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...


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.



  • good post

    By Anonymous dual monitors, at 2:18 p.m.  

  • If your summary is accurate, I think this is more than palatable.

    By Blogger Mark, at 2:54 p.m.  

  • The WOMOV makes the most sense, if the goal is to win parliamentary elections. You want your system of leadership election to reflect the system in place for the parliamentary election. That is, if you want to stand a chance of winning in 308 equally weightd ridings in a parliamentary election, you need to have a leader who can win a leadership election in 308 equally weighted ridings.

    So, unweighted OMOV ends up tilting toward currently high membership ridings, which doesn't reflect the nature of the real parliamentary contest. Not good.

    'Super' WOMOV with extra points for red headed seniors also fails because Parliament does not assign election winners on this basis so you will not end up with the best leader for winning elections.

    On the other hand, if the goal of your party is to make some people feel warm and fuzzy rather than to win elections, go head with the red haired seniors weighting or the unsweighted OMOV, or drawing straws.

    By Anonymous Van Centre, at 4:23 p.m.  

  • Good. I've been arguing they need to get rid of the PTAs, and go with weighted one-member-one-vote. The 308 strategy is more spin than reality, as far as I can tell, but if they want to try it they can.

    Didn't they change the delegate count from 14 to 20 last time? Why change it back already?

    And what is going to be different about the WOMOV suggestion this time, as opposed to last time?

    Maybe it will be included in the main constitutional amendment package this time? Maybe the leader will actually weigh in?

    When you say long overdue, you're not kidding. I got so sick of making arguments like these that I let my membership lapse. But that's what happens when you give politicians control of their party. No ability to focus on anything after the next election.

    By Blogger Gauntlet, at 4:48 p.m.  

  • One member, one vote is a great step, but hiring people for a 308 seat strategy? Should the Liberals waste money trying to win seats in rural Alberta?

    By Blogger nuna d. above, at 5:09 p.m.  

  • Gauntlet - yeah, they changed it from 14 to 20 last time...I don't fully follow the logic behind changing it back, but it doesn't make a huge difference, especially if conventions are no longer to choose leaders.

    nuna - if the Liberals up their Alberta vote to 2004 levels (hardly a high water mark), they'd make $250,000 extra a year in subsidies. That more than pays for a few field workers to build the ridings up and make it possible. It's not so much about winning seats as it is about being competitive everywhere. Also, by recruiting more members and being more competitives, you get a more engaged membership and more donations.

    By Blogger calgarygrit, at 6:18 p.m.  

  • The 308 strategy is critical to the WOMOV, because as you noted, the more votes in each riding the stronger grass roots and national foundation the party has. Increasing membership, including all that entails (ie services and outreach), in long- and non-shot ridings will also engage those members come the crucial decision times of leadership choice and policy. One feeds the other. It's a shame you lose the old-time spectacle of a televised delegated convention, but there will be drama that will unfold and interest the media. It's just a new world, thats all. When they abandoned the hockey rinks for convention halls the whole thing lost its appeal to me, anyhow.

    By Blogger burlivespipe, at 3:27 a.m.  

  • "In the past twenty-four months, the Conservatives have raised $28 million more than the Liberal Party"

    But how much more did they spend to do that?

    It's not just how much you bring in, it's also the price you have to pay to do it.

    By Anonymous DR, at 11:32 a.m.  

  • Everyone's better off with some serious competition to the other guys - as frustrated as I am with the Liberals, I'm equally frustrated with the government, so I'm glad to hear you're generally happy with this. Good luck!

    By Anonymous Jason Bo Green, at 11:46 a.m.  

  • "The WOMOV makes the most sense, if the goal is to win parliamentary elections. You want your system of leadership election to reflect the system in place for the parliamentary election."

    A few things. Firstly, the Liberal population is not always the same as the general population. Secondly, WOMOV still gives a high clout to ridings with almost no Liberal support. This runs the risk of a well-organized campaign with limited support winning large numbers of zombie delegates. Any party is going to be uncompetitive somewhere (308 is never really 308), and while in the general election those ridings will be worth essentially 0 they are not in WOMOV.

    I actually support WOMOV, I just don't think you are selling it correctly. Its advantage lies in that it keeps power in the hands of party hacks that want to elect a winner (and not the party idealogues who want to elect a true believer). And, by giving weight to ridings where the party hasn't won before, it enables the emergence of candidates that differ from the core constituencies of the party, enabling growth.

    By Blogger french wedding cat, at 4:08 p.m.  

  • One thing you can do in WOMOV would be to do like (I believe) the Tories do and say it's 100 points per riding, but if you don't get 100 votes, it's just one member, one vote. So, if only 40 people come out to vote in a riding, the riding only gets 40 points.

    I think last leadership, you had some rural Quebec ridings where there were only a handful of people who actually voted...there may be a case to use a system like that.

    By Blogger calgarygrit, at 9:15 a.m.  

  • DR - I think the Tories spend about 2-3 million more than the Liberals in fundraising. So, they're still netting a huge positive.

    Spend money to make money and all those other cliches...

    By Blogger calgarygrit, at 9:16 a.m.  

  • I disagree with you on the PTA part. Why should Ottawa have anything to do with staffing in local offices? All this would do is centralize power and make it more difficult for Liberals outside of Ottawa to control their own resources and local organization.

    As for the supposed "failure" of PTAs in the past, the report fails to mention that LPC told the PTAs to not do fundraising for the past two years. The problem after Red Ribbon was that LPC failed to give the PTAs the freedom and resources they required to do what the committee wants them to do. To suggest that the answer is to take away something the PTAs already do well makes no sense at all. Instead, the people who wrote this report should have been more honest about the central failures in implementing Red Ribbon and suggested that the new National Executive give real support to PTAs.

    By Blogger Jason Cherniak, at 1:48 p.m.  

  • I think PTAs would still make the staffing selections themselves, it would just be paid for out of the central office.

    By Blogger calgarygrit, at 4:31 p.m.  

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