An Open Party
Before the rhetoric starts flying, both sides of this debate need to recognize this isn't going to lead to millions of Canadians stampeding out to vote in Liberal Party primaries. A $10 membership fee and the stigma of political party membership is a deterrent for some, but if you give a damn about who the next Liberal leader is, those are pretty small barriers to jump over. So when supporters argue it's going to double the party base and opponents argue it's going to lead to a takeover, they're both being melodramatic.
With that caveat given, I come down strongly in support of the concept, for the following reasons:
1. It will get more people involved in the party. Not as full fledged members, but consider this a gateway drug. First you hook them with the primary system, then you lure them into the seedy world of political rallies, membership forms, volunteering, and donating money.
2. The party will get valuable information from these supporters. In the new age of micro-targeting and fundraising, having additional data on Liberal-inclined voters is worth a lot more than a $10 membership fee.
3. Symbolically, it's the right play to make. It would send the message that the party is changing and that it's open. Voters have grown increasingly cynical of backroom old-style politics, and this would counter that.
4. It would create excitement and draw media attention to the Liberal leadership race. In the past, this would have been a given, but life as a third party is different. The next leader is likely to be an unknown to voters, so getting media attention during the race makes introducing him or her to voters afterwards a lot easier.
The argument opponents of the primary system usually raise is that it opens the party to a takeover. Poppycock. The Alberta Liberals switched to an open supporter system for their recent leadership contest and, sure enough, Craig Chandler's PGIB group threw their weight behind a far right candidate (who has since jumped to the Wildrose Alliance). The result? Their man finished fourth with 626 votes. If a weak Alberta Liberal Party can shrug off a right wing takeover in the heart of Conservative country, surely the federal grits have nothing to fear.
Even at the riding level, if a special interest group wants to stack a nomination meeting, they'll find the 10$ a head to do it now. A supporter system actually makes takeovers harder, since it means more votes are needed to win. Instead of signing up 100 anti-abortion activists to win a nomination meeting, you might need 120 or 150.
No, the only downside I see is on the financial ledger. Any leadership format outside of royal succession is going to lead to instant members, so there's an argument you might as well get some money out of it. This move will likely wind up costing the party over half a million dollars.
That's not an insignificant sum of money to write off. In the end, I think much of it will be made back by eventually getting donations from some of the new members and by making membership meaningful enough that supporters will want to join.
The payoff of opening the party up to all Canadians exceeds this cost. It would be a bold move, at a time when the Liberal Party is hungry for boldness.