Monday, April 13, 2009

The road to Vancouver: OMOV’s chances and weird rule changes

The rules under which constitutional amendments will be debated at the upcoming Liberal convention have been released, and in the rules there is one significant change that could either imperil or improve one-member, one-vote’s (OMOV) chances of passing.

This is the rule:

6.10 Amendment Proposals. If a Constitutional Proposal (the “Amendment Proposal”) is an amendment of another Constitutional Proposal (the “Main Proposal”), then the Amendment Proposal will be considered and debated only if the Main Proposal is passed by a two-thirds majority. The Amendment Proposal also requires a two-thirds majority in order to be passed.

If you’re a procedure wonk or a Robert’s Rules of Order fan, you know this is a fairly extraordinary change that runs contrary to past Liberal procedure, and the rules of governance employed by every other organization I’ve been involved in.

What does this mean specifically for OMOV, and for the YLC amendment to secure a guaranteed 25% of the share for youth? In essence, it sets the bar higher for passing the YLC motion, and means they need to make a decision on OMOV without knowing if they have their quota or not.

The standard practice for amendments, and this is how it worked in Montreal in 2006, would be as follows. The motion to amend the constitution (to bring in OMOV, for example) is introduced, moved and seconded, questions to the mover, and then to debate. During debate, amendments to the main motion can be introduced. Like the YLC amendment to insert a youth quota. As an amendment to the main motion, it would require a simple majority of 50% +1 to pass. If it gets it, debate then resumes on the main motion as amended. If not, debate resumes on the original motion. Either way, as a constitutional amendment the main motion requires a 2/3s vote to pass.

This rule for the Vancouver convention changes that. Under these rules, the main OMOV motion will be debated and voted on first, before the YLC amendment. If it fails, the delegated system is retained and the YLC amendment is moot. If it passes, only then will the YLC motion be debated and voted. But instead of being treated as an amendment to the amendment requiring 50% to pass, it will be treated as a constitutional amendment in its own right, requiring 2/3s to pass.

So, in essence, this rule change does two things: Young Liberals will need to decide to pass or not OMOV without knowing if they’ll get their quota yet. And they’ll need to get 67% instead of 50% to get their quota.

I’m on the record as opposing the YLC motion, and my opinion on that hasn’t changed. But I don’t like these rule changes from LPC, which as I’ve said run contrary to established democratic procedure. And, interestingly, can’t be modified from the floor without a ridiculous 90% majority vote.

I don’t know the timing or history of these changes, or the motivation behind them. I would like to hear from whomever set these rules just why they felt they were necessary, and what their intentions were. This is a significant change; transparency demands it be explained. (UPDATE: See comments at the bottom from LPC president Doug Ferguson)

That said, the rules are now the rules and they do put the YLC in a difficult situation. Some in the YLC have been unclear as to whether or not they’d support OMOV without their amendment. Now, in essence, they’re going to have to put their cards on the table.

I do think that the YLC risks significant blowback if they now decide to outright oppose OMOV, the unfairness of the procedural changes aside, just because they’re not sure of getting their 25%. While I understand their position, the optics of it would be quite bad and could well undermine the very influence they seek to protect.

The YLC seemed fairly confident, at least publicly, of getting to 50%. I guess the question is, how confident are they of getting to 67%? And, if they’re not, do they pull-up stakes or is there room for compromise in their position to get them to a level of support that will pass their motion?

I’ve been talking with some YLC friends about their motion, and while I remain unconvinced as to the need or desirability for a quota for any demographic group under OMOV, I did tell them that what sticks in my craw the most about their motion is that the 25% figure is unsupported by any firm rationale, either in relationship to their percentage of the membership or their percentage of the population. The artificially high number makes it seem more like protecting a political power base than ensuring a voice for youth.

I’m not sure what percentage of the Canadian population is aged 14-25. I’m guessing somewhere between the 10% YLC membership of the LPC and the 25% they’re asking for. But if the YLC were to reduce their quota figure to something closer to their percentage of the population, they might find more traction for their argument and might get closer to getting their motion passed.

I’m not sure if that’s a compromise they’re willing to entertain or not. And I’d still need convincing to support it myself. But if we want OMOV, some compromise may be necessary.

At this point, though, the ball seems to be in the YLC’s court. If they don’t really want OMOV, and their motion was just a precautionary measure, they can just call it a day and oppose OMV. If they do want OMOV though, and feel some youth protection is important, some flexibility may be in order.

FOR MORE: Scott's Diatribes and All Politics is Local.

UPDATE: Outgoing Liberal president Doug Ferguson comments on the procedural change at En Famille:
I hope you will allow me to deal with this issue and why the Rules of Order are set up in the way they are.

The Rules of Order were approved by National Management Committee as per the party constitution. We felt that the general principle of OMOV (and any other major amendment) should be voted on first. If it passed, then the convention could consider a substantive amendment to it, such as that of the YLC. If OMOV does not pass, then the YLC amendment is moot. Personally I support OMOV and I believe it will pass.

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Kyle G. Olsen said...

Of course the change was made to limit any potential youth action on the amendment. Most weird moves on this convention have been designed to reduce the influence of the grass roots.

Policy: Check. Only Council of Presidents voted.
Constitutional: Check. Split issues to prevent bargaining for floor votes.
Leadership: Well, I guess this doesn't really count this time around.

The question on the YLC OMOV amendment comes down to this: has all the praise of youth contributions to success of our party only been lip service because of our delegate numbers, and fears from up and comers to pissing off a large demographic? Or is it real, and should be a factor in ensuring future leadership contestants years in the future apply at least some focus on the next generation of voters, and craft policy to appeal to the social realities of young Canadians?

Without the 'stick' of future leadership to carry, it likely won't be long until all delegate quotas are seen as illegitimate, and policies pushed in the formal process are seen as even less binding on the parliamentary wing than they are today. It is a thing edge of the wedge.

Mike said...

Fair points Jeff but I am genuinely interested to hear your answer to the question I posted in the last thread on this. Any other supporters of WEIGHTED BY RIDING OMOV can feel free to answer it too.

As I said before thinking about this question would help you better be able to take a youth's perspective on the new rules. I think anyone against this youth amendment but that supports weighting by riding should ask themselves this too.

Let's say the "main proposal" was actually PURE OMOV. And that the sub-amendment were weighting by riding (and for the sake of argument there were NO other sub-amendments on the table).

Would you vote in favour of passing PURE OMOV BEFORE knowing if the weighting by riding sub-amendment was going to pass?

Because even though you don't agree with them the large majority of LIberal youth see weighting by age as JUST AS IMPORTANT as weighting by riding.

So I would appreciate an honest answer and your reasoning behind it.
Oh btw it's funny but by the answer given by Doug Ferguson if that truly was the reasoning behind the rules then we SHOULD be voting on PURE OMOV first, not weighted one.If they truly believes that we should "endorse the general principle of OMOV" before considering substantive amendments then the PURE version should come first no?

I'd be curious why we are voting on the weighted version first then if the intent was to vote on the BASIC PRINCIPLE of OMOV.

Thanks again for engaging in such civil debate on this issue.

A BCer in Toronto said...

Kyle, setting up the debate around the youth ammendment as a "with the youth or against them" proposition is a strategy that is both unfair, as there is legitimate grounds for debate on both sides, and counterproductive, as it just encourages both sides to get their backs up and comes off as insulting, and isn't conducive to winning support to your side. There are youth that oppose this ammendment -- they don't hate themselves, they just have a different view.

Mike, I've no inclination to join you on a trip into hypothetical land. Rather than constructing hypothetical scenarios that may or may not be relevant where you hope I'll give an answer that will support the view I suspect you may hold in order to bolster your own argument, I'd be more interesting in hearing your thoughts on how the youth should handle the real-world scenario now facing them.

Do they vote for OMOV, and then hope they can pass their ammendment? Do they compromise on their ammendment to help its passage? Or do they vote against OMOV for fear their ammendment won't pass?

That's the real world scenario. I think my views on it are clear. I'd be interested in yours.

Mike said...

If you won't answer my question (which was merely to try to get you to understand the perspective of those who feel that weighting by youth is just as important as weighting by riding), I'll just say until there is no possibility of changing these rules I'll reserve comment. So therefore you are merely asking a hypothetical since we aren't at convention yet. [fair is fair :), if you wish to answer the question I asked first I may be willing to answer yours next)]

Despite the 90% rule stated in the pdf that's from the floor, it still may be possible that the Management Committee can change the rules in ADVANCE of convention without enough pressure. I've yet to see anyone aside from Doug Ferguson bother to try to defend these rules, whether they agree wiht the YLC amendment or not.

Gauntlet said...

Constitutional amendments are voted in by 2/3 majority. During debate of constitutional amendments, amendments to those amendments can be adopted by simple majority.

However, amendments to amendments cannot be completely unrelated to the original intention of the main amendment.

If they are, they should be a new motion.

Under that principle, if as in this case, the amendment relates only to one part of what is an omnibus vote, then the omnibus vote should be divided, so that everything but OMOV will be voted on in one vote, and then OMOV will be voted on in the other, with possible amendments.

So the fact that everything BUT the OMOV issue is going to be decided first is not objectionable. It is basically what would happen if they were following the standard rules.

What is different is that the OMOV is going to be voted on first, too, and that the youth amendment will be considered a separate constitutional amendment, rather than an amendment to an existing one, increasing the required threshold.

This is not new. At the Montreal convention, by my recollection, the main constitutional amendment was voted on first, with 2/3 required. Then the OMOV resolution was voted on again, with 2/3 required.

If you consider that these two votes (OMOV and Youth amendment) could be taken at subsequent conventions, this is exactly the way in which they would happen. What is it about them happening at the same convention that should allow the youth amendment to be more easily adopted?

Or considering another issue, what is it about the votes being at the same convention that should allow the possibility that the youth amendment passes, and as a result the main OMOV motion (which requires a higher vote threshold) does not?

One can imagine a proposed leadership voting method that retains special treatment for one group out of four might not get 66%, even if it does get 51%.

Considering this is the second try at getting OMOV in, the organizers might be legitimately concerned about the possibility of having to wait another two years before they get any leadership election reform at all.

Those justifications may not be adequate. I don't like people changing the rules on the fly. That said, they seem more reasonable and principled to me than the idea that youth are being screwed.

Mike said...

Gauntlet in Montreal the YLC amendment passed with a simple plurality and then OMOV was voted on.

If you think the new rules make sense do you believe it would make sense to FIRST vote on PURE OMOV, THEN vote on having it weighted with 2/3 being required for each?

It's a perfectly equivalent parallel. And the danger is the precedent this sets. What if the move next time is make policies decided by OMOV?

You can rest assured then all the commissions would be asking for their quotas to be maintained (I'd LOVE to see the demographics on the consultative En Famille vote, I'm certain there were not anywhere close to 50% women) so should they vote for OMOV for policies WITHOUT knowing if their quotas will be maintained?

I would argue in that case no they shouldn't and perhaps on that case Jeff would even agree with me since youth and women have had their strongest inputs with respect to the policies that have been adopted at conventions in the past.

Mark said...

This procedural change makes no sense whatsoever. Hypothetically, if my support for the proposal is contingent on the amendment being passed, then I am now being effectivley disenfranchised.

This is an abomination.