Following an article on Monday’s Hill Times with a slightly misleading lede, a number of bloggers yesterday either chortled with glee (my dipper friends) or shook their heads in anger that apparently the upcoming Liberal policy convention would feature no policy:
The federal Liberals will hold a major policy convention in early May, but they are refusing to discuss policy ideas and say they are avoiding making any policy suggestions that the governing Conservatives can copy in the next election.There’s an important distinction here that the Hill Times failed to make, leading to confusion. There’s a difference between the policy platform a part runs in during an election and the policy that comes out of policy conventions.
They say they are keeping their still-developing campaign platform top secret in order to keep the focus squarely on the government amidst the rapidly deteriorating economy.
"What your policies are going to be in an election are announced just before you go into it. You don't want to provide an opportunity for target practice in the meantime," said Liberal Senator David Smith, one of four national campaign co-chairs charged with preparing the party for the next election.
The Hill Times reporter confused people by mentioning the convention. What Senator Smith, and indeed most of the article, talks about is the party platform. This is being developed by Navdeep Bains on behalf of Michael Ignatieff. Parties don’t generally release their electoral platforms months in advance of an election. Well, Stephane Dion released a (green) chunk of his, and it didn’t work out too well. But have the Conservatives released their platform for the next election? Have the NDP? Of course not. So let’s not go crazy here.
There will still be policy discussed and passed at the convention. But the fact is (and this is a whole other post and debate) the policy passed through the convention process rarely, if ever, makes it into the campaign platform. It’s generally passed, and then rarely heard of again. There are exceptions, of course. During the Paul Martin government, an anti-missile shield policy passed at convention greatly influenced Martin’s decision on that issue.
But by and large, convention policy is ignored by the party leadership. The same goes for the Conservative Party. It could also hold true for the NDP, I don’t know. But then they’ve never been overly concerned with pragmatic, electable policy at the leadership or grassroots levels, so maybe not.
The real convention policy controversy
There is a policy-related controversy brewing around the Vancouver convention though I touched on a few weeks ago that was missed by the Hill Times and the others. And it involves a sharp curtailment of the say grassroots Liberals will have in what policies end-up getting passed at convention.
Usually, at convention various workshops discuss all the policies in a given area (say, environment) and prioritize which ones will get sent to the plenary for debate and then a vote to be adopted as party policy.
This year, rather than have workshop the process has been moved online. A debate has been occurring on all the policies on En Famille, the Liberal members-only intranet site. That aspect is good; widening the field of people able to participate from just those able to attend convention is a positive step.
But while grassroots Liberals will get to debate online, they won’t get a vote on which resolutions get prioritized and sent to plenary. Not a vote that counts anyway – that’s restricted to riding presidents, a far more elite and restrictive group then if we’d stuck with the usual convention process.
It seems there’s been a battle going on within the party over the policy process. Initially, the party wanted to give the vote to riding and commission presidents only, who would supposedly consult their constituencies first.
There was push back to the narrowing of this power to such an elite group. While opening the vote to all would lead to some legitimate issues, a compromise was proposed: let all elected convention delegates and ex-officios vote online through En Famille. This was rejected by the LPC policy executive.
Instead, right now any party member can vote for policy prioritization through En Famille. You have until tonight at midnight, although you wouldn’t know unless you happened to check the site. Thing is though, the vote is completely non-binding. The riding presidents and commission presidents still have the REAL vote, the only vote that counts. They’ll be informed of the En Famille results before they vote but let’s be serious; they’re going to vote however they want to vote.
Is this going to be the Liberal version of grassroots empowerment? We give the membership an online forum where they can talk policy until they’re blue in the face and feel like they’re doing something, while at the same time we restrict the real decision-making power to an even narrower group of elites then held it before?
That’s a step backward, not a step forward. The gap between the rhetorical promise and the actual implementation is so wide you could drive a truck through it. Recommend this Post on Progressive Bloggers