Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Putting it off

I've held off commenting on Liberal leadership timing because it's been so hard to figure out what's going on. If it wasn't for Jane Taber, I'd really have no idea what was being discussed or debated.

For those just tuning in now, the Liberal constitution calls for a new leader to be crowned no longer than 5 months after the old leader resigns. That would mean an October vote, which most feel would be rushing things, given the next election is four years out. Luckily, the Liberal constitution is not so much chiseled in stone as drawn on an Etch E Sketch, so the party has called an "extraordinary" convention for June 18th to change the constitution and extend this timeline.

You can read the exact wording of the motions up for debate on the 18th here - the short of it is the National Executive must call the leadership race 5 months before it happens, with the vote held between November 2012 and February 2013.

Here's where it gets confusing. I'm talking Lost season 5 confusing.

If the leader is picked in November or December, anyone who signs up to be a Liberal member after September 1st of this year is eligible to vote. However, if the National Executive opts for a January or February vote, the membership race won't really be on until September 2012.

Well, at least in terms of membership sales. It's awfully naive to assume the race hasn't already started and won't be top of mind for the next 18 to 22 months. After all, with no more election speculation, the media will need something to fill their columns with, and there are only so many Ruth Ellen Brosseau stories one can write. On a slow news day, I'm sure it won't be very hard for the press gallery to find an anonymous Liberal willing to speculate about who will enter the race or who's "winning". If you thought the 2006 Liberal leadership race dragged on, be prepared for a contest over twice as long.

That's not to say there aren't benefits in a longer process. An October vote certainly feels rushed, especially with a slew of provincial elections coming down the pipe. An 18 month marathon would give party members time to properly scrutinize the candidates. And collect swag. Lots and lots of swag.

But there are many problems with the longer race. The first is that Liberals will be thinking about leadership rather than renewal when they elect party officials in January. After all, only the National Executive has the power to call the leadership convention and, as discussed above, there's a huge difference between a late 2012 and early 2013 vote in terms of the membership cut-off.

I also feel like it would be easier to get down to the business of party renewal after a leadership contest. Let's be honest - leadership is a distraction. Ideas will be judged on which candidates support them rather than their own merits. Many of the proposed changes will no doubt involve the leader, so it might be a good idea to have a leader before implementing them. And some of these changes will take time - if a new leader takes over in February 2013, by the time they have their office up and running, the party will have already shifted into election readiness mode.

Personally, I'd like to see a leadership vote sometime between April and June next year. To me, neither a 5 month nor an 18-22 month leadership contest are appealing options. That said, we're in uncharted waters here, so I could still be persuaded on the merits of either option with a compelling argument.

Most frustrating is that for all the talk of a "consensus forming" around this timeline, there was never a widespread effort to ask members what they thought. It's beyond me how a party able to organize a 3,000 person teleconference convention isn't capable of taking an online straw poll of its members to see what they think. At least then I'd feel more confident this is truly the timeline the membership wants.

Baring an amendment to the motion, we're either in for a chaotic leadership scramble or a slow 2-year leadership march that risks overshadowing the renewal process.

8 Comments:

  • You hold a federal election in around 36 days so some how a leadership race is not possible in 4-5 months? The Liberal party needs to rebuild and delaying that process does not help.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 10:55 AM  

  • "It's beyond me how a party able to organize a 3,000 person teleconference convention isn't capable of taking an online straw poll of its members to see what they think."

    This.

    By Anonymous Corey Hogan, at 11:33 AM  

  • Anon - it's possible to do, just not ideal. We're already a month in, and with membership cut-offs and the like, you'd really only have the 3 summer months to sign people up.

    Plus you're up against provincial elections, including Ontario's.

    I'd personally like a bit more time to lure candidates out, vet them, and make sure we have a good idea of where there stand.

    Just not 2 years more time.

    By Blogger calgarygrit, at 11:53 AM  

  • What happens if there are no candidates? If the candidates hold off until after October, and agree not to run, does the Interim leader continue running the party? I realize nobody ever considered this possibility, but if we do end up with an earlier date, it might be a way to delay things slightly.
    I'm thinking January-March 2012 would be best. The sooner the better.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 12:03 PM  

  • My perspective is that the suggested time frame (setting the leadership vote by Feb 28 2013) is far too much time. If the current Party leadership really feels this time span is needed, then they must justify the delay by presenting concrete steps for the party's renewal from the grassroots UP. Otherwise, there is little to attract new members' participation, and not much more to retain the interest of current members.

    The popular perception is that the Liberal Party has been run by a small group at 'the top', paying only lip service to the rank-and-file. If we are to regain our footing and rebuild an effective Party, we must step away from past practices and involve the average Canadian in the process in meaningful ways.

    Arcane discussions on procedure and policy points do not attract interest from most people. If they are involved, they want an active, vibrant role - and they ill not long sit for what they see as "backroom politics as usual".

    By Blogger Mark, at 2:24 PM  

  • Well reasoned Dan.

    I think two years is too long especially given the current leadership race format- the primary system in the US is less than two years.
    I think Spring 2012 is certainly a reasonable timeframe to hold a leadership race, and given the nature of Canadian politics as a more leader-centric campaign, you need to have him/her in place for longer than 18 months before a general election.
    I also think the grassroots will gravitate towards a leader with a vision for Canada, and one who connects with them at the grassroots level.
    If it’s just different grassroots movements all around the party then it just becomes white noise.

    By Anonymous Deputy Dan, at 3:55 PM  

  • I'm not aware of any Constitutional differentiation between the title bestowed on Rae today, and the title to be bestowed on any other Liberal Leader thousands of hours from now.

    But therein lies yet more problems.

    Liberals believe their leaders will resign on an agreed-upon schedule, but refuse to believe Senators are capable of doing so.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 4:11 PM  

  • What happens if there are no candidates? If the candidates hold off until after October, and agree not to run, does the Interim leader continue running the party? I realize nobody ever considered this possibility, but if we do end up with an earlier date, it might be a way to delay things slightly.
    I'm thinking January-March 2012 would be best. The sooner the better.


    That would require a lot of self discipline. I'm sure Jimmy K would slip in right before the deadline or something

    By Anonymous Deb, at 5:22 PM  

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