Tuesday, March 17, 2009

The Policy Policy

The Hill Times delved into the world of Liberal Party policy on Monday, reporting:

1. The Liberals won't be revealing their platform anytime soon

2. "The federal Liberals will hold a major policy convention in early May, but they are refusing to discuss policy ideas "

ABCer has already weighed in on this one, with a pretty good run-down. But I figured I'd toss my two cents in as well.

On the first point, I agree it's probably best to hold off on the platform for the time being, although not necessarily for the reasons being argued. It appears many in the party are feeling burned over the Green Shift and are worried the Tories will rip apart any policy they float now. Well, I would argue that any policy that the Tories decimate pre-writ is probably going to meet with the same fate if it's released during a campaign. If it can't withstand attacks from a talking oil splotch then it's probably not worth including in the platform.

But, yeah, holding off on the platform isn't a bad idea, given we have no idea when the next election will be and what sort of shape the economy will be in. It wouldn't hurt for Iggy to give Canadians a better sense of his values, and maybe floating a few minor policies would be a good way to do that, but he can hold off on the big ticket items for the time being.

On the second point, here's my understanding of how the LPC policy process has been structured:

1. Policy debate has been taking place online for the past month on en famille (AKA Liberal Facebook).

2. Members have been allowed to vote on policies online for the past week or so.

3. The Council of Presidents (riding presidents and other people with cool titles) will then vote on the policies they want to see prioritized.

4. The CoP's top policies will be debated and voted on at the convention.

Now, I'm a big en famille fan. There's some good debate going on there about party renewal, and it's a great way to use technology and engage party members. Having an online policy debate is good. Having party members vote online is good. I'm not sure why the national exec felt the need to cut back on the policy debate at the upcoming convention (how much time does an annointment take anyways?) but, sure, if they wanted to move some of it online, I'd be cool with that.

The troubling part of this is that the online debate and vote is going to mean about as much as if I put a poll up on my site and asked people to vote on Liberal policies here. Sure, the riding presidents will take the online vote under advisement but, in the end, no one's forcing them to take the grassroots' advice.

Now, I know what you're all thinking: "But CG - doesn't the party just ignore the policies that are passed at convention anyways? So why does this matter?"

Well, my friends, that only makes the situation worse - you're not even giving members a symbolic voice in a symbolic process. The problem is basically this:

You're not giving party members a vote in selecting the party's leader.

You're not giving party members a say in the policy process.

You're not giving party members in a lot of ridings a say in nominating candidates.

There are valid reasons for making some of the above decisions but, taken together, you have to ask yourself where the value in membership now lies. If you want Liberals to give their time and money to the party you need to give them something in return and engage them.

With that in mind, I'd make the following three suggestions for the party's policy process:

1. Force the LPC to put a certain number of prioritized policies into the party's platform. Yeah, yeah, a lot of the policies passed are dumb or politial suicide. I would know, I've proposed a lot of dumb and suicidal policies. So force the leader to take one of the top three, or two of five, or seven of nine, or whatever number you want. At least then, you give some meaning to the process.

2. Force the party leader to explain why he's chosen to not include the policies he rejects in the platform. I don't think anyone can really complain about their policy being rejected if they find out why.

3. Give the drafters of the prioritized policies a chance to make their sales pitch in person to the critic or Cabinet Minister responsible for the issue. This helps connect caucus to the membership and, who knows, maybe it will encourage them to listen a bit closer to what the grass roots are saying.

Not everyone is interested in policy. And I'm not even convinced that the grass roots should be writing party policy. But some people do join political parties because of policy and, because of that, it's a way to engage a good portion of the membership. And we're not doing a very good job of that now.



  • Didn't the Party Faithful have every opportunity to select those who selected Dear Leader? Isn't that just as good as selecting delegates to a convention that just wastes money (and will be held, perhaps for that purpose, in May)?

    On the other side of things, if the platform were to be released today, Ig might be forced to agree with it, or disagree with it, but would generally be limited in how many times he could change his position on the matter. By waiting, the Party can simply adopt his then-current position and hope that it lasts through the election.

    Good luck with that!

    By Blogger Paul, at 11:04 p.m.  

  • At least when you elect delegates, you're electing them to select the leader. If I vote for a Rae delegate, he's voting for Bob Rae. Kind of like the electoral college was initially designed to do.

    I don't think anyone voted for their riding President based on their policy or leadership leanings (ok, ok, some may have...).

    By Blogger calgarygrit, at 11:37 p.m.  

  • I found it amusing that almost all of the policies ended up with a majority voting 'Yes'. Must be those Young Liberals freeping the polls :)

    It was interesting that not only were we being asked to vote on specific policy motions - we were asked to prioritize as well by picking one out of each category. Are you thinking that this is likely to be ignored as well?

    The whole thing reminds me of those 'public consultations' they do before throwing up another Wal-Mart or housing development. It's all, "Thank you for your input" and "We will take it under advisement", and then they just do whatever they were going to do in the first place.

    Anyway, your suggestions are all excellent. Maybe you should make a policy proposal.

    By Blogger Jennifer Smith, at 12:00 a.m.  

  • "It wouldn't hurt for Iggy to give Canadians a better sense of his values,..."

    CG - you meant "our" values surely.

    By Blogger Quixotique, at 10:18 a.m.  

  • Your description of the policy process isn't quite complete. The En Famille process is in addition to the policy process that happens in the traditional way in each province during the provincial policy conference. Resolutions were workshopped and prioritized there and are all going to the convention. The En Famille process just provides an additional forum.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 11:46 a.m.  

  • "Didn't the Party Faithful have every opportunity to select those who selected Dear Leader?"

    No. We didn't. The Leader was chosen by caucus, all but a handful of whom were appointed to their candidacy in the last campaign. As they were in the one before that, and the one before that...

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 12:21 p.m.  

  • Excellent post.

    Chris Drew

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 1:26 p.m.  

  • You should know by now the Elite knows what is best for you, now obey already.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 6:13 p.m.  

  • The en famille idea is a great one...finally I can at least get involved with the policy debates that attracted me to politics in the first place. More importantly, the new rules to force sitting MPs to have their membership up to date will in turn force riding presidents (controlled by the sitting MP) to start listening to their membership again. I think this is only a first step and your ideas, CG will be great next steps. There is only so much reform that can be done at a time.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 10:44 p.m.  

  • This has the potential to develop into a far deeper scism than the old Cretien - Martin wars - if it turns out to be merely a sop to the grassroots masses. En famille raised the expectations - for the Council of Presidents - and the Governing Council - to ignore the enthusiastic efforts of many re-invigorated members - including hopeful Dion supporters - risks these now well organized folks throwing up their hands and heading off elsewhere - and heavens - maybe even forming a new party - perhaps called "REAL Liberals"...
    Only the visceral image of Harper with a majority is keeping them focused right now...but - if they ever decide that this "lot" is just more of the old Earncliffe gamers back in control again...all bets are off!

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 7:23 a.m.  

  • Policy Schmolicy.

    Instead, let's all sit back and watch the Tories make fools of themselves and compare them to dinosaurs, whilst running on nothing. That's what's worked for us in the past. And that's the direction we seem quite happy to follow at the moment.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 2:55 p.m.  

  • If the polls are correct, it's sad to say that Canadians are happy with parties that have no grassroots policy process. Because ridings and elections are rarely determined based on individual volunteers, there is little reason to think that party's need to really give anything more than dismissive acknowledge to party grassroots.

    Pretty damn depressing but true.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 1:58 a.m.  

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