01/09/2012 01:21 EST | Updated 03/10/2012 05:12 EST

Liberals set sights on strategy and renewal

Federal Liberals will be busy plotting strategy in Ottawa this week in advance of the party's biennial next weekend, where they could make major changes to the way the party operates in an effort to rebuild it.

First, Liberal MPs and senators will gather on Parliament Hill Wednesday for a two-day winter caucus meeting to plan their agenda for when Parliament resumes sitting on Jan. 30.

On Friday, hundreds more Liberal members will join them in Ottawa for the party's biennial policy convention. More than 1,000 delegates are expected to attend the three-day convention that will feature the election of a new party president, addresses by keynote speakers, strategy sessions and votes on a range of policy resolutions.

Sheila Copps, a former MP and deputy prime minister who is one of five candidates running for the presidency, said she is looking forward to seeing Liberals from across the country.

"There's a lot of positive energy. I think we're going to have a huge turnout," she said. "People really feel up to the task of rebuilding."

The Liberals suffered a historic loss last May, dropping down to 34 MPs and losing title of the Official Opposition to the NDP. They are trying to pick up the pieces under interim Leader Bob Rae.

Rae says on the party's website that delegates at the convention are facing fundamental questions and will have to decide what changes to make to shape the party's future.

The party's national board of directors put together a plan called a "Roadmap to Renewal" last fall that lays out how it thinks the Liberals need to revamp the party's organization, how it fundraises, how it elects leaders and nominates candidates and how to communicate better with Canadians.

The proposals will be voted upon by the party membership during the convention, as will policy resolutions submitted by riding associations. Some of the general topics that are up for debate include the Canadian Wheat Board, post-secondary education, the environment, justice and health.

One of the resolutions, submitted by the youth wing of the party, calls for a severing of ties with the British monarchy and for a Canadian head of state.

Convention a 'litmus test'

Speaking to host Michael Enright on CBC Radio's Sunday Edition, former Ontario Liberal MP Mark Holland called the convention a "litmus test" for the party's willingness to change.

"The situation is serious, and I think we have to be honest about the work that needs to be done," Holland said. "We have to ask what drives somebody to be part of the Liberal party? We've become a party that's too much about power."

"I think that there's been a number of constitutencies that felt let down by us not being there when we should have been. And we've got to get those people back," Holland offered.

"I think it's important that we talk about the structural changes that are needed in the party... but that alone is not going to do it," said former B.C. Liberal MP and cabinet minister Ujjal Dosanjh on the same panel. "What's going to do it for us is eventually connecting with the soul of Canada."

"It seems to me that significant numbers of Canadians don't seem to mind where [the Harper government is] going, so ultimately we have to figure out... how to then begin to speak for the majority of Canadians again," Dosanjh said.

"I think we let the fiscal agenda go," former Newfoundland and Labrador Liberal MP Siobhan Coady told Enright.

"I think we have to find out why didn't the millions of Liberals not vote in the last election. What is it that we're not presenting? What is it that we're not doing? What is it that we're not espousing, that we're not connecting even with our own members?" Coady asked.

Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty will provide an opening address Friday night, and the party's former leader, Michael Ignatieff, will make a return to Ottawa for the convention. The agenda says he will be delivering a thank you to Liberals.

There will be a debate that night among the presidency candidates. Voting will take place Saturday and the winner will be announced Sunday.

Delegates will also be hearing from Munir Sheikh, the former chief statistician at Statistics Canada, who resigned over the government's decision to scrap the long-form census.

New to the convention this year is something called Critics' Corner, where members can sit down with Liberal critics for a chat on their portfolios.