My on the ground political experience came as a riding association executive member in British Columbia, and being on the ground in a rural riding it offered an interesting perspective on the schism between the Vancouver/Victoria-dominated party apparatus and the rural ridings.
The urban/rural divide aside however (and I'm sure it's the same in Ontario with Toronto vs. the rest of the province, for example) a far greater disconnect existed (and no doubt still does) between the LPCBC party executive and the grassroots, as represented by the riding association presidents.
I bring the topic up because I see Sean Hollman at Public Eye Online has posted the details of the next BC Federal Liberal Council meeting, this Saturday at the Plaza 500 Hotel in Vancouver. The Federal Council includes the LPCBC executive and the BC riding association presidents. Being numerically superior, in theory the riding association presidents could wield a fair bit of power. If they ever chose to use it. Think of them as the House of Commons to the executive's minority government.
The executive will be looking to use Saturday's meeting to rubberstamp some changes to the membership rules. By way of brief background, the Martinite LPCBC was brought into disrepute during the leadership wars for both sharply restricting access to forms by non-believers and being very lax with the koolaiders. There were huge groups of people on the list at the same addresses that knew nothing about it; there was a dog in Victoria that got a Christmas card from Paul Martin. The media had a field day. Rules were tightened around creating a paper trail and restricting cash payments as a result.
On to the proposed changes. The first is to increase the number of forms any member can be issued at one time from five to ten. Why not 20 I say, but a step in the right direction. As long as it's followed of course. I heard stories of people having a hard time getting their five, depending on where their allegiances lay. It is also mentioned the LPC is working on allowing online membership signup. It's high time, the LPC has lagged far behind on using the Web for both membership and fundraising.
Here's the more controversial change though. They want to raise membership fees from $5 to $10/year for youth and from $10 to $20/year for adults. LPCBC prez Jamie Elmhirst says:
"This, we believe, is reflective of a desire in the party to place a higher value on a Liberal Party membership card."
Umm, here's an idea. Want to place a higher value on a Liberal Party membership card? Try having a fair, open and vibrant leadership race that proposes innovative, dynamic policies, and start paying some respect to the grassroots grunts that are the workhorses of the party between and during election campaigns. That would be a start.
With all that has gone on it hasn't exactly gotten easier to sign people up for the Liberal Party. Do we really want to double membership fees as well? Our brand is tainted; it's just plain stupid.
Give Jamie credit though, at least he does say what this is really about:
"It also is designed to at least partially recoup funds that will be lost due to a drop in our per vote money from Elections Canada so that the party office can continue to deliver a high level of service to ridings and party members."
I'm annoyed that the LPCBC gets all the revenue from membership fees in the first place. I don't know how it works in other provinces or with other parties, but in BC Liberal riding associations don't get a penny from membership sales, even though the vast majority of sales happen at the riding level. All that cash goes to the LPCBC.
Also, all of the per vote subsidy from Elections Canada also goes to the LPC and the LPCBC. The riding associations get none of that money. Hardly seems fair, does it?
The executive will counter, 'well, after campaign finance reform the central party can't fundraise, that's strictly the domain of the riding associations, and the corporations are now all yours.' Well sure, but how many corporate head offices are in 100 Mile House or Port Hardy? That's great for Vancouver and Victoria area ridings, but it does nothing for the rural associations.
It's time for the riding associations to stand up and say 'this isn't fair, we aren't going to accept this inequity anymore.' The way to start is by vetoing this stupid idea to double membership fees. If the LPCBC has a cash crunch let them present a budget and the federal council can help them identify places to cut.
If our party it's going to be reformed it's time to start doing things differently. There's power in numbers, and it's time for the grassroots to stand up to the party aristocracy and flex its muscle.
P.S. If you're going to be in the area Saturday (and want to pay the unspecified entry fee) the meeting is open to the (paying) public. Rumour is Stephane Dion will be making an apperance.