Saturday, March 28, 2009

Change You Can Count On....To Not Offend Anyone

The Liberal Party's Renewal Committee is presenting their report to the National Executive today, and I managed to get my hands on a copy. Since I know few will read this entire post, I'll give you my synopsis up front.

The committee shied away from many of the more radical suggestions floating around - this ensures their recommendations will pass, but it also makes you wonder just how much they will actually change things. Still, the recommendations are generally sensible and would be a step in the right direction. After reading the document, I'd certainly vote for them, under the assumption that a lot of the real change with respect to fundraising and membership engagement will come out of the change commission (and, judging from the en famille debate, it's clear that Carolyn Bennett is reading the suggestions being proposed, so I'm cautiously optimistic about what they'll say).

Among the recommendations:

1. Moving to a weighted one member one vote
2. Keeping the status quo with respect to the commissions
3. Keeping the PTAs in place, but centralizing administrative and financial responsibilities
4. Adopting a 308 riding strategy


Now, for a bit more detail...


Context

The report is surprisingly frank and certainly shows that the committee members understand the problems facing the party:

In the past twenty-four months, the Conservatives have raised $28 million more than the Liberal Party, or over one million dollars more in gross revenues per month. This magnitude of gap affects the operations of the Party at every level. Among the serious competitive disadvantages we face are the following:

· needed investments in database technologies;
· fundraising list development;
· political field organization;
· pre-writ advertising;
· grassroots policy development;
· outreach to cultural communities, community groups, and issue-based organizations;
· volunteer outreach; and
· training.


There's also a recognition that the party has been far too slow at implementing a national membership and a central database. To remedy this "technology gap", they suggest the following:

1. Streamline the membership process and standardize the way revenue is shared.
2. Priority investment in modern database technology.
3. The Council of Presidents will become the central forum for "Liberal University" and volunteer training.
4. Harmonization of party constitutions (they may want to avoid that word in Ontario...).
5. A reduction in the number of delegates from each riding who can attend conventions from 20 to 14.

All good suggestions (especially the database!), although I'm not sure I see the need to cut back the delegates per riding if the party does go to one-member-one-vote.


The PTAs...Soon to be PTSs

There's some acknowledgement that the PTAs haven't been doing their job but "it is for historical, cultural and practical reasons that we do not believe that provincial and territorial structures should be abandoned". However, the central party will take over many administrative and financial matters, while still giving some spending power to the PTAs themselves. Only they won't be PTAs anymore - the party would no longer be a federation, and the "associations" would become "sections".

I think this is a positive step - my experience with the Liberal Party of Canada in Alberta is that the board was often too fixated on administrative matters to focus on issues like fundraising or membership engagement. You need to give the PTAs the resources to function properly and grow the party, but there are many things that can simply be done better centrally.


Liberal 308

As long time readers know, I'm a big fan of a 308 riding strategy, and it's encouraging to see the party taking real steps to address this. The Renewal Committee recognizes the need to have 308 ridings that at least meet the bare minimum requirements to function properly and they've recommended hiring field workers to achieve this. Fantastic! Hands down, this is the best recommendation to come out of this report!


Commissions (recapped in 35 words)

The youth have started raising money so they're not completely useless anymore. But most of the other commissions are. We'd like to disband them, but it would never pass, so we'll keep the status quo.


Policy and Member Engagement (recapped in 9 words)

Important...but we'll let the Change Commission handle it...


One Member, One Vote

Fortunately, a cost-effective and truly democratic method is readily available. The principle of democratic representation can be extended to its ultimate limit by providing a direct vote to every member of the party using currently available technology.


True...although it is somewhat amusing that many of the members of the Renewal Committee were arguing that this technology wasn't available back when Rae suggested doing something similar to this to pick the next leader...

But enough about that. The recommendation is to go to a weighted OMOV, similar to the Tories, where every riding would get the same number of points. By my reading of the document, it would be a "clean" vote, so no point quotas for women, youth or red haired seniors. Personally, I think there are better ways and cooler acronyms to use when picking a leader than WOMOV, but it would be a fairer (albeit less exciting) system than we currently use. And given we don't always use our current system, I think I can live with this.


Other Ideas (Taken from the US)

The committee is intrigued by the idea of a "Liberals abroad" which would let Liberals living outside of Canada become involved with the party (in ways besides just becoming the leader...). They also like the idea of "registered Liberals", similar to "registered Democrats" in the states, but these two suggestions are just floated as long term ideas to consider.


In Conclusion

I put my conclusions at the top, so I don't have much to add here. I was ready to trash this report if it came back deserving to be trashed. And while it's not the exact report I would have written, it makes some good recommendations that, most importantly, can probably gather the support required to pass.

I hope they move ahead with these changes rather than watering them down, because a lot of these structural changes are desperately needed and long overdue.

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