Friday, August 25, 2006

Tie a Red Ribbon around that sagging Liberal tree...

...it's been seven long months out of government, do you still love me?

With my PVR recording Thursday's re-runs of The Office I’ve read over the full text of the LPC’s Red Ribbon Task Force on Reform. My first impression? This must have been written by lawyers, because they never use three words when 30 will do. (Although, I'm afraid this post of mine is far too long too.)

I
guess that’s just my journalistic bias. Still, it was a touch more interesting than the report I read this morning on The Future of Enterprise Software. But snarkiness aside, hidden in the excess verbiage are some interesting recommendations, some I agree with and some I don’t.

My view on the LPC today


Let me start with my own raw, unfiltered impressions of the LPC after 10 odd years of riding and youth commission activism: the barbs the Cons like to throw around about cultures of entitlement aren’t far off the mark. It is, by and large an elitist organization. While there are people here and there generally committed to policy development/making a difference, by and large most of the people in the upper reaches of the party are committed solely to the acquisition of power for power’s and ego’s sake.


That’s effective, to a point, at winning elections when we’re all on the same team. When it fractures, chaos ensues, and grudges form that carry on through generations, with people forgetting how it started in the first place. Turner v. Chretien became Martin v. Chretien, and so on. I’m sure it began somewhere back in the Clear Grits era, or a fight Alexander Mackenzie had with Wilfrid Laurier.


The LPC is a top heavy, top down organization. The grassroots are bodies to stuff envelopes and stack meetings, and advance the position of the elites. They’re to be placated with the impression their voice is being heard on administrative issues, and on policy issues through long, tedious policy development processes that produce resolutions that are then ignored.


So why, then, you ask, am I a member? Because I believe in the core principles of the Liberal Party. Because I naively hope, perhaps in some small way, I can help make a difference. Because all the parties, to some degree, have the same issues (I hear lovely things about the Greens, I’d tell but they’d sue). And because I think, perhaps naively, there is hope for change, if the grassroots ever get serious about it.


The report, and recommendations


The report, will all its verbiage, certainly does a good job of identifying (some) of the problems. And many of the recommendations won’t be surprises to those that heard LPC president Mike Eizenga speak at the LPC(O) in May, and I’m sure he’s made the speech many times elsewhere.


Anyway, I’ll touch on some of the recommendations now, they’re in bold.


* The LPC Constitution be amended to accommodate a national membership. Such membership would confer upon anyone eligible to join an automatic membership in the EDA and the PTA in which they ordinarily reside, and in any Commission for which they are eligible.


I’m in favour of this. As I mentioned after Einzenga’s speech, it just makes sense to streamline memberships nationally, achieve savings through economies of scale, and free up PTA resources to focus on organization. Membership turnaround by the PTAs has been poor, it makes sense to outsource it, but in doing so the PTAs should set and demand performance benchmarks for processing forms, receipts, etc.


* A national fee should be imposed for such memberships, and that a percentage of said fee should be allocated to cost recovery, to be determined by the National Executive, in consultation with EDAs/Ridings through to the Council of Presidents. The remainder of the fee would be returned to the EDA/Riding of origin.


National fee makes sense, esp. if it’s going to be a national membership. The question is, though, should the fee be cost recovery only, or, as is envisioned, should the portion over cost recovery go back to the riding as a fundraising mechanism. I must say I’m on the one hand pleased they said to the EDA and not the PTA, as today it all goes to the PTA (to cover admin). That’s unfair, as memberships are mostly generated by the EDAs, which today incur more cost each member they sign-up but don’t see a penny of the fee. As a riding comms. chair I was faced with this firsthand when our membership soared from 150 to 1200 during a strong nomination race in 2003/04. But on the other hand, accessibility is the most important thing, so a membership fee as close to cost recovery as possible is preferable. It’s unclear to me if a staggered fee structure for youth would continue or not. So, I’d favour a national fee at cost recovery for youth (and possibly low income peoples) and slightly above cost recovery (a few bucks profit per) for adults, with the profit kicked back to the EDA that signed them up.


PTA Structure: I won’t go into these reforms in details, but basically the role of the PTAs is to be strengthened, with PTA reps forming the core of a streamlined national executive. Much of what their role is to be doesn’t sound new to be. But, in principle, more power to the regions is good.


Standing Committee Structure: More streamlining here. Fine with me. Generally speaking, I find committees to be fairly useless. I was on the LPC(BC)’s communications committee before moving East, we never had a single meeting.


The report envisions a revamped and strengthened policy committee, and details a whole long, seemingly unwieldy policy development process. Read the report for the full details. The goal is to make a tighter link between the leader and policy development, and hold the leader accountable for implementing it, and if not explaining why. I’m not convinced it will change the status quo though, nor am I convinced how, with the streamlining theme, a new, larger policy apparatus is advisable/the answer.


Commissions


* That a minimum of 50 members be required to accredit a Commission club.

The goal here is to avoid repeats of the paper campus club fiascos of the past, and I heartily agree there. Is 50 too high? Frankly, no. On a university campus that shouldn’t be a huge challenge if the goal is a thriving, active club and not a paper vanity exercise. Clubs will be permitted to be formed with less, but to elect delegates the 50 member threshold is right.

* That commission ceases to exist once Party members, at Convention, determine that they have completed or fulfilled their mandate.

If I were a commission I’d be concerned about why this recommendation is here. It seems to be a prelude to disolution.

Now we move to executive streamlining, and here’s a quote that illustrates why it is so needed:

Each meeting of the National Executive now costs over $50,000. It is reasonable to ask whether those resources would be better spent on one of the Party's core functions.

Damm right it is. So, the report recommends:

* A Council of Presidents be established.
The Task Force believes that this new entity is vital in a renewed effort to foster greater engagement with the Party's grassroots and greater coordination of Party activities. The Council of Presidents would meet annually, as a "stand-alone" in one year, and in conjunction with Biennial Conventions in the next. Logically, its meetings would also coincide with one of the two meetings of the National Executive (and one of the four meetings of the Management Committee) to be held each year. Its duties would be to review and consider the annual strategic, organizational and fundraising plans of the Party and each of the Commissions, the election readiness plans of the National Campaign Committee, the Policy development plans of the Policy Committee and its subcommittees, and consideration of by-laws related to the National Membership Registry, such as fees and procedures. It will also provide a useful forum for the Leader to outline his or her plans for the future. Perhaps most importantly, it will allow representatives of every single EDA to be consulted on, and gain knowledge of, all of the policies and procedures of the Party.

Sounds nice. I have long felt riding associations get the shaft in the LPC. My concern though is how much power would this council have? Could/would it effect change, or would it just be a rubberstamp for the national executive? The LPC(BC) has a council of riding presidents that means, IIRC, quarterly. I attended once for our riding president. It was a useless meeting that accomplished nothing but hear reporters from the executive, and make a few complaints that fell on deaf ears. If we’re going to create such a body at the national level it needs to have real power to effect change, and provide a counterbalance to/overrule the national executive.

Conventions

* Increasing the size of EDA delegations to LPC Conventions to 20, of which ten (10) would be male and ten (10) female, including six youth. Aboriginal delegates could be elected from EDAs, instead of the current algebraic delegate formula. No change to current ex-officio eligibility is contemplated, although we do note that their representation would be further diluted.

The report notes by spreading out the convention costs amongst a larger pool of delegates the cost of the convention borne by each delegate will be lowered, and that’s a good thing. My concern though is that, by increasing the delegations, urban ridings with many members will send more, while rural ridings with less members will still send less than full slates, leading to an even greater overrepresentation of urban delegates. If we go to one member, one vote for leadership (see below) that will be slightly less of a concern, but the rural voice would still be diluted in crafting policy.

* Offering delegates a choice between a "status quo" and a "weighted one-member, one-vote" method of leadership selection at the upcoming Convention.

Yes, and I favour the weighted one member, one vote system that, as the report notes, every other party uses.

* Streamlining the current leadership review process by removing the "double vote" and requiring review only after an election loss.

Streamlining good, but requiring only after a loss bad. What if it’s a minority win? We need more flexibility here to remove the leader IMO, not less.

Final thoughts

Overall, I have to say I’m underwhelmed by the report. Some of the structural changes are promising, but it’s unclear they will have the needed results, beyond cost savings, which IMO is creating an apparatus more responsive to the grass roots. The council of presidents has the potential to be this grassroots voice is it is given the power to hold the executive in check, and if the members have the gumption to use it. These changes are structural, I’m not that the need for an “attitude change” is acknowledged as well.

I’ve said before that, whatever the structure of the party, the way to make change happen is for the grassroots to look at candidates for party office beyond the leader, and vote for candidates that share their views around how the party should be run. To that end, I’ll be looking at the platforms of the candidates for high party office as they declare, and those interested in being interviewed for this blog should drop me a note, I'd be happy to talk.

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9 comments:

Manley Man said...

The 50 member cut-off is certainly an issue for Liberals in Alberta.

Do you think that Lethbridge Community College would be in the process of starting a club if the individuals behind the initiative knew they had to sign up 50 members to count at all?

There are other ways to get rid of paper clubs. How about you only allow clubs that have been around for 6 months or one year prior to the convention call send delegates? 50 members is too small a number to stop paper clubs in some regions of Canada where it is rediculously easy to sign up liberal members, while making it rediculously hard to have plugged in clubs in the hinterlands of the liberal party.

The reason campus clubs exist, is to allow a forum for Young Liberals to exercise influence - without taking over riding associations.

Setting the club number at 50. would put in place much more incentive for Young Liberals to take over riding associations to have more influence in the party. In Lethbridge it would certainly be more easy than signing up 50 members.

It would even be far easier to take over the riding in Calgary West, if the clubs membership ever dropped below the threshold.

Also, if we only want active clubs in liberal strongholds, perpetuating a pattern of party activism which does not expand the appeal of liberalism to new areas across the country, we should follow this.

Justin Tetreault said...

I go to Algoma University, population 1200. It's unrealistic to expect 50 people to sign up to my club and it will only penalize those who truly want to be involved.

Idealistic Pragmatist said...

the barbs the Cons like to throw around about cultures of entitlement

Hmm. Wasn't it Justice Gomery who first used that term? Or if not the first, I'm at least pretty sure he was the one who introduced it to the mainstream public.

Idealistic Pragmatist said...

And because I think, perhaps naively, there is hope for change, if the grassroots ever get serious about it.

What exactly would this sort of change consist of, in your eyes? Or let me phrase this slightly differently: what would make you actually happy with the Liberal Party?

A BCer in Toronto said...

Re: campus club membership levels I did give serious thought to the question before I decided I was ok with the figure of 50. I considered a lower number, or partial delegate slates for lower numbers as advocated by Chernaik, but in the end I decided to be a bit of a hardass about this.

That's because I've seen firsthand the BS that happens with paper campus clubs created solely for the purpose of electing leadership delegates, and the disrepute it brings to the party. I'm not inclined to cut them some slack when they've dicked around and abused the system so much in the very recent past. Trust need to be restored, and earned again.

50 shouldn't be an unreasonable number to obtain on a university campus if people are working hard, and there is a real, legitimate presence and not just a few buds getting together. Manley, I believe a membership time period requirement should also be part of it, and not just for youth, but for any member to vote at a DEM, etc.

Now, the 50 figure doesn't exclude smaller clubs. You just need to hit the 50 figure to be able to elect delegates. To get that right I think a certain critical mass is needed, and 50 is not an unreasonable number.

With a national membership youth are also automatically members of their riding association, so even if their local college campus club doesn't have enough members to elect delegates, the club can still be active and they also have the riding association to be active in and run for delegate status.

A BCer in Toronto said...

Idealistic, I know Gomery certaintly made high profile use of the phrase. Whomever coined it though, I don't think it's off the mark.

As for the changes I'd like to see? Where to start? As I said it's not really structural, it's attitudnal.

I think the rules should be enforced fairly, and things should be run openly. Membership forms shouldn't be horded to prevent usurpers. Rules shouldn't be manipulated to swing nomination campaigns to favour one candidate over another. Decisions should be made in public (within the party), and decision makers should be held accountable for those decisions.

Openess and transperancy, and checks and balances. We have the rules, we have the structure. The problem is the rules are abused and bent by those in positions of authority, and we either lack the ability to hold them to account or the will to do so.

That's why it's attitudnal. We need to recognize that the kind of rat-f***ing that has gone in is unacceptable, and we need to expose and crush it when it does happen, not condone it or cover it up. We need to move past the anything for power's sake attitude and return to the core principles of Liberalism.

That's a bit rambling and jumbling, but basically that's it.

Idealistic Pragmatist said...

BCinTO,

That would certainly make for a party which, as an NDPer, I could respect (if not agree with). I hope it happens--and I mean that sincerely.

It's awfully hard to effect attitudinal change, though. Policies are a lot easier to work with. Any thoughts on how to make that shift?

A BCer in Toronto said...

As you ackowledge, it's not easy. I think we need to recognize its in our own self interests. Most people at the grassroots, I think, have their hearts in the right place, they just don't think things can/will change. A start, as I've said before, would be looking more closely at the races for party office beyond leader. Find candidates that get it and support then, or run ourselves, and then hold them to account and make sure they do what they've promised.

Not to put to fine a point on it, but I re-read 1984 recently, and I'm reminded of Wilson observed if there's hope for change it lies in the proles, if they every realize their power. Our proles are the grassroots.

Lolly said...

This topic of renewal is like a carousel it goes round, and round, and round, BCer is correct about the attitudinal changes needed. That is the human factor, theories are wonderful because they are theoretical.

As for election of a new natioanl Executive, this is very important because all those people who are there now, and I say this sadly, are part of the problem.

To be dragging out this leadership race is a case in point. A woman can give birth in 9 months to a wonderful little human being,but in 2006 the Liberal Party needs 11 months to pick a leader, this is ridiculous. I would bet that each of the Leadership candidates would be quite happy if it was shorter. The BS around raising money rearing it's ugly head for all aspects of the process. Leadership candidates have to raise $$$, delegates have to have a fat bank account or raise $$$, Riding associations also are asking for $$$ not to mention the email from Steve McKinnon asking for $50 today.All of it from the same pool of donors.

Will that be cash or credit?