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Friday, July 07, 2006

Leading the changes we need

All I have to say is it's about time. I've always been amazed at how large, bureaucratic and thoroughly inefficient the Liberal Party is. A national executive of 60. Provincial management boards of 20+. Different membership rules in each province, and in the case of Ontario, different membership rules in each riding association. A policy process so convoluted that no one understands it, other than to say that it can take up to five years for a policy proposed at the local level to be discussed at the national level (and even if passed nationally, good luck finding "Liberal Party policy" in the "Liberal Party platform"). A system of "commissions" which, while well-intentioned, is in serious need of review (I mean, come on...Do we really need a seniors' commission?).

I'm glad we're beginning to look at revamping our party structure. I like the proposal to cut the national executive in half. I agree we need to nationalize our membership lists. I'd go further and say that the rules for membership need to be nationalized as well. If ten dollars can buy me a Liberal membership in one riding, there's no reason it should cost the guy in a neighbouring riding (or a neighbouring province) any more.

With regards to leadership selection, I'm not yet convinced we should get rid of the delegated conventions. The idea of Liberals from around the country coming together to pick a new leader appeals to me. Why? For one, it promotes the equality of the riding associations, because each association is able to send the same number of delegates to the convention as any other, regardless of membership totals. Let's be honest: Mass membership signups are easier to accomplish in certain ridings (namely, large urban ridings) than in others. Under a pure one-member one-vote system, the leadership camps would understand this fact, and focus far more of their time organizing the cities. Second, from a PR perspective, leadership conventions are exciting. Drama is a big part of politics, after all. But most importantly, conventions keep Liberals from coast to coast in touch with each other's views and concerns. As a party deeply concerned with national understanding and reconciliation, we should not overlook this important factor.

Having said that, I appreciate the enormous cost of holding leadership conventions, both for the party and for the delegates. Without financial support, a four-day leadership convention could easily cost a delegate $1,000, not including registration. And that's if you don't have to travel that far. A one-member one-vote system would surely reduce expenses.

Is a compromise possible? Well, sort of. The Tories use a "point system" by which each riding -- regardless of membership totals -- is allocated 100 points to be divided between the leadership candidates based on their respective vote percentages in the riding. This system preserves the concept of riding equity, but allows each member a direct say on each ballot (our system only allows all members to influence the first ballot. Subsequent ballots are up to the delegates). With no convention, there is significantly less drama and the "coming together" of partisans is virtually non-existant. But it is far less expensive, and for this reason alone, I'd say we should at least consider it.

I'm convinced the structure of the Liberal Party will change after December's leadership convention. While we can't yet predict the specifics of how things will turn out, one thing is for sure: We owe thanks to Mike Eizenga for leading the changes we need to build the party we want. As I said, it's about time. Kudos.