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Thursday, September 24, 2009

We can do better

Mr. Ignatieff,

Once upon a time, being a liberal was a sign of courage. It symbolized strength of character, independence of spirit and respect for democracy.

Unfortunately, it seems things have changed. In 2009, being a member of the federal Liberal Party in Québec means knowing one's place, never asking questions and – most of all – never challenging the status quo.

As members of the Liberal Party of Canada, and especially as ardent defenders of liberal thought, we feel the need to speak out publicly on recent troubling events. By addressing ourselves to the media, our goal is not to embarrass the party, but rather to strengthen it. Indeed, up to now, the party apparatus does not seem to have taken our message seriously. Preferring a “don't rock the boat” strategy instead of real debate and discussion, many would demand that we remain silent. But for the sake of our Party and its underlying democratic principles, we cannot remain silent. Here are our concerns.

We find it very disturbing that certain individuals would attempt, undemocratically, to expand their authority within the party. At a time when Canadians demand openness and transparency from their elected officials, the Liberal Party of Canada should be leading the way. Lines of accountability must be clear and decisions must taken fairly, openly and honestly.

As other leaders have done, you have chosen to appoint a “Québec lieutenant” to assist you on organizational matters. We unequivocally recognize your right to do so. But we must ask ourselves, with due respect, who is ultimately in charge in Québec. While we do not by any means question the quality of your leadership, we are troubled that others would act as though they, alone, sheer this great Liberal ship. They do not have a mandate from the membership to lead. You do.

After being told in the spring of 2009 that all ridings in Québec – including those with incumbent Liberal MPs – would be subject to nomination races, some have chosen to play petty games in an apparent attempt to nurture their own ambitions. By imposing candidates in ridings across the province, they have encroached on the sacred, democratic right of local party members to nominate their own representatives.

We submit that it is not very liberal to bypass the nomination process on a systematic basis. It is not very liberal to reject qualified nomination contestants without justification. And it is not very liberal to put one's own personal interests ahead of the right of party members to have their say. Let us never forget that the Party is always bigger than the person.

We realize that by writing this public letter, we risk alienating ourselves from powerful members of the party machine. But it is a risk we are willing to take, because we love our party too much to keep quiet. Regretfully, others fear reprisal and have chosen not to speak up, even though they agree with our opinion. This speaks volumes about the state of democracy in the “Liberal” Party.

We have confidence, Mr. Ignatieff, in your judgement, and trust that you will take our concerns seriously and make appropriate changes to the way things work in the party. After all, “we can do better” must be more than a campaign slogan – change must begin at home.

Yours in Liberalism,

John Lennard and Jonathan Pedneault