Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Raising Liberal membership fees? Well that's stupid

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.

Recommend this Post on Progressive Bloggers


Diamond Fan said...

Richard Diamond will give away Liberal Memberships to all that want them!

Richard Diamond will fight the B.C "Liberals" attempt to disrupt the democratic process.


Hangin to the left said...

This is a great piece. I think you're right on the money when you talk about the party needing to pay a little respect to those who work hard during and between elections.

Politicagrll said...

The NDP has a good solution for this (I think). I can't say that my ideas about where it comes are official party stand, but it's why i think it works the way it does:

The membership fees are higher for adults than you are listing here. I think they are around $25 (it varies by province i think these are Ontario). However if you are low income or unwaged (and the person who is applying generally decides this...I've never heard of anyone going through anyone's books...) you can get a membership for $7. A full membership. I don't think it's even kept track of which membership are low income and which aren't as i've always receieved the same stuff and i've had a low income membership. Even the same material asking for donations .

Generally the low income cost is the cost to students for a membership.

The thought is that if people want to donate to the party they will. Not everyone can afford an expensive membership and we want everybody that is interested to be able to be involved. And people give to parties in different ways as you are talking about here. Volunteering is a way of giving to the party.

Also you get the 80% of the cost of your memberships back through income taxes...but only if you are paying income taxes so in fact the membership costs those on a low income and high income generally different amounts in the end. And of course we fundraise, and people can always donate to the party if they have more they can give.

Anonymous said...

Count your blessings.

You have an executive that is able to things like maintain and office, run a campaign etc. Some provinces have it much worse. Most of us would love to an organization that seems to work as wel as the LPC in BC.

That being said, it's strange that riding associations don't get a cut of membership funds. In Ontario I believe that's where all the membership fees go.

As far as fees are concerned, sooner or later we have to move to a broader base of small donors, It might as well start with membership.

If you believe in a cause it's worth an extra ten bucks.

Dissident one said...

The first reaction I had when I read Jamies disertation on membership...fees should be decided by the LPCBC membership at an AGM. this is a top down recommendation, by an executive who either have very short memories or no history in the party at all.

Politicagll explains the New Dems membership just as it has always been. The LPCBC did have at one time a membership category for the "unemployed" aka "unwaged" in this age of information which was a token $1.00 and it was there for many years until the "board" took over.

If having a Liberal card is supposed to be a prestigious thing, then why don't we actually get a card that we can flaunt as we open our wallets to pay the fee? Make it $100 and make it out to the Riding association where you want it to go.Never going to happen???
As for the Federal Council and the make up of same.BC has 36 ridings . Ideally the Presidents who do attend would have their Riding Association pay for the meeting, Okay in ridings where there are elected members but what about the other 29. they don't show because it isn't really their meeting . It only provides for a stage that each Liberal MP can speech from and the LPCBC President. This one may be different given the Election results.

In this case renewal should bring back the old and marginalize the "board".

dissident one said...

BCer in To;
Your blog should be mandatory reading, you'd make a great leader except for one thing.... you are Honest, an asset and a liability.

A BCer in Toronto said...

I sent a membership form off to join the LPC(Ontario) before the election. I know they cashed the cheque but I haven't gotten a note, never mind a membership card.

I agree with encouraging donations from the membership base. We need to get better at attracting a bigger number of smaller donations, like the NDP and the Cons. But membership fees aren't the way to do that. Esp. at a time when we need to rebuild our brand and do a real selling job to get people to join the party.

IMO fundraising is a seperate issue from membership fees. The fee should be cost recovery only, covering the cost of processign the enrolllment. Inclusivity should rule the day.