Well over 2000 Liberals spent a few hours Saturday afternoon taking part in an extraordinary convention via teleconference to make a few decisions about the path forward for our party. It was just one step in the road to renewal, but an important one and while the outcome wasn’t my preferred choice, the energy and the numbers on the call give me some confidence in our prospects for the years ahead.
The delegates decided to postpone the next leadership race to between March and June of 2013. We also scheduled the next biennial convention for January 2012 in Ottawa.
I proposed a sub-amendment that would have scheduled the leadership for between September and November of 2012. I felt delaying into 2013 would leave us too long without a leader democratically elected by the membership at large with a moral mandate for renewal, and would leave us for too long distracted by leadership drama.
There was enough support for this position to bring the sub-amendment to the delegates at convention, and many spoke in favour of this option. In the end, though, a sub-amendment introduced by Stephane Dion and supported by a number of caucus members to delay the leadership as late as June 2013 found more support amongst the delegates, and was adopted.
I’d like to thank everyone that helped me bring the sub-amendment to the convention, spoke in favour of it on the call, and voted for it. I felt it was important that we give the delegates the option of an earlier date and while, in the end, they preferred another option, it was important to have that choice available. More choice is always a good thing.
Like all Liberals, I accept the decision of the convention and we move forward united in our shared mission to reform, rebuild and renew our party. Having given ourselves over two years before the next leadership, it is now crucial that we all commit to not wasting this time. We cannot spend two years just spinning our wheels. We must all commit personally to making every day count.
As I said, this convention and the decisions made Saturday were but one small step on the road. We need to work in our ridings. To many riding associations are closed shops, cliques that won’t let new members in, suspicious of their motives. That must change. We need all the help we can get. We need to open our riding associations and begin building local organizations that are active, connected and open to all. The Liberal Party is only as strong as its riding associations.
Many provincial and territorial associations will be meeting in the months ahead. Here the work must begin on policy and constitutional reform to bring to the biennial next January. More importantly, we need to begin having the discussions about redefining ourselves and the kind of party we want to be.
And at the biennial in January, Liberals from across the country will gather together in one room to chart the course for the future of our party. We’ll debate policy, we’ll begin reforming the structure of our party, and we’ll elect a new national executive to help us renew and rebuild that structure. All three areas are important but we can’t treat the executive elections like an after-thought. We must find candidates that share our values and support them, and ensure they’re committed to building a new Liberal Party that is more open, inclusive and responsive to the membership.
It’s also a time to be bold, and put every idea on the table. (Here are some of my thoughts on reform) We need to examine every aspect of our organization with no taboos and ask ourselves is this the best way to do this, is this meeting our objectives? My own feeling is that we need a leaner organization that puts the riding association and the people on the ground first. The party structure should be geared primarily to helping each of our 308 riding associations build the organization and community connection needed to be successful. Today we’re too much a top-down party; we need to flip that on its head.
Bob Rae said recently we need to be a wiki-party, and I think he’s right. We need to cut down the barriers to entry, flatten the structure, and directly empower the membership. This teleconference was a great example of that. No $800 delegate fee, no need to fly to another city and stay in a hotel room. Just 2000+ Liberals who paid a $20 fee to take part in a teleconference, debate and directly vote on key decisions. And many more Liberals and members of the public listened-in online, and took part in the online chat or on Twitter. It was an example of the kind of open access and transparency that must guide us going forward.