04/05/2016 11:11 EDT | Updated 04/06/2017 05:12 EDT

Can Open Party Membership Unite The Left?

Chris Wattie / Reuters
Liberal Party leader Justin Trudeau gives his victory speech after Canada's federal election in Montreal, Quebec, October 19, 2015. REUTERS/Chris Wattie TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY

I don't often agree with Liberal leader Justin Trudeau, but I do think he is going in the right direction with his open membership proposal. In this country our politicians often lament that the population is largely disengaged from our political process and we try to find all sorts of ways to attract young voters -- Trudeau just did that.

Membership will no longer have its privileges. Anyone who signs up with the Liberals (with no membership fee involved) will have the right to take part in policy development, nomination meetings, conventions and future elections of the leader.

Unlike the Conservatives who after their last election loss circled the wagons and fired inward, the Liberals have taken a bold new step. The Conservatives have gone in the opposite direction to the Liberals with their new $25 membership fee that has to be paid by cheque or credit card.

In effect the Conservatives have managed to make themselves more exclusive rather than inclusive. The Liberals have broadened their tent while the Conservatives shrank theirs. Time will tell who made the right move.

What will happen when individuals with no loyalty to a specific leader or to the party apparatus are elected to the House of Commons?

The Liberals will find there are lots of hiccups along the way, especially at the constituency level.

In weaker regions, membership fees helped to keep struggling associations going. There will always be the fear of single-issue groups hijacking nomination meetings (as there is now) and we will have to watch how they run and elect candidates at the local level. The devil is always in the details.

We will also have to see how the Liberals manage fundraising and see what amount the national office shares with ridings or keeps of monies raised by riding associations. For many riding associations this will be crucial to earning their support.

Speaking of fundraising, the Liberal fundraising machine must be rubbing its hands in glee waiting for all these new Liberals to give them their name, address, telephone number and email address.

It will also be fun to watch what happens when the central party wants to get things done and folks at the grass roots level refuse, as they won't think they owe party headquarters any loyalty or any deference for that matter.

What will happen when individuals with no loyalty to a specific leader or to the party apparatus are elected to the House of Commons? How will the party operate in the House, can it ever whip votes again? These are interesting questions that will play out over time.

But compare that to a large influx of new members who are excited to be part of the political process, who bring fresh new ideas to the table and who can serve as a broad-based group for policy development rather than having it initiated by party insiders.

I expect the NDP will have to move in the same direction as the Liberals or risk losing large numbers of their members to the Liberals, many of whom voted Liberal in the last election. With Liberal policies already moving into traditional NDP territory, this new membership proposal does pose a threat to the NDP.

What about the Green Party? Will its future be in doubt?

Could this move of Trudeau's actually unite the left? That is an interesting question and puts even more pressure on Mulcair and the NDP bosses this coming weekend.

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