This afternoon I participated in a conference call with Liberal bloggers and Bob Rae, who announced his candidacy for the Liberal leadership this morning.
It was a well-attended call, and I commend Bob and his campaign for including bloggers that are either supportive, neutral and those that, like myself, are supporting other candidates.
For just over 30 minutes Bob took questions from those on the call on a wide-range of topics, from Afghanistan and the Green Shift to party reform and his economic record. It was a good call, and he handled all the questions thrown at him with ease. A number of accounts have been posted already (which I'll link to below) and I'll generally leave it to others to post on their questions and I'll just post on mine, and a few other points that stood-out for me.
On the issue of his economic record , and particularly this poll that indicated he ranked as Canadian's last choice amongst the current Liberal leadership candidates on the economy, Bob said he would counter his perception by being very direct about it.
“I'm going to talk about my experiences, not just in government but in a whole range of things, and talk about how that's all relates to where we are today and where we need to be. I think there's an incredible amount of myth making and mythology about what happened and what didn't happen. I just think we've got a job to do, to talk to people about what happened, and also to talk to people about a bunch of other things that happened, and how we have to move forward as a country."
"Now, I don't intend to spend the rest of the campaign talking about what happened in 1992. I'm just going to say look, we did some things right, we did some things wrong, and I doubt there's a politician or a premier in the country who wouldn't have to say that if they're being honest. And I think a lot of it is being hugely and totally exaggerated in a very propagandistic way. And certainly I'll fight back, because I refuse to let myself be defined by what various other interests might say about that time.”
We've certainly seen in media coverage the past few days, and today, that Bob intends to flip this issue on it's head, and use his record governing Ontario through recession to make the case his experience makes him the candidate best able to govern Canada through this recession.
That's certainly a bold strategy, and a valiant attempt to turn one of his potential biggest weaknesses, his record as Ontario premier, into a strength. The downside, of course, is that by putting his record on the table in support of his candidacy, it makes a critical examination of that record fair game. For example, while I agree there has been a certain degree of myth-making that has come to surround his tenure in Ontario, it's not myth to say the provincial debt doubled under his tenure, that university tuition increased 42 per cent from 1990 to 1994, or that during his tenure Ontario lost 350,000 jobs. If he's going to put his record on his table, then talking about that record needs to be fair game.
So, Bob putting his economic record on the table himself and using it to bolster his credentials, and opening that record therefore to more scrutiny and criticism, is a gutsy strategy indeed. It will be interesting to see how it plays out.
Bob spoke in support of a 308-riding strategy, emphasizing we don't just need a new leader and a new coat of paint, which is absolutely right.
With my question I pitched Bob on one of my pet ideas for party reform and grassroots engagement that I've blogged about in the past. The political parties get a per vote subsidy from elections Canada, currently its about $1.90. Currently, the Liberals split it between the LPC and the provincial wings (LPCO, LPCBC, etc.). I'd like to see riding associations cut in for a per centage share of the subsidy.
It's about motivating and energizing "no-hope" rural ridings, like the one I came up through in BC. In these ridings its tough to get people motivated knowing there's no way in hell we'll ever elect a Liberal. But, if the riding had a direct fiscal stake in the result (a fixed % cut of the per vote subsidy, which naturally goes up the more people vote Liberal in the riding) then you're giving them a direct motivation to push harder to get out more votes.
There are thousands of votes we could get in rural ridings across Canada (either Liberals staying home or soft NDP, Green or Cons), and while it's not enough to flip the riding, every vote does also mean more money for LPC central. So, in effect, any $ central loses by cutting in the ridings for, say, 10% or 20% of the subsidy, would likely be made up by the fact the pie would be made larger by the greater riding-level effort. So it would likely be revenue neutral for LPC, if not a profit.
And besides motivating no-hope ridings, the money would also enable ridings to do more organizing and outreach between campaigns, which will mean better results next election, snowballing each time, until some of these no-hopes may eventually come into play.
So it's not so much about fund raising, really, but about grassroots engagement.
Anyway, I outlined the idea to Bob, and asked him if he'd be supportive of such a proposal. I'm pleased to say he answered:
“I'm strongly in favour of that.”
I was pleasantly surprised to hear Bob come directly out in support of the idea. I intend to keep pushing the idea, and I hope he'll take it and run with it too.
When I met Dominic LeBlanc a few weeks ago I pitched the idea to him as well. He didn't commit but he was intrigued, particularly about the idea of incentivizing rural ridngs. I noticed that, at the LPCO debates last weekend, he picked-up on the idea if pushing harder in rural riding meaning more moves meaning more per vote funding for the party. So, I hope Dominic will come all the way around on this.
I haven't had a chance to make the case to Michael Ignatieff yet, but when I do I shall report back on his thoughts, whatever they may be. But I'm buoyed by Bob's support and Dominic's interest, as I think such an idea could be a real game-changer for rural Liberal ridings.
On with the conference call though. I also asked Bob about ideas for engaging and enabling rural riding associations. He went on to answer at length:
“I hadn't intended to get into some of the details around some of the things I want to talk about around party reform, but I think we need a completly new, fresh approach to party financing. I think the riding associations need to be given a stake in the success the party has in getting strong votes out.”
“I think we have to broaden the base of the membership substantially. I argued this morning we should not be charging for memberships. I think it's unnecessary – if it's any kind of barrier to people joining, we should get rid of it. I think the key is to go from saying are you a member, ok are you going to become a volunteer, ok are you going to be a contributor. I think we really need to look hard at the best social marketing and other techniques we can find to get people to be interested in joining up, then seeing what the benefits of membership are, and then once they see the benefits of membership they'll participate in other ways, in terms of volunteering and financially.”
“We absolutely must have a 308-seat strategy. It can only be successful if the riding associations are successful. We can't have successful national campaigns without stronger riding associations. I think we need to do a thorough look at what the finances of the party are, from the point of view of local riding associations.”
“As someone who has seen other parties at work obviously, my sense is the Liberal Party as got a bit too many layers, and the party suffers from what I call titleitis. It's got too many people who are looking for titles, and titleits is not a sign of organizational house. It's a sign of people looking for position rather than looking to have a broad-based, flatter organization with much higher levels of participation and much greater attention being paid to the finances of the local parties.”
I agree with nearly everything Bob said here, particularly about titleitis and too many layers of party structure. I disagree though on free memberships. I think membership needs to be more easily obtainable, and I think the price should be low, cost recovery only. Frankly, the LPC needs the cost recovery. But I really don't think $10 is a barrier to entry, and something free is perceived as being without value. That may be the perception of a Liberal membership today anyway, but that's a perception we also need to change.
Near the end as time was getting tight, someone asked Bob if he supported one member, one vote. He answered unequivocally in the affirmative.
I didn't get a chance to clarify, and I'm hoping his campaign can clarify this for me (I'd be happy to update with said clarification), if Bob meant pure OMOV or weighted OMOV. The difference is not trivial.
With pure OMOV, a large riding association in an urban centre such as, say, Scarborough, would overwhelm and drown a small riding association such as, say, Vancouver Island North. This would give disproportionate power to large urban ridings in Toronto, and it's why I don't support pure OMOV.
I do, however, fiercely support weighted OMOV, which would see each riding association granted the same number of leadership votes, with those votes apportioned based on the votes of its members, whether it be 100 or 1000 members. In this way, urban and rural ridigns are equal, and must be equally wooed by leadership contenders.
So, whether Bob supported pure or weighted OMOV will determine whether I am pleased or concerned about his answer here.
There were a number of other questions and answers, but I'll leave it to the other bloggers to report on their own questions. For myself, I found it a worthwhile and interesting call. I found Bob as well-spoken and articulate as always, and I appreciated his frank and honest answers and that he didn't duck a one.
I still feel Michael is the best choice for leader, but I left the call with a better understanding of where Bob is coming from and where he would take the party, and found common ground with him on a number of issues. I look forward to the campaign and the debate ahead, and our party's future wherever it may take us.
For more on the call, visit Calgary Grit, Scott Tribe, Danielle Takacs, Liberal Arts and Minds, Impolitical, Saskboy and James Bowie. Recommend this Post on Progressive Bloggers