Tuesday, January 31, 2012

An update on all the people not running for Liberal leadership - Part 2

Yesterday, I looked at the ten names being tossed around most frequently for Liberal leadership - Rae, Leblanc, Trudeau, McGuinty^2, Garneau, Brison, Coderre, Cauchon, and Kennedy.

Today, a look at some long-shot candidates.

Mark Carney: The Bank of Canada governor would have instant credibility on the economy and, unlike many bankers, he's not uncharismatic. There is, of course, still the question of whether or not he's a Liberal - but no one seems too concerned about that.

Naheed Nenshi: The superstar Mayor of Calgary set Twitter abuzz when he tried out his French at a Toronto speech last year. I'd love to see Naheed toss his cowboy hat into the ring, but we're still 5 or 10 years away from having this conversation. At the rate we're going, the Liberals will have cycled through another three leaders by the time Nenshi is ready to run.

Gregor Robertson: Like Nenshi, the assumption is that Vancouver's Mayor will one day run provincially or federally. Yes, he was an NDP MLA provincially, but that's never stopped anyone from running for Liberal leader before, nor should it.

Ralph Goodale: There's a movement afoot to convince Goodale to run. Admittedly, his age and his french would make him a long shot, but the race would benefit immensely by having a Western Canadian of his stature in it.

Amanda Lang: To the best of my knowledge, there is only one Liberal in the country floating her name as a possible leadership candidate, but it may not be as far fetched as it sounds. We've seen media personalities jump to politics before, and as a business reporter she could make the economy her issue. And hey, her dad was a Liberal MP! I have no idea how she'd fare in the political game, but the idea of a well-spoken, attractive 41 year old woman from Manitoba leading the party certainly sounds good on paper.

Mark Holland: Young and fiery, Holland can give one heck of a speech. Even if he doesn't run for leader, I'd be shocked if he doesn't try to win back his seat in 2015.

Navdeep Bains: Another young star who lost his seat last May. Bains could count on widespread support from the Sikh community if he ran.

Martha Hall Findlay: Rev up the engine on the big red bus! The darling of the 2006 leadership race would enter this contest with a higher profile and would be treated as a "top tier" candidate by the media out of the gate.

Siobhan Coady: Any tour of "defeated rising stars" should include Coady, a well liked MP who can ask tough questions with emotion and confidence.

Geoff Regan: As a Liberal MP who has been in Ottawa for a decade and is still young enough to run, Regan should not be overlooked. Jane Taber recently floated his name as a possible candidate.

Jane Stewart: She's an accomplished women, with an impressive resume inside and outside of politics. As the "Draft Jane" team says, "everybody loves Jane". She's said she isn't running, but so has everyone else - we may yet get a "See Jane Run" headline or two.

Sheila Copps: She ran her presidential campaign as if she was running for leader. Even though she didn't win, she raised her profile and put a team together - two things that could be useful should she decide to try for the top prize again.

Jean-Marc Fournier: It wouldn't surprise me to see a provincial politician jump into this race, a la Kennedy in 2006, and Fournier is the name I've heard the most rumours about. Quebec's Justice Minister worked in Michael Ignatieff's office so he has federal connections to complement his 15 years of experience in provincial politics. Of course, with a resume like this, he might have his sights set on Jean Charest's job.

Borys Wrzesnewskyj: The Epoch Times, the must-read source for all your Liberal leadership gossip, reported that Wrzesnewskyj is planning a leadership bid, much to the horror of journalists everywhere who will now need to learn how to spell and pronounce his name.

Robert Ghiz: The 37 year old Premier of PEI has said "never say no" but wants to spend time with his two young children.

Belinda Stronach: She made some noise prior to the convention, so I wouldn't rule out a return to politics.

Andrew Coyne: There are Facebook ads and buttons, making this the best funded campaign to date.

Frank McKenna: You all knew this was coming as the punch line. Yet two commenters on David Akin's blog and one delegate I talked to in Ottawa suggested McKenna un-ironically. Some rumours will never die...

That's 28 names I've floated over the past two days, and I expect we'll hear a few others before all is said and done. By all means, float some more in the comments section.

Given the mood for change in the Liberal Party, it wouldn't at all surprise me if someone we're not even talking about ends up winning this thing.

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Monday, January 30, 2012

An update on all the people not running for Liberal leadership

It's been six months since I last looked in on the field of possible Liberal leadership candidates, and that's because, well, there's not much to report. Apart from speculation surrounding the interim leader, there's been little chatter in the media, on blogs, or in Liberal circles.

However, the Liberal Biennial convention may have marked the unofficial starting gun on the leadership race, as names were floated around the convention hall and in hospitality suites. Sure, most of the likely contenders say they're not interested, but that's unlikely to quiet the rumours.

Today, a look at the ten most talked about names. Tomorrow, a look at some of the sleeper candidates.

Bob Rae

The case for Rae: Even Rae's harshest critics within the Liberal Party acknowledge he's done a bang-up job as interim leader and he's the best politician we have.

Is he a contender? If Rae runs, he'd have an impressive organization behind him. Do I think he'll be the next leader? No, not really. As Rae himself said in May, the party is likely to look to a new generation of leadership. But if you put $10 on Rae and asked me to put $10 on just one other name, I'd have a hard time thinking of someone who is more likely to be the next leader.

Why he isn't running: "I'm focusing on the job of interim leader". Plus, he made a deal with his wife.

Dominic LeBlanc

The case for LeBlanc: Young, experienced, bilingual. Deep Liberal roots, but still a fresh face for most.

Is he a contender? If I had to put a name down on that $10 bet I mentioned above, it would likely be on Dominic. He's got pieces of an organization left over from his 14 minute leadership run in 2008, and seems to be the only "high profile" candidate who has not categorically ruled out running.

Will he run? LeBlanc was bullish after the election, but has been quiet since then.

Justin Trudeau

The case for Trudeau: He's a political superstar, who has the potential to get Liberals and Canadians excited about the Liberal Party.

Is he a contender? If he runs, he will likely win.

Why he isn't running: "My kids are 2 and 4 and I barely see them enough as it is."

Dalton McGuinty

The case for Dalton: He's the most successful Liberal in Canada right now. The man has grown immensely as a politician over the past decade.

Is he a contender? Given the name recognition and organization he'd bring to the table, he'd likely be the frontrunner.

Why he isn't running: He has an ok day job right now. And he "wants to remain married".

David McGuinty

The case for David: If you can't get Dalton, he'd be the next best thing. I likely wouldn't use that slogan on a button but, like his brother, David is experienced, rarely missteps, and has grown as a politician over the years.

Is he a contender? He'd have a better chance if he'd left Ottawa more than once or twice since being elected as an MP, but he's a capable politician and the McGuinty organization should not be underestimated.

Will he run? He's "mulling" a run.

Marc Garneau

The case for Garneau: Bilingual, respected...and he was a freaking astronaut! How cool is that!

Is he a contender? If you buy into the "alternance" theory, it might be a francophone's turn. At the very least, Garneau would be treated as a "top tier" candidate by the media.

Will he run? You may have missed it if you weren't reading the political pages on December 25th, but Garneau is considering a run.

Scott Brison

The case for Brison: Like Rae, Brison is a talented politician with the gift of the gab - well spoken, with a quick wit.

Is he a contender? His campaign struggled in 2006, but Brison's pitch should find a receptive audience this time.

Why he isn't running:I don’t want to have one of Canada’s first same sex divorces

Denis Coderre

The case for Coderre: I'm really not the person who should be answering this.

Is he a contender? Coderre is one of the best organizers in the Liberal Party. I wouldn't expect him to win, but he could very easily carry Quebec.

Will he run? Coderre is considering a run for LPC leadership, Mayor of Montreal, or coach of the Montreal Canadiens.

Martin Cauchon

The case for Cauchon: Has an impressive track record, is well spoken, and could be the key to winning back Quebec.

Is he a contender? Cauchon has been thinking about running for a decade, so I suspect he'd be able to put a strong team together, even outside Quebec.

Will he run? He hosted a hospitality suite at the convention. Of course, we have yet to hear publicly on the question of his candidacy from Cauchon, or his wife.

Gerard Kennedy

The case for Kennedy: I've made the case before, and I'd argue Kennedy was ahead of the game when he talked about the Liberal Party needing to rebuild itself, back in 2006.

Is he a contender? Well, the party has been moving down the "order of finish" list from 2006 (from Dion to Ignatieff to Rae...), so I guess it's his turn.

Will he run? He hasn't closed the door.

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Friday, January 27, 2012

Bonus TWIA - Snelgrove Gone. Discuss.

Alison Redford looks to have her first caucus defection on her hands, as former Finance Minister Lloyd Snelgrove is out, according to Redford's Chief of Staff:

While losing your first MLA is never fun, this shouldn't dampen Redford's momentum or end her honeymoon.

After all, Snelgrove has been critical of Redford since she was elected leader, and announced he wouldn't be running again shortly after he was left out of her first Cabinet. Just yesterday, he criticized Redford's province-wide listening tour - when an MLA criticizes his leader for something as innocuous as that, you know he's nearing the end of the line.

This is obviously not something Redford wanted to deal with, but in terms of PC infighting, this pales in comparison to some of the blowups we've seen in recent years.

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This Week in Alberta - Flanagan Gets Back in the Saddle

With an Alberta election on the horizon this spring, the Wildrose Alliance have brought on Tom Flanagan to manage their campaign. For those of you who have never heard of Tom Flanagan, he was a political science professor at the University of Calgary (go Dinos!), and a key Harper strategist during his leadership run. Flanagan was the Conservative campaign manager in the 2004 federal election, so I can only hope it wasn't his idea to hold a "victory march" across Alberta in the campaign's closing weekend.

Since his exit from politics, Flanagan has writen a well-received book and several candid and fascinating articles on Canadian politics. Among his observations are that political attacks "don't have to be true, they just have to be plausible" - so I think that should give you an idea of the type of campaign the Wildrosers are gearing up for.

As for how that campaign goes, the latest poll shows Flanagan with a 9 point gap to overcome:

PCs 38%
Wildrose 29%
Liberals 14%
NDP 13%
Alberta Party 3%

Or...errr...a 37 point one:

PC 53%
Wildrose 16%
NDP 13%
Liberals 11%

Given the media seems to have quickly recovered from their case of Danielle-mania that plagued them throughout 2010, this is being spun as part of the "PCs cruising" narrative. It's starting to look like the Wildrose Party is merely playing for second place.

I'm not so convinced.

Of course, the smart money is on PCs winning a majority, but these polls reflect the level of uncertainty out there, which is to be expected when the top three parties enter the campaign with rookie leaders. And considering Danielle Smith remains the most impressive politician in this field, it would be foolish to count her out completely - just as it was foolish to assume she was unstoppable two years ago, after an unproven party won a single by election by the skin of its teeth.

The fact of the matter is, Alberta politics have become highly unpredictable and unstable in recent years, and campaigns matter. Give me long enough odds, and I'd gladly put some money down on Danielle and Dr. Tom giving the PCs a run this spring.

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Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Advice from South of the Border

The Liberal convention earlier this month grabbed a lot of headlines - Mike Crawley's 26-vote victory over Sheila Copps for party President, the party's move to the supporter system, the decision to, like, totally legalize marijuana.

As important as those events were, the real work of rebuilding the party will happen behind the scenes. That's why one of my convention highlights was the talk by a pair of Obama operatives, Rich Mintz and Tom McMahon. I'll confess I often skip these convention workshops since many are nothing more than "so you should all sign up for this Twitter thing" - but the 90 minutes I listed to Mintz and McMahon were so chalk full of useful information that I found myself furiously trying to keep up as I scribbled down notes.

Here are just some of the many take home points I took from their talk:

When it all Works

The Obama campaign raised $550 million online during the last election, from 2 million unique donors. Yes, we're talking about the big leagues, but even when you adjust for population, that means they had twice as many donors as the Conservatives and six times as many as the Liberals in a typical year.

So how'd they do it? Well, their 13 million e-mail addresses help. That means they were in direct contact with almost 1-in-5 Democratic voters (and a few people like me who enjoy getting updates from Joe Biden).

How they got there

It might be revisionist history, but what really struck me is how their description of the Democratic Party circa 2004 sounded a lot like today's Liberal Party - "we had an unclear message", "people didn't know what we stood for", "voters said we talked down to people". So how the hell did they turn that ship around?

The key, according to the Obama boys, was connecting directly with voters and supporters - tell them a story and make them feel like they're part of something bigger.

To do that, they made an effort to help out at non-political events centered on local issues like the environment and homelessness, to bring activists into the party tent. They recruited organizers and trained them, then empowered them to recruit and train others. They invested in technology and infrastructure up front, even if it meant borrowing money.

Despite the campaign's online focus, they built relationships in person, setting up "neighbour-to-neighbour" (well, "neighbor-to-neighbor" I guess) programs, so that volunteers could work on people they knew. Similarly, when making phone calls, they always tried to pair up the caller with someone from the same region and background, since this made it easier to build a connection.

Every interaction was captured so that future e-mails and fundraising pitches could be tailored to the target. They did the work well before the election started and insisted that all candidates turned their data over to the party. Compare that to the Liberal Party where many candidates flush their files after each election or hoard Excel lists like Scrooge McDuck.

The 50 State Strategy

When asked about the Liberal Party's chances in Western Canada, Mintz and McMahon pointed to the 50 state strategy, which met with intense opposition out of the gate, but has been largely vindicated. Even in states they didn't win, the Democrats were able to put enough pressure on Republicans to force them into playing defense (something Mark Holland talked about in his speech to Alberta Liberals last spring).

The Democrats built themselves up in "hopeless" states much the same way they built themselves up in winning states. They hired 4-to-6 field workers per state, and tasked them with finding and training volunteers, who in turn found and trained more volunteers. They recruited strong candidates to run at the local and state level, and began campaigning well before 2008.

Rather than bringing the mountain to them, they went to the mountain. Literally. The DNC held its convention in Denver, and had as many events as possible in weaker areas to build up interest in the party. They found effective local issues and messages, and gave local Democrats the power to sell the party locally.

The Donkey in the Room

Now, it would be incredibly naive to assume Barack Obama had nothing to do with this. I've been preaching against the "Messiah complex" in the Liberal Party for a long time, but we do need to recognize that a popular leader can serve as a catalyst to speed up the rebuilding process.

Still, just as a good leader will help the ground game, having this kind of infrastructure in place will benefit the next leader. The Liberal Party would be wise to take a few lessons from our friends south of the border.


Monday, January 23, 2012

Drugs, Drugs, Drugs. Which are good, which are bad?

The marijuana legalization policy, which passed at last weekend's Liberal convention, has been generating a fair amount of media buzz this past week. The strongest arguments in favour of it come, somewhat surprisingly, from this National Post editorial and Toronto Sun column, while this Globe article raises some legitimate questions about the feasibility of legalization.

There are many logistical hurdles to overcome, but I tend to think one of the many alcohol and cigarette distribution systems we use could be adapted to marijuana. Once a mechanism is settled on and border issues with the Americans are worked out, the benefits are obvious.

Those hippies at the Fraser Institute peg it as a $7 billion cash crop which would generate $2 billion a year in tax revenue. Those stoners in the Senate like the idea because it would deal a financial blow to organized crime by bringing the economy above-ground. Anyone watching Boardwalk Empire knows what happens when you try to enforce an unenforceable prohibition.

But those are the debate arguments, and the political arguments are a bit more complex. After all, as carbon taxes and the HST have taught us, sound policy doesn't always make for sound politics.

It's easy to point to a poll and say Canadians are onside with Liberal members on this issue, but it's not as simple as that. There are at least 6 things the Liberals need to mull over before lighting up on this policy.

1. Strength of Support: Maybe people think pot should be legalized, but do they feel strong enough about the issue to vote for a party because of their stand? The "stoned slacker" vote is a lot harder to mobilize than the "mothers worried about their kids smoking pot" vote.

2. The Liberal Coalition: It's good to be behind an idea voters like, but it also matters which voters like it. Will this win the Liberals any votes from New Democrats or libertarian conservatives? Will it be enough to get young people to vote for them? Will it win them Vancouver? Will it scare off longtime Liberals?

3. The Big Picture: How does this policy fit into the key themes of the next Liberal platform? Does it play to a larger narrative about the Liberals being bold...or being soft on crime...or being a party with new ideas...or being a joke? There are a lot of ways this can be spun.

There's also the the 2 billion in budget flexibility this policy would open up. A lot of voters may not feel a legalized pot policy impacts them personally, but if it leads to a 2 billion dollar tax break? That's something they'd be stoked about.

4. A sound byte campaign: I have no doubt that even Michael Ignatieff could best Stephen Harper in an hour-long debate on marijuana legalization. But during elections, policies are all about the 10 second elevator pitch. The Conservatives will say the Liberals are soft on crime. They'll say they've promised tax breaks for kids sports while the Liberals offer kids a joint. I can guarantee you the party that brought us Oily the Splotch is thinking up clever ad campaigns as we speak.

Is the Liberal pitch as compelling? I'm not saying it can't be, but if it isn't this policy could become an albatross.

5. Stickiness: The knock on the Liberals in past campaigns is that their policies have seemed bland - a billion for this and a National Strategy for that. Pot legalization would make Canadians take notice and talk - something a third party can't take for granted.

The flip side is that this is such an attention grabbing policy it might detract from the rest of the Liberal platform. Do you want to make a policy voters are this divided on your flagship platform plank ahead of, say, a pharmacare program that would have more widespread popularity?

6. Fundraising: Rob Silver talked about the Liberals using this policy as a fundraising tool on Power & Politics last week. After all, Liberal members clearly support it - I know I'd probably give them some dough if they put it in the platform and asked for cash to air commercials in support of it on Much Music at 2 am.

Beyond that, this would be a case of the Liberal Party doing something because their members asked them to. The impact of this in terms of engaging existing members and recruiting future ones should not be discounted. Every policy wonk in Canada would take this as a sign it's worth their time to go to the next Liberal policy convention.

I don't have the answers to all these questions, but it underscores just how big an issue this is. It's one that requires a lot of thought before it finds its way into the party platform.

The good news is, by endorsing the policy overwhelmingly this weekend, Liberals have guaranteed that every leadership candidate is going to need to take a position on pot legalization. Before they do, candidates will need to think long and hard about the questions discussed above, as well as a 7th - will supporting this policy increase my chances of winning the leadership race?

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Thursday, January 19, 2012

Revisiting Staggered Primaries

After looking at how the supporter system was conceived yesterday, today I gaze ahead at what its future might hold. Specifically, the musings of some that the LPC could still hold staggered primaries, even though a motion to do this fell short of the 2/3 majority needed to pass at the Liberal convention this weekend.

The argument goes that the party didn't need a constitutional amendment to hold a staggered primary since the National Board has the right to "set the date" of the vote, and in past leadership contests this has given them the flexibility to select multiple dates over the same weekend. And heck, 58% of Liberals voted for staggered primaries, so members have effectively endorsed the concept.

Now, this isn't the Parti Quebecois. I believe a clear majority is needed to enact major change and I don't believe we should keep voting until my side gets its way. The amendments discussed at convention failed, and should be tossed aside until at least the next leadership race.

That said, questions remain about the supporter system, such as the exclusion of 14-17 year olds and the membership cutoff period. Logistics might also make a single day of voting impossible. The party may choose to go to its membership on these issues via extraordinary convention, as was the case when they delayed the leadership vote in June 2011.

And if they do, I don't think it would be at all inappropriate to suggest an alternative primary mechanism - one that addresses some of the real concerns about fairness and abuse raised at this weekend's convention. Here's one idea I floated during the edge-of-seat thrill-a-minute WOMOV debate of 2009:

My System of Choice

As mentioned above, WOMOV lacks some of the excitement you get from conventions. So, to remedy this, I'd propose the following version of WOMOV (copied somewhat from the primary system):

1. Carve the country up into, say, 30 regions of around 10 ridings each - so, for example, Edmonton would be a region, BC Interior would be a region and so on...it doesn't really matter how you divide them up.

2. Randomly divide up the voting schedule so that it takes place over 4 weeks. I'd set it up where you had 2 regions voting the first week, 4 the second week, and then 12 each of the last two.

3. On the final weekend, you could also hold a series of provincial or regional "mini-conventions" that anyone would be free to attend, to watch the results come in - this would include the reading of the second choice votes if candidates fail to reach the necessary majority on the first ballot.

This would give you the New Hampshire/Iowa/Super Tuesday excitement of the US primary system condensed over a month and, since the order would be drawn at random, it wouldn't favour any one particular region. You'd get Canadians more excited in the entire process, compensating for the loss of convention pizazz.

Obviously enough, you could carve the country up into however many regions you like, and schedule them as you see fit. For those unwiling to put their faith in the hands of the random number generator, we could add a disclaimer that Atlantic Canada, Quebec, Ontario, the Prairies, and BC must each get at least one primary over the first two weeks.

So how might this play out?

Perhaps the fates will select Winnipeg and Quebec City the opening weekend. The candidates would descend on these cities, the local media would cover them and, hopefully, Liberal voters there would decide to be a part of it. From there, the race might shift to the BC Interior, Ottawa, Northern Ontario, and Nova Scotia for week two. This would be followed with the rest of the country over the final two weeks.

By selecting the regions at random, you'd be taking the possibility of shenanigans out of the hands of the national executive and you'd avoid the "New Hampshire effect" where one region always gets to go first. The regional focus would still mean heaps of local media coverage, and the month-long timeline would generate buzz and help vet the candidates.

Now that the Liberal Party has embraced the supporter system, I'd suggest we go all in, and select the leadership selection process which is most likely to encourage supporters to sign up. Staggering randomized regional primaries would be fair and it would be damn exciting.

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Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Why the Liberal Party Took a Chance on the Supporter System

The boldest and most surprising outcome of this weekend's Liberal Renewalfest in Ottawa was the party's decision to open its doors to all Canadians by adopting a supporter system. As a result, any voter who supports the Liberal Party will be able to vote for its next leader - no need for a membership card or membership fees. I've blogged ad nauseaum about why I like this system, but I never expected it to pass - and neither did a single person I talked to at the convention.

So what caused Liberals to support the supporter system? How did this come about?


Systems like this are hardly new. The Americans have been using variations of it since the 1952 New Hampshire primary, but the rules and mechanisms have varied from state to state and from year to year. Currently, Americans register as Democrats, Republicans, or Independents on their taxes, and vote for their party's candidate - though rules on who specifically is allowed to vote vary from state to state.

The French socialists opened their leader-selection process to the public in 2011 and 2.7 million voted - this to choose the leader of a party with 200,000 members. The British Conservatives mailed an entire riding ballots to pick their candidate in Totness in 2009, and about a quarter of eligible voters participated. Despite these largely successful case studies, the idea of the Liberal Party trying this wasn't on anyone's radar until 8 months ago, when two events softened the ground enough to made it a distinct possibility.

The first you're all familiar with. On May 2nd, the Liberal Party was obliterated. After making excuses for years ("we lost because of Adscam", "we lost because of the income trust investigation", "we lost because of the Green Shift"), Liberals realized the party needed to change and try something new. Many of the speakers in support of the supporter resolution on Saturday gave variations of "we have nothing to lose but our third party status" - when you're down, you're a lot more willing to take a risk and try something new.

With the Liberals down, it didn't take long for them to start considering an open primary - I heard Alf Apps float the idea at an Edward Blake Society gathering in Toronto just two weeks after the election.

The Alberta Trial

Also in May, the first Canadian case study of the supporter system was launched, when a room full of Alberta Liberals voted overwhelmingly to give Liberal supporters a vote in the party's upcoming leadership contest. The party's young executive and executive director Corey Hogan had drafted the resolutions and run an aggressive "Yes" campaign with buttons and pamphlets, but even the party's 83 year old former leader Nick Taylor spoke in favour of the move. Like the federal grits, the Alberta Liberals were down and out, and were willing to take a chance.

In effect, it was that feeling they had little to lose that got the ball rolling on the supporter system in Alberta several months earlier. On February 1st, Hogan and party president Erick Ambtman held a press conference to discuss ALP leader David Swann's resignation, and fielded question after question along the lines of "Does this mean the Alberta Liberal Party is dead?". Hell, most reporters weren't nice enough to include the "does this mean" part.

According to Hogan, that's when he began seriously floating the idea of allowing all Albertans to vote for the party's next leader. Having flirted with the idea of free memberships and registered supporters for some time, Hogan and Ambtman decided to go all in. Within a week, resolutions were approved by the party's Executive Committee. Within two weeks, they were approved by the Board of Directors.

Despite this enthusiasm, many party officials described themselves as "blown away" when 95% of Liberal members not only voted in favour of the supporter system, but voted to use it in the current leadership race. They needed to draft rules, iron out logistics, and administer this new system in a matter of days.

The results of this rushed and messy experiment in democracy were mostly positive. Twice as many Albertans voted in this leadership race than in the 2008 contest that had elected David Swann, and the party added the contact information of 27,000 voters to its database. Removing the $10 fee and the stigma of being a Liberal in Alberta certainly helped, but the big catalyst in this supporter drive was the ability to sign Albertans up over the phone - a technique used to great success by the contest's winner, Raj Sherman.

That's not to say there weren't problems. Runner-up Hugh MacDonald complained about the lists, but since they were cross-checked with the Elections Alberta voter list, they were arguably more accurate than party membership lists - no cats or corpses allowed. There was a takeover attempt by Craig Chandler's right wing PGIB group, but it failed spectacularly with their candidate finishing fourth with just 7% of the vote.

The impact of the Alberta "case study" cannot be understated - it was mentioned by Sheila Copps repeatedly during her presidential campaign, and pointed to several times during the floor debate on the LPC constitutional amendment as a reason to embrace or avoid this system. Liberals are always wary of following the Americans and few had heard of experiments with this system overseas - I think it was reassuring to many that the system had been tried successfully by their fellow Liberals in Alberta.

The System Goes Federal

But it was still far from certain to go federal. After the outgoing national executive floated the idea over the summer and formalized it in November, Liberals were still mixed. I called in to a telephone debate among Presidential candidates in December and a push button straw poll showed attendees split - 40% in favour, 40% opposed, and 20% on the fence. Three of the four candidates for Party President were against the idea, and even Sheila Copps had begun muting her language around the concept as the convention approached.

The pundits were split. The blogs were split. Twitter was split. There didn't seem to be a large "vote yes" campaign in the lead-up to the convention beyond a modest "Liberals for Open Leadership" website. The atmosphere at a Friday discussion on the proposed changes was downright toxic, with former MP Maria Minna leading the charge against the ammendment.

Despite a strong Saturday push by the Young Liberals, and words of support by author Don Tapscott and a pair of Obama organizers, I fully expected a 50/50 vote, far short of the two thirds majority needed to pass this resolution.

Then on a Saturday night, with 2000 delegates watching in the convention hall (and dozens of Canadians watching on TV), Bob Rae stood up to argue passionately in favour of the supporter amendment. A murmur went up around the room - even though Rae had previously voiced support for the resolution, I never got the sense he was fighting for it. I turned to my friend and said "This could be a game changer - I was wrong, this thing could pass".

Rae was followed by a young girl...then by Justin Trudeau. Suddenly, we had a ballgame. Supporters of the supporter system spoke of "renewal", "openness", and "historic change", playing off the mood of the convention. Opponents focused on logistics and warned of outsiders hijacking the party. Then a Liberal delegate got up and said how he'd supported the Liberals for years but this was his first convention - he was here to "hijack" the party and he hoped millions of Canadians joined him in hijacking the party. Game over.

It's not often that high profile constitutional resolutions are won and lost on the the convention floor, but I truly think the speeches from the floor - especially Rae and Trudeau's intervention - tipped the scales.

And just like that, a resolution that looked dead a week earlier, and which no one would have contemplated a year earlier had passed. As the great philosopher Bob Dylan said "when you've got nothing, you've got nothing to lose". The Liberals took a chance on change - who knows what the repercussions will be, but we'll soon find out.

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Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Convention Recap

Despite the "blogger ban", the interwebs are full of LPC Bienial reaction. For those of you thirsty for more first hand recounts, here's what some of the Liberal delegates who were there thought about the weekend:

Also at the convention were CoaLM, Impolitical, Calgary Liberal, and others.


Crunching Numbers

Now that the shock of Lise St-Denis' floor crossing has worn off, it's worth looking ahead to whether Jean Chretien's old riding will stay Liberal red in the next election. Eric Grenier at 308 likes her chances:

If Lise St-Denis, the MP for Saint-Maurice–Champlain who defected to the Liberals from the NDP last week, decides to run for re-election under her new party’s banner, history suggests that, despite the wide margin between the two parties in the last election, she would have a good chance of winning the seat again.


Of those 34 floor-crossers who have stood for re-election, 22 were successful – including Richard John Cartwright. The success rate of floor crossers stands at 65 per cent.


More than half of floor crossers lose support when they run for re-election with their new party, with their average drop in vote share being eight points from one election to the next. However, the parties that welcome the new MPs almost always do better when the floor crosser runs for re-election. Fully 86 per cent of floor crossers have increased the vote share of their new parties in their riding, increasing their party’s support by an average of 11 points.

Ms. St-Denis received 39 per cent of the vote in Saint-Maurice–Champlain in May 2011, while the Liberals took 12 per cent. Applying these numbers to the average change in support when an MP has crossed the floor indicates she might expect to receive somewhere between 23 and 31 per cent of the vote in the next election, perhaps only enough to win a narrow victory.

There are a lot of ways to crunch the numbers, but before we try to draw conclusions based on 34 incredibly different data points from the past hundred plus years, we should probably look at the numbers that matter most - the votes in St. Maurice Champlain last election:

NDP 39%
BQ 29%
CPC 18%
Lib 12%

In terms of vote percentage, the riding ranked 33rd for the Liberals in Quebec (a sign of just how awful they did in La Belle Province last election). Maybe their electoral chances are better than that though - the 27 points the Liberals lost by makes it their 24th "best" riding in Quebec.

That's not to say the Liberals can't ride a 20 to 30 point red wave and win the seat next election, but it's preposterous to argue St-Denis herself will have anything to do with that. Well known and well liked incumbents tend to be worth about 5 percentage points at the ballot box, and I wouldn't use either of those terms to describe St-Denis. After all, she herself admits to being a no-name MP who was elected on Jack Layton's coat tails.

The problem with looking at the historical numbers is that there's little historical precedent for what St-Denis did. When Belinda Stronach moved from the Conservatives to the Liberals in 2005, she was jumping between parties which had been within 700 votes of each other in the previous election. In comparison, St-Denis just "gave up" 13,000 votes with her move. The more apt analogy might be kamikaze PC MP Jack Horner who won the bluest of blue ridings in Canada, Crowfoot, by 61 percentage points over the Liberals in 1974. He crossed the floor to take a position in Pierre Trudeau's Cabinet and in the next election...lost by 59 percentage points. Yes, Jean Chretien's old riding isn't as hostile to the grits as rural Alberta during the Trudeau years, but Horner was a PC leadership candidate and had represented the riding for 20 years. All that was worth a few votes at the ballot box.

Let's have some fun with numbers and create a single variable to measure just how much of an impact floor crossers have. I'll take a page from baseball stat geeks and call it VORC - Value Over Replacement Candidate. Taking the Belinda Stronach example, the Liberal vote in the ridings around Newmarket Aurora fell 4 points between the 2004 and 2006 elections. So the fact that the Liberal vote actually went up by 5 points in Newmarket Aurora with her name on the ballot means she may have been worth 9 points. Of course, there are a gazillion other factors to consider, but it's the best quick and dirty estimator of a candidate's value we have.

So Belinda may have been worth 9 points at the ballot box, but using the same math, Garth Turner was worth a big "0" points to the Liberals in Halton in 2008, while Wajid Khan actually cost the Tories 3 points in Mississauga-Streetsville (KHAAAAAAAN!). So there's no hard and fast rule.

Which, after that mathematical detour, is the point I'm trying to make with this post. When it comes to unique political events like by elections or floor crossings, it's futile to look at past trends and averages to predict the future. Regardless of what may have happened to Jack Horner or Belinda Stronach or 1869 floor crosser Richard John Cartwright, Lise St-Denis' situation is wholly unique - there aren't many cases of first time MPs jumping to the party which finished fourth in their home riding.

So without precedent, all we can go on is political instinct and my political instincts tell me St-Denis' value in the next election (should she even run, which seems unlikely) is negligible. That's not to say her jump to the Liberals won't help the party create a more favourable narrative province-wide, but on the ground in St. Maurice it won't make a lick of difference come the 2015 election.

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Monday, January 16, 2012

The Road to Renewal

Well, that was fun.

It’s hard not to come out of this weekend’s Liberal Renewalfest in Ottawa without feeling good about the future. Considering the collective punch to the gut the Liberal Party took on May 2nd, it was remarkable to see Liberals out at this convention in such high numbers and such high spirits. And it wasn’t the delusional “get a new leader and we’ll be back in power” kind of optimism I’ve seen at past conventions. Most Liberals I talked to this weekend got that there aren’t any quick fixes and there’s a ton of work to do.

Luckily, the party took a few concrete steps in that direction.

I’ve been a big proponent of shifting to an open supporter system for quite some time, but assumed the motion was heading for defeat this weekend. Surprisingly it passed, and the Liberals will open the party to Canadians when it comes time to select the next leader. I don’t want to overhype the impact of this change - we’re not going to have millions of people signing up as supporters tomorrow. But it opens the party to Canadians who are political but not partisan and will expand the Liberal tent.

Also drawing headlines was Mike Crawley’s 26-vote win over Sheila Copps for the presidency. It’s incredibly unfair to Sheila and her supporters to describe her as the status quo candidate, but that was the media spin and Crawley’s win will be seen as a vote for change. More substantively, the man has an incredible platform and if half of it becomes reality, Liberal members will be more engaged than they’ve ever been before.

I didn’t expect to be talking about policy resolutions in my convention recap. After all, the party hasn’t even bothered to pay lip service to policies which are prioritized at convention. So when the legalized marijuana resolution passed with over 75% support, I figured it would be good for a few Twitter jokes and little else. Then in the closing address of the convention, Bob Rae did all but endorse it, specifically mentioning the resolution and saying “the war on drugs has failed”. I’m sceptical this will be in the 2015 platform, but I remember Paul Martin bluntly saying “no way” without skipping a beat when asked about controversial policies which had passed at the 2005 policy convention. A meaningful policy process is one of the best ways to turn new supporters into active members, so this new attitude is very much welcome.

For me, that’s really the take home message from this weekend: The new Liberal attitude. Who knows if going to a supporter system or electing campaign co-chairs will really make much difference? The key to rebuilding is to create an attitude of openness, inclusiveness, and engagement throughout the party - then keeping this in mind when making decisions. My sense from this convention is that for the first time since I became a member a decade ago, Liberals truly want to create a party like that and are willing to change.


Sunday, January 15, 2012

2012 Liberal Biennial in Pictures

The drive to Ottawa. Had there been an “annex the Turks & Caicos” policy, it would have passed overwhelmingly, simply on the prospect of a sun destination convention.

Munir Sheikh – the Bono of former StatsCan heads – gave a 9 am talk on survey sampling methodology.

The voting clickers predictably had some glitches – I think I accidently voted for Pat Buchanan on one of the policy resolutions. Luckily, Peter Miliken was there to oversee voting and “Miliken" anyone who dared bring up an ill-constructed point of order. He was hands-down the convention MVP.

Sheila Copps' "rats nest" was one of the many hospitality suites at the convention. However, the Westin shut them down at 11...something which would never have happened if the Liberals were in power.

For those of you out there who have always wanted an Edward Blake or Alexander Mackenzie button...

The momentum around "Coyne 4 leader" was unstoppable this weekend. In fact, a rival leadership camp stole his coat, in a bid to derail his campaign.


Friday, January 13, 2012

Guest Post: Why I'll Be Voting Against Nearly Every Policy At the Convention

A few years ago, I was at an Liberal Party of Canada in Alberta AGM voting on policies to go forward to the Vancouver Biennial in 2009. We were debating a policy that called for a 25% reduction in greenhouse gases. A funny thing happened; someone stood up and declared that this was too high, it would hurt the economy too much and that it should be a 20% reduction instead. Cue a half hour debate over the proposal. Tempers flared, people took sides. A frustrated friend of mine stood up and asked a very simple question; did anyone know what 5% of GHG entailed? Sure enough, nobody did. The environmental-focused Liberals just lined up behind the 25% while the more fiscal-focused Liberals went for 20%; nobody had any context and the whole debate was effectively meaningless.

There’s no doubt that our policy process has significant flaws and is in need of serious reform. However, even if we had an efficient and engaging process, we would still have the serious problem of "garbage in, garbage out". If we don't take this process seriously, why do we expect others to?

I've read the resolutions for this coming Convention and I've come to three conclusions. First, we seem to be actively avoiding substantive policy. I don't want to pick on anybody, but I am going to use an example; one policy calls for a national housing strategy to address homelessness. Alright, noble enough goal, but that's all it does. No mention of what might actually be in said strategy, other than it'll address homelessness. Well, what does that mean? Clearly we've entered some metaphysical realm where we have a policy in favour of having a policy (and we'll get back to you on what it is exactly). We may as well have a policy condemning nuclear war, just in case people weren't clear on where we sat on that issue (naturally there'd be an exemption for the leader to support nuclear war in "special circumstances”).

Second, we need to put a lot more actual research into our polices. For instance, the call for a National Food Strategy. Well, I Googled "Canada National Food Strategy". The first hit was the Canadian Federation of Agriculture's National Food Strategy. The policy we're looking at calls for us to work with them to develop a policy. Well, they seem to have done the work for us. What our policy should actually have expressed is what we want a national food strategy to say, and we can then say "Hey, the CFA supports this approach". Or, "Hey, we disagree with this aspect of the CFA's policy".

Third, party members are obsessed with making sure they have a policy that passes (even if it then disappears into the ether). We're so focused on making sure our policy passes that we water them down into striking committees and seeing what other people think rather than statements expressing the will of the membership. Here, I'll use the example of a proposal that's been getting a lot of ink - the Young Liberal proposal to abolish the monarchy...except that's not what it does. No, it wants to strike a committee to examine rules to establish a Canadian Head of State.

If we want to have a debate, let have it. Debates are good, they focus us, challenge us, make us better. But even if we can’t reach that level of discourse, lets please stop having water cooler conversations designed to not offend anyone and calling these debates and policies. So what if your policy doesn’t pass? A failed proposal that started an important debate can alter the course of our thinking and a few conventions later, the membership may express a different opinion.

So aside from the few good ones that I’ll be supporting, I'll be voting against most of the polices at Convention. Policies that try to be all things to all people (a real problem we've had lately, n'est pas?), that don't actually do anything, and that haven’t been adequately researched do not deserve our support. Canadians aren't stupid; if we vote down a toothless call for a National Housing Strategy, they aren't going to suddenly think we're in favour of homelessness. They're going to get the message and know that we're taking this process seriously and going back to the drawing board to create policies for the next Biennial in 2014 that are important to us and mean something to them.

Glen Krueger is a Past President of the Dalhousie Liberals, past Board Member in Calgary and Halifax constituencies, and is currently articling at a law firm in Toronto.

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Thursday, January 12, 2012

In the Interim (2)

After ruefully running down the field of candidates for interim leader, here's the conclusion I reached back in May:

But, above all these names, the one that stands out is Bob Rae. Rae is experienced, respected, bilingual, and well spoken. He would keep the Liberals in the headlines and would keep them relevant. It's hard to imagine a better candidate for the job.

Of course, for those reasons, Rae might very well decide to run for the top job. However, he'll be 66 by the time the next election rolls around, and my read of the landscape is that the Liberal membership is looking towards the next generation and a long-term rebuilt. I'm certainly in no position to tell Bob Rae he can't run for leader, and he would make a fine candidate. But a year or two as the interim leader would be an exciting challenge for a man who has accomplished so much over his career.

So it seems very much like a win-win. The caveat I'd place on it is that Rae must recognize this is a caretaker position. So that means no talk of leadership and no talk of merger.

But if he's willing to play ball under those conditions, I can't think of a better candidate for the job.

Since then, Rae has lived up to my high expectations. He has outperformed Nicole Turmel in the House (then again, so have most pages) and kept the Liberal Party relevant in the media. Most importantly, he has embraced his role as "Bob the Rebuilder", going to party functions and spearheading fundraising drives.

Yes, there have been whispers about Rae's ambition to drop the "interim" label, but those whispers haven't come from Rae or even his supporters. Hell, if you read the rampant media speculation closely, there aren't many "anonymous Liberals" saying Rae plans to run. By and large, there's been little reason for Liberals to doubt Rae's word that he won't run for leader.

So as someone who thought Rae would be a fine interim leader and feels he has been a fine interim leader, his speech to caucus yesterday was a bit disconcerting. In it, he passionately defended his record as Ontario Premier, arguing "better a Rae day than a Harper lifetime”. It was a good line and a barn burner of a speech...I'm sure Liberals watching wished they could all travel back in time to 1995 and vote NDP.

This has predictably unleashed another round of "Bob Rae is running for Liberal leader" articles, punctuated by Alf Apps' always helpful musings that Rae should be allowed to run for leader, so long as he resigns 6 months before the vote to "level the playing field". What Alf and others are missing is that by virtue of Rae being leader today, the playing field will not be level in a year, and Rae's speech was a perfect example of why that's the case.

Rae was given a 45 minute podium to make his case for leader in front of caucus and country. He has staff paid for by the party. He gets to lead off in the House of Commons and picks who asks the questions. He assigns critic portfolios. He sets party policy. He travels on the party dime, racking up Super Elite air miles. Together, this gives him a massive advantage over other contenders, which is why he was only given the job after agreeing not to run for permanent leader.

But beyond this issue of fairness, there's the good of the party to consider. In 2006, Bill Graham didn't go around giving speeches about Bill Graham. Rae should be talking about what Harper's government is doing and what a Liberal government will do - not what the Ontario NDP did 20 years ago. Defending the NDP record in Ontario does nothing to strengthen the Liberal brand - it only serves to strengthen the Bob Rae brand and, maybe, the NDP brand. The media story yesterday should have been about the St-Denis defection, Liberal rebuilding efforts, and this weekend's convention - instead, we had to endure more leadership speculation.

Now, Rae continues to say he won't run for leader and he deserves to be taken at his word. And if Harper attacks him, he certainly has the right to defend his record. So maybe everyone (myself included) is making too big a deal over a few minutes in a 45 minute speech. But so long as the media is hungry for Rae leadership stories, Bob will need to choose his words carefully so as to not fan the flames and detract from the Liberal message.


Primary Debates (2)

Myself and Jeff Jedras follow up our online debate, with a video chat over beers on the primary resolution which will be up for vote at this weekend's convention.

After the video ended, the rest of the bar patrons joined in on the argument and it ended in a brawl.

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Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Meet Charles Ward

On Monday I voiced my support for Mike Crawley for LPC President, after profiling Crawley, Sheila Copps, Ron Hartling, and Alexandra Mendes over the past month.

I mostly glossed over the fifth candidate, Charles Ward, since I really didn't know much about him. Luckily, Charles gave me a call yesterday and remedied that problem, so I am pleased to present the thrilling conclusion to my 5 part series on the race for the Liberal Party's Presidency.

I give you Charles Ward:

Who is Charles Ward?

Ward has been an active Liberal in four different provinces for over 40 years, and moved to Alberta in 2009. He is currently the president of a Lethbridge riding association and describes himself as a plain spoken man who has avoided the spotlight this race, as he feels the party President should stay behind the scenes.

1. Why did you join the Liberal Party?

Frankly I was born a Liberal. Began my political career at age 14 campaigning door to door for John Matheson, Parliamentary Secretary to Lester Pearson. Graduated to campaign organizer/manager.

2. In 20 words or less, describe the type of party president you would be.

This is more than 20 words.

Facilitator, initiator, member driven, operations, nuts and bolts, processes and execution, to ensure a clean, open and fair situation for potential leadership candidates.

The Presidency is a behind-the-scenes volunteer business position, charged with putting consistency in place through defined, fiscally responsible processes, enabling Liberals to effectively use time and money participation to generate Canadians’ votes.

3. Name one thing the Liberal Party should do to make the policy process more meaningful.

The question must be asked for answers - how did we get here?

We need define goals for achievement; communicate the information to EDAs and throughout the organization. Then allow the grassroots to release their skill sets and innovation to develop their own ideas and bring them forward - grassroots driven, from the EDAs, and up. See below.

4. Name one thing the Liberal Party should do to improve its fundraising.

It all starts with effective EDAs, engagement and participation. See below.

5. Name one thing the Liberal Party should do to engage members.

One at a time, participation means different things to different people. See below.

6. List one other key change the LPC needs to make.

As National Office department, revitalize the Research Bureau to work with the EDAs on real value policy development. See below.

The above four questions’ answers are encompassed within my plan for the Party and EDAs. The National Executive, National Office and PTA staff will work with and be responsible to the Council of Presidents and their Riding associations to ensure plans are prepared and Party processes are in place. Training will be provided to all associations to ensure they fully understand the workings of the tools to successfully organize their area to reach its full potential.

Example: piece of a Riding plan. Identify polls that have members. Set a target of having at least one member per poll at the end of year one; two members per poll at the end of year two; and six members per poll at the end of year three.

If achievable by the Riding Associations they will have sufficient membership to fulfill the various functional requirements of the Riding; membership, election readiness, fund raising, policy initiatives, constitution, media, local issues, etc.

WEBSITE: http://www.charleswardliberal.ca/

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Tuesday, January 10, 2012

"Une décision en toute sérénité"

I suppose we shouldn't be shocked that one of the NDP's rookie Quebec MPs decided to cross the floor move down the opposition benches...but it's still a bit of a surprise to see Lise St-Denis jump to the Liberals less than a year after the election.

As for her motives, even after listening to the press conference, that's still a bit of a mystery. St-Denis is 71 so this isn't a case of long term ambition. There's nothing in recent polls to suggest the NDP ship is sinking. There's been no high profile issue split between her and the NDP. The NDP leadership race is still ongoing, so it's not like she's upset with the new leader. And life with the third party in the House isn't any more glamorous than life with the second party in the House.

If I had to guess, I'd assume St-Denis found herself elected as an NDP MP without ever giving a lot of thought to why she was a New Democrat. After learning a bit more about the parties, she changed her mind.

If this all seems odd, it's because people like St-Denis rarely find their way to the House of Commons. She would never have been nominated if the NDP expected to win the riding. The fact that we have 50 accidental MPs siting on the NDP benches means things will happen that defy political convention. This may be the first example, but it certainly won't be the last.

Given that, I wouldn't read too much into this. St-Denis is a no-name who was elected on Jack Layton's coat tails, in a riding where the Liberals got 12%. Yeah, it will be a bit awkward for former Bloc member Nicole Turmel to explain this one. It's one less endorsement for Thomas Mulcair. It will mean a few days of positive press for the Liberals.

But this isn't a game changer, and its impact on Canadian politics will be fairly insignificant.


The Value of Endorsements

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Monday, January 09, 2012

The Presidential Election

For somewhat inexplicable reasons, the race for Liberal Party president has been generating more ink in recent weeks than the race for leader of the opposition. And if you're going to this weekend's convention in Ottawa, you're probably getting 5 or 6 calls a day from candidates asking for your support.

Given the importance of this vote and the impressive field of candidates, I didn't rush into a decision, and I encourage any undecided delegates out there to do their research before voting. Read pamphlets, e-mail the candidates, and talk to them at convention. Ask them tough questions, and press them on specifics.

The Candidates

Sheila Copps: Q & A profile, website, Twitter, Facebook
Mike Crawley: Q & A profile, website, Twitter, Facebook
Ron Hartling: Q & A profile, website, Twitter, Facebook
Alexandra Mendes: Q & A profile, website, Twitter, Facebook
Charles Ward: website

The Race

The media narrative in recent weeks has framed this as a "too close to call" Copps-Crawley showdown. That jives with what I've heard in Liberal circles, but given the media has a hard time handicaping leadership races, I have my doubts about their ability to call a party president vote.

Despite Copps' high profile and media savvy, Crawley actually seems to be "winning" the air war - in the past week, nearly every article has framed him as the candidate who represents "generational change" and "new ideas". That's probably not fair to Sheila, and it certainly isn't fair to the other candidates being overlooked, but you have to tip your hat to whoever is in charge of the Crawley's media strategy.

My Take

Although I have a soft spot for Alberta Liberals, I simply haven't heard enough from Charles Ward to consider him.

One candidate we've all heard plenty from is Sheila Copps. I've been a fan of Sheila since I joined the party, was a Copps delegate at the 2003 leadership convention, and many of the first posts I ever wrote on this blog lamented the defenestration of Sheila Copps from the Liberal fold. I'm a huge Sheila fan, but I'm looking for a President who will work quietly behind the scenes, and that's just not her style. Moreover, her frustrating position on Bob Rae running for permanent leader makes me worry about the controversy that would follow her as party president. I hope Sheila finds in a prominent role in the Liberal Party, and maybe even as a candidate in the next election - but I just can't bring myself to vote for her in this contest.

On the other side is Alexandra Mendes who declares in bold font on her website that "the Leader is the face, voice and final authority of the Party, not the president" - something I firmly agree with. Alexandra is perhaps the most qualified candidate for the job. She has experience in the party as an MP, riding association president, and volunteer, and outside the party running an NGO. She was born in Portugal, is a Quebecer who describes herself as a "fierce federalist", and is quite personable in both English and en français. It's hard not to like Alexandra, and she likely would have earned my vote if I'd seen a little more meat from her in terms of concrete reforms.

One candidate who has given voters plenty of meat is Ron Hartling. I've chatted with Ron several times this campaign and have nary a bad thing to say about him. Ron has been writing strategic plans to reform the party since 2006 and has the track record to back it up - what he accomplished in Kingston-and-the-Islands is remarkable. Win or lose, the party would be well served to have Ron speak to as many riding associations as possible about how his team found local wedge issues and built alliances with activists. Ron is as dedicated a Liberal as you'll find, and would make a great President.

And before Christmas I was leaning towards casting a vote for Ron. Then I took a close look at Mike Crawley's platform and came away thoroughly impressed. For a long time, no one in the Liberal Party recognized the many problems we were facing - now, the biggest risk facing us is that we'll all spend a lot of time talking about the problems and talking about "renewal", but nothing will ever get done. In my endorsement of Kyle Harrietha for VP Membership earlier today, I marvelled at the concrete changes he was proposing. I'll do the same for Mike Crawley here.

Despite the media spin, Mike isn't just the guy talking about "big ideas" - he actually has ready-to-implement reforms of all sizes. Expanding BC's microtargeting experiment, community outreach packages for ridings, a databse of advocacy groups, the end of leader appointed candidates, an electronic welcome kit for new recruits, online polls of members, asking Liberals to submit QP questions to caucus...these aren't flashy ideas and they won't show up in newspaper profiles, but they can be implemented easily today and will eventually lead to a more engaged membership and more functional party.

So it's a good platform, but talk is cheap. What else does he offer?

I share Crawley's overall vision of the Liberal Party and feel he'd be able to "play well with others" on the national executive. He has experience running the LPCO board and people I respect who have dealt with him in that capacity speak highly of the man. I never base my vote on endorsements, but he's got a nice list of endorsements from people who have been talking about party reform for a long time and who I know put a lot of thought into their decision - Joseph Uranowski, Jeff Jedras, Steve V, Rob Silver, Gerard Kennedy, Navdeep Bains, and many others.

This election for party president is one of the most important, and most interesting, in a long time. Luckily for the grits, it's a strong field of candidates who all recognize the problems facing the party. I think any of them would make a fine President.

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In the absence of a leadership race, let's look in at the exciting race for VP Membership!

The much anticipated Liberal convention kicks off this Friday in Ottawa, with the internal races for party positions drawing a lot more attention than usual.

If you're losing sleep over who the next VP-French of the Liberal Party will be, Theresa Lubowitz offers an invaluable 61-page profile of all the candidates running for table officer positions. If you're going to Ottawa and want a 2-minute overview, this post will likely suffice. If you don't really have much time for boring Liberal Party contests, then it's likely best to stop reading at this point.

My post on the presidential race will follow this evening - for now, a look at the candidates running for other positions. I've added a few endorsements, but I encourage delegates to read up on all the candidates, talk to them, and make their own decision. And of course, feel free to leave your own thoughts in the comments section.

VP English: Phil Chisolm, Chris MacInnes, James Morton

VP French: Imran Ahmad, Brigitte Garceau, Pierre Lajeunesse

VP Policy: Braeden Caley, Maryanne Kampouris, Daniel Lovell, Zach Paikin, Paul Summerville

For better of worse, the VP Policy race has been drawing heaps of media attention, and it figures to be one of the most watched. I'll be voting for Braeden Caley who, despite only being 24, has a decade of experience at virtually every level in the party.

In a contest like this, every candidate is going to promise to make the policy process meaningful, so you won't find many stark differences in candidate platforms. What sets Braeden apart for me is his understanding of how the policy process, party, and caucus work, and his track record as a hard worker who will fight to bring relevance to the Liberal Party's policy process.

VP Membership: Leanne Bourassa, Matthew Certosimo, Kyle Harrietha, Kim Rudd, Mitch St. Pierre

For me, Kyle Harrietha stands out in this field. Having been a Scarborough Liberal in good times and a Fort McMurray Liberal in tough times, he has a deep understanding of the range of challenges facing Liberal ridings. Most importantly, Kyle has released a more comprehensive platform than any candidate out there - including many of the presidential candidates. Hell, there's likely more meat in it than Stephen Harper's election platform this spring.

As Kyle is fond of saying, the Liberal Party has become good at identifying what's wrong - what we need are solutions and people who will implement them. Having read his platform, I'm confident he has identified these solutions, and I'm confident he'll work hard to implement them.

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Friday, January 06, 2012

The Policy Policy

Next weekend, Liberals from across the country will head to Ottawa for the party's Biennial convention. The full agenda has been posted on the party's website - among the highlights:

  • Michael Ignatieff says thank you to Liberals: A nice gesture, which will spare us from what would have been an uncomfortable tribute to Ignatieff.

  • Critics Corner: This was billed as "a chance to talk to Liberal critics" which had me expecting a panel with Chantal Hebert, John Baird, and the Sun Editorial Board. Sadly, by "Liberal critics" they mean you get to ask Mark Eyking questions about International Cooperation. Still, could be fun.

  • Former Statscan head Munir Sheikh speaks: He will also be posing for photographs and signing Stats 101 textbooks.

  • Workshop on Leveraging Social Media: This will be a valuable workshop, since news stories can explode on social media. Take for example the kerfuffle over the Liberals' decision to not accredit bloggers to this convention, which received gallons of virtual ink online. I look forward to learning from the Liberal Party how to avoid social media faux pas like that.

  • National Executive Elections: The races for executive positions are hotly contested, and I'll talk more about them next week. For now, feel free to browse my Q & A with Presidential candidates Sheila Copps, Mike Crawley, Ron Hartling, and Alexandra Mendes.

Of course, there will also be over thirty constitutional amendments to vote on. The flashiest of these is the suggestion to move to an open primary system - I'll be voting in favour of this for the reasons I lay out here and here.

However, there are less sexy resolutions which could significantly reshape of the party. Electing one of the campaign co-chairs is an intriguing idea - so is voting on party officials and policy resolutions using WOMOV. You can read the full list of proposals here and Jeff Jedras' take here. I won't weigh in on each and every resolution because I'm sure few are really interested in what I think about the appointment of a Chief Revenue Officer (my take: "Chief Revenue Officer if necessary but not necessarily Chief Revenue Officer").

However, I do want to take the time to speak out in favour of resolution 26, which would force the party to include at least three prioritized biennial policies in its platform. This is something I've advocated on behalf of for quite some time and I'm ecstatic to see this resolution up for debate.

To provide some context, a wide range of policies proposed by Liberal Party members will be debated at this convention. No doubt, many Liberals feel strongly about these issues and spent a lot of time writing resolutions and convincing others to support them. I remember drafting policies when I first joined the party and arguing on behalf of them at my campus club, at the Alberta convention, and then at the national convention. We even made up t-shirts and pamphlets in support of our resolution. One of the reasons I joined the party was the make a difference and I saw the policy process as a great way to do that.

Of course, it doesn't take long to realize that, much like the points on Whose Line is it Anyways or a Bloc Quebecois nomination meeting in Mount Royal, this really doesn't matter. After months of debate and voting, the top policies are prioritized at convention...and then placed in a binder for the Platform Committee to ignore. I'd wager most are never even glanced at.

What this amendment does is force the party to put at least 3 of the most popular policies in the platform. This would leave the Platform Committee some leeway if something politically toxic is passed (Legalize prostitution! Invade the Turks and Caicos!), but it would force them to take a close look at every prioritized policy. Policy workshops would be given meaning...under the current system, one's convention time is far better served at D'Arcy McGees than debating policy.

For anyone who gives a damn about the policy process, this resolution is long overdue. For those who don't, I'd urge you to recognize that policy is a great way to recruit and engage members. And engaged members are far more likely to volunteer their time and money to the cause than those disillusioned over a hollow policy process.

The fate of this resolution won't garner any media attention this weekend, but passing it would be a major step on the Liberal Party's road to renewal.