Canada Kicks Ass
Liberals stuck in the last century


ridenrain @ Thu Nov 20, 2008 7:57 pm

OPINION | Opinion | Liberals stuck in the last century

Liberals stuck in the last century
Bob Hepburn

Despite all the boastful talk by its leaders about being a party of the future, the reality is that the Liberal party is in many ways badly out of step with modern political times.

Nowhere was this more openly displayed than during a nasty fight last Sunday over the closed-door leadership debate in Mississauga that Bob Rae, one of three declared candidates seeking to replace St├ęphane Dion, boycotted because it was off-limits to the public.

"We're not a private country club that appoints its own board of directors," Rae said. The party won't be "successful until it opens itself up and lets in the light."

Rae was right because unless the Liberals quickly find ways to reach out to more Canadians and become more open, it will continue the long-term decline it has suffered since the early 1980s.

The Sunday fight between Rae and Michael Ignatieff, who attended the session, was a public relations nightmare for the Liberals.

That's because it reinforced the image of the party as one still bitterly divided and one that is run by a tight group of Liberals who prefer secrecy and old-fashioned ways to the new world of the Internet, YouTube and full transparency.

In truth, the Liberal hierarchy just doesn't get it.

The worst example of this is the party's plan to stage a full-scale party convention, complete with backroom deals, at which a few thousand delegates will vote for a new leader. The convention will be held April 30 to May 3 in Vancouver.

But such a delegate convention is so last century. Indeed, the Liberals are the last major political party in Canada and the United States to still pick its leader this way.

All other parties, including the Conservatives and New Democrats federally and provincially, use some form of a one-member, one-vote system.

While no two parties have exactly the same system, basically under such a scheme all members can vote directly for their favourite candidate over the Internet, by phone or by voting at a party office in their riding. The convention is only for speeches and parties.

Such a system results in enhanced democracy and deeper involvement at the grassroots level.

Both the Tories and NDP saw a huge surge in grassroots membership after they adopted the system.

Nearly 100,000 Conservatives voted in the 2004 contest that saw Stephen Harper emerge as party leader. In 2003 when Jack Layton was elected head of the NDP, some 60,000 members voted.

And in the U.S., millions of new voters turned out in state primaries to cast their ballots for Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton to be the Democratic presidential nominee.

But such inclusiveness seems not to be for the Liberals.

At their 2006 leadership convention, a motion to adopt the one-member, one-vote system failed to meet the two-thirds majority required to make the change.

Many Liberals are aware of the criticisms, but still defend it.

"Actually, our current system is quite democratic," says Daniel Lauzon, director of communications for the national party.

Under the current Liberal system, anyone who joins the party can take part in votes to select delegates to the actual convention. The delegates are bound to vote for specific candidates only on the first ballot. After that, they can vote for whomever they want. As well, there are hundreds more delegates from women's associations and youth clubs, and some 800 automatic ex-officio delegates.

At the Vancouver convention, delegates will again vote on a one-member, one-vote system.

Already, some grassroots members are lobbying in favour of the new system. But they are seeking a party-wide referendum on the issue, not trusting that the actual convention delegates will opt to eliminate their own elite status as the few people who can vote directly for the leader.

To show they are serious about reform, openness and inclusiveness, the Liberals could adopt the one-member, one-vote system before the spring convention.

All it would take is for the party to ask all registered members to change the rules. In an era of instant communications via the Internet, such a referendum could be conducted in a matter of weeks.

Too short a time frame?

Well, it took the Conservatives just a few months to approve and put their system in place after the 2003 merger of Reform and the Progressive Conservatives.

So what's stopping the Liberals from acting like a modern, open political party that's in step with the changing times?

Bob Hepburn's column appears Thursdays.


ridenrain @ Thu Nov 20, 2008 8:31 pm

... and it looks something like this: :D