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.



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