Liberal Convention 2012: Fierce Debate Over Adopting U.S.-Style Primaries
UPDATE: The resolution to establish a supporter system passed at the Liberal convention on Saturday night.
OTTAWA — The Liberal brass' idea of adopting a U.S.-style primary system met stiff resistance from members Friday, the first official day of the party's biennial convention in Ottawa.
Liberals lined up in large numbers during two feedback sessions to speak out against the idea of establishing party supporters who could pick future leaders and riding candidates without becoming members of the Liberal Party. There is also some reluctance to embrace the idea of holding a series of regional leadership votes, similar to the primary system used in the United States.
Former Liberal MP Maria Minna told a packed room studying the proposed amendments to the party constitution that she opposes the idea of letting those willing to register as supporters help elect candidates.
It sounds to me like supporters would have the right to select candidates and leaders, and members would “have the right to do all the work,” she said. “This is completely unacceptable,” she added, as many Liberals nodded their heads and cheered in agreement.
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“Why would anyone pay $10 to become a member if they could have the same benefits of membership by being a supporter?” asked another Liberal.
The Liberals’ executive spent seven months developing a "roadmap to renewal," which sets out new ways of growing Liberal support, by identifying potential allies and future fundraising pools.
They’ve come up with the idea of establishing a second class of membership, registered supporters who could help guide the future of the party but wouldn’t have to pay any membership fee. These individuals would have to sign a document saying they were not members of any federal political party in Canada.
One speaker at the microphone told concerned Liberals that the party would only grow if it opened the doors to everybody and attracted non-members like himself.
But many Liberals Friday raised concerns that the supporter system could easily lead to the hijacking of their party.
"What would hijacking this party look like? Because I'm afraid that I might be doing it," another questioner at the microphone said. He was a new Liberal donor, but until recently wasn’t a member of the party at all, he said.
Outgoing national president Alfred Apps, the chief salesman of the plan, told Liberals they needed to have “courage.”
One delegate shot back, insisting supporters could swarm riding association meetings and elect candidates that the members might oppose but for whom they would still have to work.
Apps told the crowd that the issue already exists with the current membership framework.
Proponents of the new plan suggested $10 wouldn’t stop anyone from hijacking anything.
Former Liberal MP Bonnie Brown said she agreed with the concerns raised Friday and believes the plan is a bit too “premature” right now.
“The members get to make the cake and the supporters get to eat it, and there is some level of unfairness with that,” she told The Huffington Post.
“I haven’t figured out in my head how to get around that, but I will not be voting in favour of supporters to have the right to vote in these elections right away. I think down the road it may be feasible, but it will take a great deal of fine tuning by the next executive.”
Ken Halliday, the president of the West Vancouver-Sunshine Coast-Sea to Sky Country riding association, told HuffPost that delegates resisting the changes were not thinking strategically and were discounting the value of full membership.
Being a member of the Liberal Party allows individuals to take part in the policy process, something supporters would not be allowed to do, he noted.
Creating supporters would get new people, those who seem to have a resistance to becoming a member, inside the Liberal fold, Holliday said. Evidence also suggests that it doesn’t take long before supporters become members, he added.
“I think the supporter idea is a way we grow the Liberal Party, because if we don’t grow it, we are going to wither away,” Halliday said.
Liberal delegates will vote on the constitutional changes on Saturday. The measure will need a two-thirds majority to pass.
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With files from The Canadian Press
Six Hot Topics At The Liberal Convention
It's was extreme makeover time for the Liberal Party of Canada at its <a href="https://www.facebook.com/AlthiaRaj">biennial policy convention in Ottawa</a>. Here's a half-dozen hot topics the 2,600 delegates debatedor decided.<br><br> Photo: CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld<br><br> <i>With files from CBC.</i>
Who's Running This Show? Part One: Bob Rae
UPDATE: <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/01/14/liberal-convention-2012-ottawa_n_1206071.html?ref=canada&ref=canada">Leadership speculation swirled at the Liberal convention</a>. Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty ruled out a run and his brother David said he was considering a campaign. Former cabinet minister Martin Cauchon also attracted attention by hosting a hospitality suite, encouraging some to argue he must be considering a bid for the party's top job. Former astronaut and MP Marc Garneau is also said to be considering a bid. Of course, current interim leader Bob Rae continued to be the primary focus of leadership rumours.<br><br> He's the interim leader for now, but after Wednesday's barnburner of a speech to his Parliamentary caucus, those inclined to think he also wants to be the permanent leader had fresh fuel for their burning suspicions. Will more signs emerge over the convention weekend? Will other potential candidates for the permanent leadership stand up and say something about their own ambitions?<br><br> Photo: CP
Who's Running This Show? Part Two: The Party President
UPDATE: <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/01/15/mike-crawley-liberal-convention-2012-ottawa_n_1207459.html?1326654076&ref=canada#s612012&title=_Whos_Running">Mike Crawley was elected President of the Liberal Party of Canada</a> at the biennial convention in Ottawa.<br><br> Will it be Mister President (Mike Crawley) or Madame President (Sheila Copps)? Or do the media pundits have it wrong and delegates are prepared to elect one of the other two contenders? Will the party elect someone with radical ideas for reform or someone more comfortable with the party's established path? The presidency vote could become a proxy for the bigger tug of war touching nearly every aspect of the convention -- how ready is the party to embrace change?<br><br> Photo: THE CANADIAN PRESS/ Frank Gunn
Who's Running This Show? Part Three: The Contest For National Policy Chair
UPDATE: Maryanne Kampouris was elected National Policy Chair at the Liberal convention in Ottawa.<br><br> Five party activists are in the running to helm the party's quest to redefine its policy platform before the next election, including one (20-year old Zach Paikin, above) who can't personally remember not just Liberal glory days in the seventies, but any of the party's history prior to Jean Chrétien's leadership. What coherent vision will emerge from the race for the chair and from policy resolutions delegates will debate on the floor.
Monarchy, Marijuana ... Oh My!
UPDATE: The Liberal party <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/01/15/liberal-vote-legalize-marijuana_n_1207388.html?ref=canada">voted for the resolution to legalize marijuana</a> and <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/01/15/liberals-stand-behind-the_n_1207370.html?ref=canada&ref=canada">against the resolution to cut ties with the monarchy.</a><br><br> Speaking of youth and policy debates ... a range of ideas are up for discussion at this convention, including some more radical ideas originating with the youth wing of the party, such as dropping the Queen as Canada's head of state in favour of a Canadian-born figurehead and the legalization and regulation of marijuana. If the delegates go for some of the more exotic policy ideas, will that capture some excitement in the eyes of the voting public?<br><br> Photo: PA
Quebec (isn't it always?)
Was the <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/01/10/lise-st-denis-ndp-join-liberals_n_1196406.html">defection of Quebec MP Lise St-Denis from the NDP</a> a one-off, or the start of a trend? If Quebec is up-for-grabs as pollsters suggest, what strategy do the Liberals have to capitalize on that opportunity and try for a return to the party's glory days of dominating the province's politics? Can their brand be saved in Quebec?<br><br> Photo: Alamy
Reform, Rebuild, Renew...
If it starts with "re-" it was probably a theme at this convention ... which might explain the giant letters displayed at the entrance to the convention centre. If the party wants a rebirth, it has to reform in order to rebuild. To do that, it may need to recycle some past hits, but the party's regeneration will require fresh ideas, too. To avoid re-igniting past tensions, Liberals will need to avoid repeating their past mistakes. Job one is restoring the party in the minds of voters as the best alternative to the governing Conservatives. And that means renewal.<br><br> Photo: Getty