Saturday, May 06, 2006

Blogging the LPC(O), Day Two: Mike Eizenga and right-sizing the Liberal Party

I woke up far too soon after I’d gotten to sleep and made the TTC trek downtown for day two of the LPC(O) convention this morning. I’d wanted to be here in time for the report from the party renewal commission, but, a bit surprisingly, the real highlight turned out to be the presentation from LPC president Mike Eizenga.

I can’t report much on the renewal commission presentation, it was mainly boilerplate, but was delivered with enthusiasm. It was structural though, more how it will work than changes being considered.

Eiziega, though, didn’t disappoint. I wasn’t too familiar with Mike going in, but my picture wasn’t too positive. I wasn’t at the leadership convention, but what I heard was that he was parachuted in by the Martinis last minute to stop Akkaash Maharaj, who has been working on the ground for years campaigning, from getting the job. I like Akkaash, so I didn’t like to see that.

So, point being my expectations weren’t high going into Mike’s speech, but I was pleasantly surprised at his forthrightness. He’s promising to take on a lot of sacred cows, and I wish him luck.

His thesis, one I totally agree with, was that the Liberal Party cannot win the next election, or any other ones either, without major structural changes. We have new enemies and they’re crafter then before, and more agile, nimble, and better financed with us.

The touchstone of his vision is strong provincial and territorial associations (PTAs, like the LPC(O). They need to be the main input into a downsized LPC.

As he said, the party structure is too top heavy. There’s a national executive, including exec members, PTA and commission reps, of over 60 people, and add in staff and a national executive meeting includes some 90 people. That’s insane. As he pointed out, that’s more than most provincial legislatures. We’re over governed, this bureaucracy is expensive to support, and it makes it difficult for the organization to move quickly.
“We are stunningly over governed and structurally burdened,” as he said. The structure is far too unwieldy.

We spend $4 million supporting that infrastructure annually. The Conservatives are lean and mean, and they spend that $4 million (and a lot more since they’re out fundraising us) on the ground, in the trenches, building and organizing.

Why is it this way? Every time a group felt disenfranchised another chair was pulled up to the table. It makes us feel good, but does it accomplish anything? Not so much.

He said our PTAs (which the Cons don’t have) are a strength for us though, or can be, if we use them right. We need to make them more effective though. Today, he said most PTAs spend too much of their time, 50 per cent or more, pushing membership-related paper and doing data entry. That’s time and money that should be spent organizing.

So where do we go? Mike said the time has come to dramatically shrink the size of our organization. I agree. It won’t be easy, it will mean constitutional amendments and people whose power bases are being threatened will fight hard. It will mean hard choices and we’ll need to build consensus, but it needs to be done.

He also said the time has come for a NATIONAL MEMBERSHIP LIST. If someone joins the party on Newfoundland or B.C. it shouldn’t matter, they should be joining the Liberal Party of Canada.

While recognizing the PTAs will fear a loss of power and money, Mike emphasized that the same membership fees will continue to go to the PTAs. But if the back office administration is centralized in Ottawa allowing economies of scale to be realized, PTAs will be able to redirect those resources from paper-pushing to party building.

I think it’s a good idea. I bought a five-year membership in B.C. two years ago, why couldn’t I just transfer that to my new riding, and just send in a change of address? And frankly, the PTAs are overburdened as others have observed, let’s centralize the administration and let them focus on building an organization on the ground.

So, all in all a nice job by Mike today, and good response from those that dragged themselves out of bed to hear him speak this morning, hangovers and all. He has a tough road ahead of him, but I wish him well and hope I can help.

Just one final note, he mentioned 150 people are joining the party every day through the Web site. I think that’s fantastic. The power of the Web needs to be recognized.

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Glenford said...

Thanks for covering the LPCO - thoroughly enjoying your commentary while stuck out of province.

And good on Mike too.


Anonymous said...

Same here, thank you so much for yor blogging LPCO convention.

Anonymous said...

Great report, glad to hear there is some thought being given to National membership and streamlining.

Anonymous said...

Deja vu' The Presidents speech of today was the same speech the President of the LPC gave in 1985 in Halifax at the reform (the LPC) Conference. National membership was a goal and it hasn't been achieved... because of the perceived loss of control at each and every level in the party. Ridings refuse to give to their PTAs some PTA don't sell membership it just exists NB for one. BC has shared their membership lists since the mid 80's and has been continuously taking a lead on changes that enhance the LPC. It sounds like I didn't miss anything being out here on VI waiting for your next installment . I am forever grateful we are in the 21st century and that you are keeping us informed.
keep blogg'n

Jeff said...

Thanks. On national membership I'm certain the PTAs will resist. But just like there's only one taxpapyer, there's only one party member. We elect the PTA execs, let's elect people that support national membership.