01/14/2012 10:21 EST | Updated 03/15/2012 05:12 EDT

Diary From the Liberal Convention -- What an Atmosphere!

Althia Raj

I had the pleasure of moderating one of the sessions this morning: "Democracy and Good Governance." The caucus representative was Stéphane Dion. The panelists were David Eaves, public policy expert and fellow at the Centre for the Study of Democracy, Queen's University, and Maryantonett Flumian, president of the Institute on Governance and former deputy minister at Social Development Canada. Justin Trudeau was on hand to do the wrap up.

It was standing-room only event, with several hundred attendees. The three panelists addressed various aspects of governance, with some various perspectives. Most of the questions, however, dealt with one of the proposed resolutions (#79), which specifically recommends a preferential ballot system. Stéphane, who has studied and debated all manner of proportional representation options, was eloquent and persuasive in his support of the resolution. Although as the moderator I did not express an opinion at the time, I can say now that I have for a long time been a strong supporter of a preferential ballot approach, so I was very pleased.

Both Maryantonett and David provided some excellent and thought-provoking commentary on issues such as how public policy is developed, how important transparency is, the challenges in how to ensure that public service in fact serves the needs of people and much more. A lot of interesting discussion was had, but here are a couple of great quotes: From Maryantonett (in addressing a concern about the appearance of Liberals proposing things that they may not have supported in the past), "History should be a teacher, not a life sentence." And, when someone raised a concern that an increased sense of individuality in today's society might prevent people's ability to take into consideration the needs of the community, from David Eaves: "An individual who feels confident that his or her individuality is protected and safe is even more able and likely to be able to then think about the needs of the collective."


The buzz is unanimous -- and incredibly positive. Virtually every single person I have spoken with in the halls, in the session rooms -- yes, even in the washrooms -- has said the same thing. "Isn't this great?!" The comments are overwhelmingly consistent -- people are excited by the fact that the number of people here is far higher than expected; that the level of engagement is far higher than expected; that the enthusiasm is fabulous; that the debates have been stirring; that everyone seems really pumped. We have more delegates here than at the most recent NDP and Conservative conventions combined.

Even I worried, at the beginning, about whether the agenda was too full of process issues and that it would not really engage people.

I was wrong.

It may still be true that, ultimately, changes to voting structures and constitutional changes may not cause millions of Canadians to all of a sudden beat a path to our door -- but for the people here, the enthusiasm is palpable. And it is the enthusiasm of Liberal activists which will, in turn, garner the enthusiasm and support for liberalism in Canada.

There is great buzz here about the future of the Liberal Party.