Friday, January 06, 2012

10 Liberal policy resolutions that caught my eye, from abortion and the Queen to marijuana and a preferential ballot

My previous post looked at the constitutional amendmentswe’ll consider at the 2012 Liberal biennial, which involve changes to the party’s structure and internal operations. Today I look at the policy resolutions we’ll debate.

These if adopted will, in theory, come to represent the official policy of the party, representing things we’ll try to achieve in government and, while in opposition, push the government to do. How closely the policies passed will actually resemble the policy platform we run on in the next election will depend on the success of the policy process-related constitutional amendments we'll consider, and any other policy process reforms that may follow in the years to come.

Unlike the constitutional amendments, policy resolutions need just a simple majority of voting delegates present to pass. These amendments have been submitted through the party’s provincial and territorial wings and the various commissions, which each have their own policy development and prioritization processes, and then were further prioritized by Liberal members online. Prioritization is an important process because it allows more opportunity for debate than is available on the plenary floor, and because there's a chance we won’t have time to vote in every policy.

I won’t go through all the policies (the PDF is here) but here are some of the ones that caught my eye and interest, for better or for worse. My advice is to avoid the Whereases and go straight to the Be It Resolves That's; that’s where the meat is. Or isn't.

But first, I have to say much of this book of policy proposals seems kind of stale and dated, the same sort of things we've been kicking around for years. In fairness, that's probably because we have been; the policy process has been sidelined and overlooked through the minority government era, ignored for a constant focus on an imminently possible election. Kick-starting the policy process from the ground-up before the next convention is vital.

12. Science and Policy

Coming from Nova Scotia, this resolution is a smorgasbord of science-related policies. Appropriate funding for research, I support. Increased funding for NSERC et al, I support. Working with the provinces on boosting science creation and creating a national science advisor, I’m on board. Where I climb off is with the idea of creating a “Parliamentary Science Officer” to report to parliament on whether or not the government is respecting science in formulating policy. I don't see the point of this position. We have MPs to examine government policy and committees can call expert witnesses. Creating an office of parliament, with a budget and a staff, to be some kind of science overseer strikes me as unnecessary bureaucracy.

I’m voting no.

16. Comprehensive Integrated Rail Transportation System

Coming from the party’s Ontario wing, this is basically the pro-high speed rail policy, with some stuff thrown in about cargo, integrated cargo transport, yada yada. Never mind that, high speed rail to Montreal!

I’m voting yes.

18. Democratic Renewal

From Ontario, I was surprised to see a Liberal Party-focused resolution amongst all the others focused on national policy issues. With a focus on party reform and renewal, this policy calls for the creation of a renewal commission to engage with party members to gauge how well the party is being accountable to and driven by its members in a democratic way, and what it can do better. Or, if I can translate, how we can be more of a bottom-up organization, and less one that dictates from the top-down. The commission is to take two years to do this before reporting back, and will be made up of two party members from each province/territory directly elected by each region's Liberal members. I'm inclined to be supportive, but I would like some reassurance in one area: is another commission, is another elected body and another study really the answer? Will this be different than the others? Convince me it is and I’ll be fully onboard.

I'm leaning toward voting yes.

31. Fiscal Responsibility

From Manitoba, this policy starts with an overly long Whereas section about how Liberals are awesome fiscal managers and the Conservatives suck. Then it calls for debt reduction and, as the “policy recommendation" says we should continue “with the Liberal record of fiscal responsibility.” I really don't see the point of this resolution. Manitoba’s top policy resolution is for us to keep on being fiscally responsible? Economic policy is important, but give me some meat!

I’m voting no not because I oppose fiscal responsibility (I also like puppies), but because this is a silly and pointless resolution.

36. Post-Secondary Education

Straight outta Alberta, this would pay  see the government pay first and last year’s tuition for undergrads, and implement a student loan forgiveness program in exchange for work in designated communities, industries, and public initiatives. Education is an issue I care a great deal about, but I don’t like this motion. The loan forgivness thing is fine, although the student loan system also needs much wider reforms. But they lost me on the tuition thing. Two years of free tuition for every Canadian undergrad would cost a fortune, and many of those students don’t need the help anyway. We need to be more strategic. I’d rather invest in targeted assistance for those students that need it most, which would allow us to do more for those that really need it rather than a little for everyone if they need it or not.

I'm voting no.

47. Early Childhood Development and Child Care

Coming from B.C., Alberta and Saskatchewan, this resolution essentially seeks to bring back the child care agreements that the past Liberal government, spearheaded by Ken Dryden, signed with the provinces, to ensure access to affordable, quality child care services across Canada. And it goes further, by promoting and improving early childhood education.

I'm voting yes.

58. Reaffirming Women's Right to Reproductive Health Services

From the women's commission, this policy affirms Liberal support for a women’s right to choose and seeks to reverse the erosion of access to safe quality reproductive services by urging the government to  financially penalize provinces that fail to abide by their Canada Health Act obligations around access and covering related costs.

I’m voting yes.

79. Preferential Balloting System

Coming from the party’s Saskatchewan wing, this policy supports the implementation of a preferential ballot for future elections. As democratic reforms go it’s not overly ambitious compared to some of the systems that have been put to referenda in several provinces. Of course, those referenda all failed. Moving to a preferential ballot to elect MPs would be a simple change that voters can understand, and it would lead to results more indicative of voter preference that the current first past the post system. And that would be a good thing.

I’m voting yes.

114. Canadian Identity in the 21st Century

From the Young Liberals, this is the monarchy policy that the media has decided to focus on this week. This is one of those resolutions where it pays to gloss over the Whereases. Rather than writing something neutral to lead into a discussion of the best system of governance for a modern Canada, it contains attacks on the Royal Family and incorrectly refers to the British monarchy, not the Canadian monarchy. It’s a combative approach that doesn’t lead well into a debate we should be having: as a modern Canada, one where the role of the Governor-General and their reserve powers has been much debated in recent years (see assorted prorogation dramas), is our current system the right one for us, or is there a better model? I want us to have that discussion and this policy leads us into that. And the meat, the Be It Resolved, is actually less combative that the Whereases, calling for the issue to be "studied."

I’m voting yes.

117. Legalize and Regulate Marijuana

The youth are back, and course they have a marijuana legalization resolution. I think prohibition has been a costly failure, and forcing ordinary Canadians to deal with criminal gangs leads to many negative effects. And the resources of the criminal justice system would be better used elsewhere. Legalizing marijuana, regulating production and distribution, and taxing it, makes all kinds of sense. It’s past time to do this.

I’m voting yes.

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