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 fran├žais. 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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