In my last reform post I touched on reforming the Liberal Party from a leadership perspective. Today, I'd like to touch on reforms from a party structure, procedure and philosophy perspective.
But first, let me touch on the elephant in the room: the suggestion of merging the Liberal Party and the NDP. I think open and frank discussion on the idea is perfectly fine and healthy, but I'm strongly opposed.
I thought it was a bad idea when it was floated a year ago when we'd be the senior partner, and I still think it's a bad idea now, when we'd be the junior partner and I'm unclear why an NDP that views themselves as ascendant and ourselves as, well, the opposite, would even consider it.
I'm opposed for a number of reasons. I think it's being pushed by some as a quick-fix to a return to relevancy. Why reform and rebuild when we can hitch our wagon to their's? Others honestly see "uniting the left" as a logical step to stopping Harper, but I strongly disagree. We're two very different parties with different traditions. Liberal members are centre-left and centre-right, and many wouldn't be at home in this new party. You'd lose people on the right to the Conservatives and the Greens, and people on the left unhappy with the new members pulling it toward the centre. The end result would be polarized choices and a strengthened Conservative Party.
I can't accept any backroom machinations trying to foist a merger on the membership. No one has a mandate from the membership to negotiate anything, and without a mandate any process would lack legitimacy. If we're going to debate this, it must be open and in public with all members and all views being shared. As for me, I'll be arguing no and getting on with the business of trying to rebuild the Liberal Party of Canada.
What reform do we need?
In short, we're too top-heavy and our mentality is too top-down. (This development is an example of mentality). We're weighed-down by a bloated infrastructure that the party requires the ridings to support. It should be the opposite: a lean top-level infrastructure geared to supporting riding-level organization.
The examples of resources being sucked-up are endless. While any vote gains on the ground can be largely traced to riding-level organizational effort, none of the (soon to be eliminated) per-vote subsidy comes back to the riding. Candidates are required to sign half their expense refund over to the party before they're approved as a candidate. And every campaign is required to spend $2000 on a "riding services package" of minimal value. While most of the work to sign-up new members is done by the riding, in B.C. every dollar of that membership fee goes to the party (in Ontario, I believe the riding does get a cut). In essence, there are many, many ways in which the central party drains resources from the ridings.
What do the ridings get in exchange? Not too much although, frankly, it depends on which riding you are. Liberalist has been a great initiative in recent years, although I was amused to see this as a stated benefit for our $2000 riding services package given that we've had it for two years. We also got some national brochures, a few posters, and some lit templates. Most of the resources sucked-up though go to support a bloated infrastructure and to provide support for target ridings deemed more "winnable" or worthy of support.
And that's a big part of the problem. To LPC, some ridings are created far more equal than others. My riding saw Stephen Harper once and Jack Layton twice; we weren't winnable so Michael Ignatieff didn't come within hours. We actually were successful in getting some secondary tour visits, but we had to fight to keep Bob Rae because, despite the fact he wanted to come, some of the powers that be felt he would be wasted in such an unwinnable riding.
It speaks to a philosophical problem within the Liberal Party: instead of working to build and grow in every riding, we pre-emptively write-off large swaths of the country as unwinnable and leave them to fend for themselves. Well, if you starve them of resources and offer them no support then of course they're going to be unwinnable. It's a self-fulfilling prophecy.
I'm not saying you send the national tour to every riding during the campaign. But you support them all, and between elections the leader needs to visit every riding multiple times to support the local organization. In Vancouver Island North we pulled in every favour we had and leveraged personal connections to get Paul Martin pre-election in 2004; it was the first visit by a Liberal leader since Pierre Trudeau. That's ridiculous.
The biggest reform we need within the Liberal Party is to adopt the philosophy that all 308 ridings are equal, and we must commit resources and effort to developing local organizations in each riding. We need to re-orient the infrastructure of the party to supporting the local organizations, and we must make the local organizational effort the reason d'etre of the party.
How do we specifically start to do that? I'll share some ideas in part two.Recommend this Post on Progressive Bloggers