Liberal Party of Canada members received an e-mail from the national executive yesterday about the leadership timing/constitutional amendment drama that has absorbed the party and the membership since the election.
While I applaud the desire to communicate with and inform the membership, and this note was a step in that direction that offered somewhat more “meat” than the previous e-mail that went out from party president Alf Apps, it still left many unanswered questions and seemingly left some more confused than when they started.
The letter outlines some of the pertinent details: there has been “overwhelming” (but anecdotal) feedback expressed to delay the timing of the next leadership convention, which under the current constitution must be scheduled for late October of this year. To change that, the executive is proposing a virtual convention in which riding delegates would vote on an amendment that would allow the executive to delay the leadership convention and delay the biennial convention, currently scheduled for December (although it would be replaced with the October leadership convention if that went ahead) until January 2012.
The letter also outlines the timeline for this process, including May 20th as the membership cutoff to be eligible to run or vote for a delegate spot to the extraordinary convention, which will be held in late June.
Broadly speaking I’m not completely opposed to the process. As I’ve said, I’m supportive of a delay to the leadership process if it can be done constitutionally and, while I’m no constitutional expert (some who are have raised concerns) I think they’re at least trying to respect the spirit of making it a decision of the membership.
But there are several significant problems remaining here.
1. The membership cutoff is in five days but, as it stands, new and old members still have no idea just what they’d be voting for. The e-mail outlines it only in the broadest of terms. Where is the wording of the proposed amendments? We’re still getting more detailed information in media leaks than we are from our own party, and that’s unacceptable.
2. When exactly would the leadership be delayed to? The e-mail doesn’t say. It does mention delaying the biennial convention (where the next executive will be elected) to January 2012, but doesn’t mention leadership timing. This has confused many and led some to believe January would be the leadership vote, but that’s not the case. According to the media leaks, the executive is asking for the right to schedule the leadership convention at will, any time between mid-2012 and mid-2013, something unmentioned in this e-mail.
That’s unacceptable for me. As I’ve written before, I can support a delay of one year, but I don’t want to go any longer with an un-elected interim leader appointed by executive who lacks a democratic mandate for reform. I don’t support giving the executive a blank cheque of over a year to set the timing. I want to vote on a specific date.
There are several reasons why that’s important, but here’s a big one: if this process goes forward we’ll elect a new national executive in January. This will be a key step in driving the kind of real party reform and renewal we need. If we leave it with the current proposal, that new executive will wield tremendous power setting the timing for the leadership. Which means the executive race will be turned into a proxy leadership battle, with each camp determined to stack the board in order to get their preferred timing. That would be a distraction from the real work of reform, and could be avoided if members vote in June on the timing.
3. How will this extraordinary convention work? The e-mail indicates it will be a teleconference. What will be the opportunity for debate? How will people be recognized? I trust, as per the constitution, a 2/3s majority will be required for approval? What will quorum be?
And more importantly, what will the process be for amendments to the proposed constitutional changes?
4. The timing is necessarily tight, which creates problems. That can’t be avoided, but I do have one major concern: it feels like we’re being forced into voting yes here whether we like it or not. Maybe you want to vote no to send a message, or because you agree with some of the proposal but not all of it (say, like me, you don’t want leadership delayed past next June.)
Let’s consider, for a moment, what a note vote would mean. If 1/3+1 of delegates vote NO on June 18 and the amendment is defeated (which is entirely possible) that means we’ll hold a leadership vote (under the weighted one member, one vote system) just four months later, on October 28/29. That essentially means we’d have a rushed four-month leadership race as we won’t know until late June if it’s on or not. Even if you don’t want a lengthy race, four months is hardly enough time for a proper race or for candidates to criss-cross the country. It’s not enough time for lesser-known candidates to mount a serious challenge, and would mean a choice based on name recognition rather than a debate of ideas.
I don’t want the four-month scenario to unfold, but I feel I’m being pressured to pick the slightly worse of two bad options here by giving the executive a blank cheque to set timing. That’s another reason why I want to vote on a specific date, and why I’d like to know about the amendment process.
So I appreciate the communication to the membership but I have several concerns about the content, and again, the process remains problematic. We’re still getting more information in media leaks than we are from our own party executive, and that’s unacceptable. Release the full proposals publicly, even if it’s in draft form and subject to change, and allow the membership to debate them. Then take that feedback and incorporate it into what we’ll vote on next month. There’s no reason not to.
I’ve heard from some higher-ups in the party who feel stung by what they see as regular questioning of their motives. I can sympathize. But people are going to be rightly suspicious when information is being held back from them, and when more is being leaked to the media than is communicated to them. Open up the backroom and open up the debate. We may agree or disagree with your course, but if we can debate that course publicly a lot of the criticism will be lessened.Recommend this Post on Progressive Bloggers