There have been a few articles recently about the emerging race for the presidency of the Liberal Party of Canada. A number of interesting names have emerged, from party veterans like Sheila Copps, recently former MPs like Siobhan Coady and Mark Holland, and veteran riding organizers like Ron Hartling. I think it’s a positive such people are willing to put their names forward.
I’m glad some attention is being paid to this race. I believe the national board elections that take place at the biennial convention in Ottawa in January will be crucial to the success, or not, of the rebuilding of our party. Reform has be a bottom-up exercise driven by the membership, but it also needs a reform-minded executive with a mandate from the membership to facilitate the process.
I’m watching the emerging race with interest, and hope to see a crowded field and vibrant debate. Here’s what I’ll be looking for, and I’m not sure if any of the current candidates meet these criteria or not. They’re not meant to preclude or include anyone.
*Liberal commitment: Balanced with the need for generational change, we also need someone who has demonstrated a commitment to the Liberal Party over time, with an understanding of how we work, what we do right and what we don’t. The new vs. experience balance is important.
*Managerial skill: The next president has a huge challenge ahead of them, and it’s largely one of organization and change management. They need to redesign a bloated party structure that isn’t working, and that we can no longer afford. And they need to do it inclusively with a membership that agrees on little but that change is necessary, while building consensus and growing the base.
As much as organization and management skills will be needed, equally important will be change management. It will be about communications, and about tone. You can have the best ideas, but if you don’t bring people along properly, it won’t work.
*Focus: Who’s the president of the Conservative Party of Canada? I’ll wait while you open another browser window and Google it. Are you back? It’s John Walsh. No, not the America’s Most Wanted Guy. The point is, he’s low profile. He doesn’t do the talking-head TV shows, or pontificate in op/eds. He just keeps his head down building the Conservative organization. I think there’s a lesson to be learned from that. Shun the spotlight, and focus on the job.
*Communications: This plays into the change management point above, but deserves its own bullet. We need a commitment to direct and open communication with the membership at large. Not through media leaks or pundit panels, not flowing down through the party bureaucracy, but directly to the membership. With tools like e-mail, blogging and social media available, there’s no excuse to do otherwise. Only with openness can we build the trust needed for successful reform.
Those are some of the traits and commitments I’ll be looking for from our presidential candidates in the months ahead. Of course, equally important will be their ideas for party restructuring and reform (some of my past thoughts on the topic are here). These debates will be wider than just the executive race, and many will involve separate votes of their own in the years to come, but the debate begins now.
While the focus will be on the race for president, as important will be the other national executive positions up for election. The vice-presidents, membership and policy chairs all play important roles both in their respective areas of responsibility, and as members of the national executive. Too often these races have been ignored and subject to acclamation, and that can’t be allowed to repeat. We need capable, energetic people to step forward and contest every position, and ensure a thorough debate takes place around every role.