From February 20-23, federal Liberals will gather in Montreal, and one of their tasks will be to elect a new national executive. In the coming days, I’ll be publishing interviews with some of the candidates seeking election to the party’s national board.
Maryanne Kampouris won a contested election at the 2012 Liberal Party of Canada biennial convention in Ottawa as national policy chair and, with no one stepping forward to contest the position, she’ll begin a second term later this month in February. Kampouris, who calls a farm between Ottawa and Montreal home, is a former LPC(Ontario) policy chair and made national reform of the policy process a priority. The fruits of much of that labour will come together at the Montreal biennial, but Kampouris says there is much left to do.
I recently spoke with Kampouris about her first term as national policy chair, what we can expect on the policy front in Montreal, and her plans for the next two years. The following is an edited transcript of our conversation.
How would you describe the role of national policy chair?
The role of the national policy chair is to find consensus. It’s to give our members a voice within the Liberal Party of Canada. Part of what you need is an understanding of how the party work and the various components. In my world, policy is the engagement mechanism for the party, so you have to make sure people are equipped to do that. It’s build the architecture for that voice, building so the capacity at the EDA (electoral district association) level so we can talk with Canadians, not just talk at them but have them talk to us.
The job is to work with the PTAs (provincial and territorial associations) and the commissions who are then given the capacity to work with the EDAs to make sure the capacity and tools are there, whether its access to expert information or research. The national policy chair is the glue that brings all these things together.
That’s the job. And then there’s the minutiae. The national policy chair does chair a committee that includes caucus chairs, as well as commission and PTA VPs of policy. Its job is to build consensus on the process, not to develop policy. I’m not supposed to pass judgement on someone’s policy position; I’m supposed to facilitate the discussion.
The national policy chair is one of five table officers, so it’s not just about policy. It’s about budget. It’s about everything. To be aware of and respectful of the different components of the party, and be part of the decision making process on almost everything.
It’s a very hands-on job that’s all about the members.
What was your plan and what were your priorities going into your first term?
My plan going in was very ambitious. I worked with the national policy and platform committee members to create a four year plan; we’re now ending year two and I’d like to finish it.
The first year was all about engagement, and building the capacity to do all the things (described above). That meant also training the VPs of policy at the PTAs to train EDAs in what we call Policy 101. It’s policy as engagement, the tool by which every policy chair at each EDA should be part of the engagement, the events management, and the guts of the management of each EDA. How do we reach out to Canadians, and how do we hear them? At the national level, we had planned to update the Have Your Say manual, which didn’t get done. We got more involved in coordinating the missions and values statement of the party. Have Your Say is updated, but we haven’t done the detailed job we’d like to do. That will be for the second term.
In refocusing people from resolutions to open policy discussions, we have worked within the party but haven’t put online (publicly) yet some of the discussion groups. We do have discussion groups at liberal.ca/groups, with 15 themes where we talk policy and moderate the discussions, but we need more people there.
What I want is a policy tab, one tab where you get all the policies summarized, and all the information and research related that, with links to white papers and research, and its open for people to come to. Another part of the (planned) architecture is getting members of the party active as experts. That’s a component we’ve wanted to build in, but we’ve been so focused on rebuilding in other ways that will be for the second term. We’ll put the call out to members to self-identify as experts so they can peer review papers and participate in discussions as experts. It’s not about book learning; it’s about life experience. If you’ve been homeless, if you’ve had a student loan, those are things you can weigh in on as an expert when we get to those topics.
The first year was building the architecture, and the second year was preparing for convention. I’m really happy to say we’ve had 152 resolutions submitted. I’m very proud of how the party submitted these ideas. Before they got here, they spent a lot of time consulting and discussing and blending, so a lot of the material coming to convention has been blended by the participants, not by us in the back room. That’s another win.
Going forward, the third phase will be turning policy into platform. That’s a collaborative effort between the policy committee and the caucus, and the leader has the final word. We now have a caucus accountability officer, who will report to membership on what has been achieved vs. what members submitted to us (at the last biennial) in 2012.
With experience, I wouldn’t have set as ambitious a timeline as I did going in, but I’m very confident we can get the full engagement process out there and modify the policy development process in such a way that people don’t feel they’re left out. Canadians’ ideas need to be reflected in who we are as Liberals.
What can we expect at biennial, policy wise? Will there be prioritization workshops?
There will be prioritization workshops. We’re still working out numbers, but we’re looking at seven or eight workshops. Every submitting organization within the party was able to identify one priority resolution that will go directly to plenary. This is very much an old style convention. We hope to have as many workshops as possible as one offs, so people don’t need to choose between one topic or another. LPC(Quebec) has also proposed a couple of open policy discussions, and we’re trying to find a spot for that in the program. They want to talk about our ageing population, and the impacts and different policy components that matter.
Once biennial in over, what’s your plan for the next two years?
I want to implement more of the online architecture, such as the research and party expert functions. The party expert functions is one initiative that will allow us to have an in-house think tank-like methodology.
Second is to get us to the platform. There’s a subcommittee of the national policy committee led by caucus to get us to the platform. That includes having information for EDAs, talking points for candidates, and information not just about the details of the platform, but of the broader Liberal platform. And supporting the on the ground campaign with information and, god willing should we win, helping with the implementation plan.
All along I want to increase the number of people who use policy as their engagement process. I want to not just create the consultation process but be accountable for that to the board, and actually have performance indicators on how many people are engaged, are using the policy engagement mechanisms, what kind of events, that kind of thing. And accountable to responses from individuals, and actually coordinating the information we get so we have an evergreen process.
People shouldn’t be dependent on EDAs to influence policy. The party needs to hear from Canadians on an ongoing basis. The biennial isn’t the be all and end all. It’s about our communities.
How do you balance member-driven policy passed at biennial with the leader’s desire to put their own stamp and own priorities into the platform they run on?
The basis of the platform has got to be in the direction we’ve heard from our members. It can’t cover off every resolution and direction we’ve received from members, or we’d end up with a shopping list of a platform that doesn’t resonate with Canadians. And we have to have a platform that resonates with Canadians.
When I do Policy 101 workshops, I say we have to look at what is practicable, what is legal and within the federal jurisdiction, and we have to look at costs. We also have to look at what will resonate with Canadians.
We put out a platform of very focused ideas, but there’s a whole subgroup of directives the party gives us that we can work on whether we’re in a campaign or not. Caucus works on it in private members bills, in committee, working with the government where possible, and in their own communities to get things one. And we report back to members to tell them what we did, what we didn’t do, and why.
Ultimately, the leader has to be comfortable with the message. And there’s accountability after the campaign, formally required at each biennial, and at every board meeting.
(Other party office interviews)
- Liberal Party of Canada presidential candidate interview: Brian Rice
- LPC national board candidate interview: Arif Khan for national membership secretary
- LPC national board candidate interview: Leanne Bourassa for national membership secretary
- LPC national board candidate interview: Chris MacInnes for vice-president, English
- Exit Interview: Liberal Party of Canada national membership secretary Matthew Certosimo
- Exit interview: Liberal Party of Canada president Mike Crawley