series of rolling primaries would add much needed excitement to the contest, helping us introduce the next leader to Canadians.

I don’t think the end result would be any different under one-member-one-vote or the registered supporter system. But, like Jeff says, process matters, and this new way of electing leaders would send a message to Canadians that the Liberal Party is willing to change and open itself up to Canadians.

UPDATE: Jeff responds to my responds here, to which I respond here and he responds here. At this point, I call him and argue Hitler was against a primary system, to which he calls me a redneck and hangs up. Let’s agree to disagree and call it a draw.

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