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How Much Does it Cost to be a Liberal These Days?

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The fledgling third-place federal party is finally releasing rules around the selection of their next leader nearly 500 days after suffering a crushing defeat in May 2011. One would think the baby would be worthy of reverence after a 16-month incubation. Fat chance.

Between the dwindling ranks of Liberal Moonies content to profess their love to anything and everything the Party Brass proposes, there is an emerging group of sideliners, waiting for the right climate, the right vision, and the right attitude of inclusiveness to reconnect the Party which once mirrored their core values.

The first impediment to ascension the Ol' Boys' Club has imposed is a hefty $75,000 entry fee to run for Party Leader.

Seventy-five thousand dollars.

That's 65 per cent more than the national income average or what most of us call "a small fortune." Now let us ponder for a moment which wells the LPC has repeatedly drawn from to inform its leadership, its candidates and, until recently, its voting members. Only those with deep pockets have been able to pay to play the LPC game, dictating the constructs with which the Party rules are applied. The rest of us sit at the back of the bus, hoping we like the final destination, with faint input on the roadmap.

A $75,000 access fee will likely yield a small cluster of leadership candidates, if not a quasi-coronation. Is this a way for a third place party to renew interest with the Canadian people?

Conservative Comparison

In comparison, the 2004 Conservative Party leadership election imposed an entry fee of $100,000 without any additional spending limits, which aligns itself well with the CPC's ideology of "letting the market decide." Allowing the chips to fall where they may, Conservatives found only three people able to rise to the (financial) challenge, all of whom spent their formative years in Ontario's GTA. No one can accuse the CPC of betraying their values in the implementation of leadership rules.

Dipper Drop Fees, Boost Dividends

In contrast, the New Democratic Party requested a mere $15,000 from each leadership candidate in 2012, thus allowing a wide range of voices to chime in their national discourse. Candidates brought their experience from seven provinces and their diversity to healthy discussions and debates. Canadians, no matter the background, could identify with at least one person in the roster of NDP candidates, thus garnering grassroots interest from coast to coast. The NDP campaign provided a platform for the gems that lay behind the ominous shadow of their former leader to shine, while resonating with a broad number of voters beyond the traditional party base.

Despite the bad optics of having contest winner Tom Mulcair pontificate about the renowned diversity in his multicultural Montreal riding during his acceptance speech while a sea of ethnically neutral faces adorned the background, the NDP ultimately gained strength by prying wide open the halls of power with a reasonable leadership candidate entrance fee.

Grits' Faulty Compass

Seeing as a few candidates from the 2006 federal Liberal leadership race are still saddled with debt which drags donors down, the Liberals seem doomed to repeat the same mistakes, thus imposing the financial strain on all involved. It is an especially damning strategy in light of Harper's new law which ends taxpayer-funded subsidies to federal parties.

Alas, this is not the first unforced error the Liberal Party Backroom Boys have committed since their disastrous 2011 election bid.

The January 2012 biennial convention saw delegates pour a significant amount of time and energy debating such non-pivotal resolutions as legalizing marijuana and breaking with the monarchy -- issues which are far from lost voters' hearts and minds. This convention produced new LPC President Mike Crawley, a wealthy Toronto executive, who, like the two well-heeled men who preceded him, promised to rebuild. Crawley's first major foray was a similarly themed address delivered on the anniversary of the LPC electoral collapse at a $100-a-plate luncheon in Ottawa's glitziest hotel. Surely the average folk who cannot afford such a genteel meal could participate by watching the allocution from the virtual nosebleed seats -- online.

For a party oft-indicted for being out-of-touch with regular Canadians during a decade-long slide down the national polls, for an institution accused of oozing entitled snobs, this latest slight by the LPC backroom brass unfortunately informs an off-putting narrative, betrays intrinsic liberal values of equal opportunity and inclusiveness, whilst marking a shaky start to the 2013 Leadership race. A party that's lost its compass is doomed to lose the legions voters who have strayed outside the once broad LPC umbrella. Optimistic Canadians are impatient for the LPC to track down their moral navigation device before it's too late.