Thursday, February 26, 2009

Confusion around new Liberal policy process

There seems to be some confusion in Liberal circles around the policy process leading-up to the not a leadership convention in Vancouver at the end of April. And after looking into it, I’m both more informed and more confused.

There have been some major changes to the policy development process, both to democratize the process, account for the shortened time-frame available, and the desire to streamline the convention as much as possible.

One problem though is that the changes haven’t been well publicized. The only place I’ve seen them mentioned is En Famille, the new Liberals-only online discussion forum I just logged-into for the first time last week. (Great forum, by the way) I think it’s incumbent on the party, and particularly riding policy chairs, to get the word out to the membership.

Then there’s the changes themselves. Here LPC president Doug Ferguson summarizes them in a post on En Famille:

In the past, policy resolutions were debated by delegates at workshops at a national convention. Delegates would then vote to select one policy that would be sent from each workshop to the main plenary for voting by all delegates.

This year, Policy and Platform Chair Joan Bourassa and her committee have changed this system. Rather than having delegated workshops, all party members will have an opportunity to debate and vote in En Famille on which policy resolutions will be sent to the main plenary.

This is another example of how we are trying to modernize the party and give party members a direct voice in important matters like policy.

While I was looking forward to having some policy debates at the convention, and this makes me question more just why I’m paying just under $1000 in delegate fees to attend a non-leadership conference for if we’re not even going to be work-shopping policy (there better be loads of free-booze hospitality suites at least) I like this in principle. I’ve always argued that the delegated convention system creates two tiers of membership: those that can afford to attend conventions to vote for leaders, policy and constitutional changes, and those who can’t. That's why I'm an ardent supported 0f (weighted) one member, one vote. So anything to empower the membership, writ large, is a bonus for me.

Here’s where more confusion comes in though, and where they might be losing me on the empowerment of the membership thing. Note this line from Doug’s post:
Rather than having delegated workshops, all party members will have an opportunity to debate and vote in En Famille on which policy resolutions will be sent to the main plenary.

To me, this would seem to be contradicted by a post the day before by a person identified as a staffer in the LPC office, who is explaining the policy process in more detail. I’ve bolded the relevant portion:

For the first time, all Liberals will be able to participate in the debate on which policy resolutions should be adopted as Party policy at the Biennial Convention, not just delegates. Replacing the traditional convention workshops, this year's policy workshops will be held on En Famille and open to all Librerals.

To participate in the debate here on En Famille, simply look through the 13 workshops, and hit reply to give your thoughts on the resolutions they contain.

Debate will last until March 15th. At that point, the forums will close, but remain open for review. From March 22-29, voting will open. Riding and provincial commission presidents will vote on behalf of their riding or commission. Ridings are encouraged to hold meetings with all their members to debate the resolutions and decide how the riding will vote.

The resolution from each workshop that receives the most votes will proceed to the Policy Plenary session in Vancouver, where delegates will vote on whether to adopt it as official Party policy.

So, which is it? Doug said EVERY Liberal will have an opportunity to vote on the prioritization of resolutions through En Famille, but the more detailed post makes it clear that only debate will occur En Famille, and that the only people that get to actually vote will be riding and commission presidents. The grassroots talk, the ex-officios decide.

I support the former, but I don’t support the latter. Expanding the debate through En Famille is great. But taking the prioritization vote from delegates and giving it to riding and commission presidents isn’t democratization of the process, it’s actually restricting the vote to a much smaller pool of people – the ex-officios. That’s not a step forward.

I can predict, and sympathize, with some of the expected counter-arguments. Not everyone can get online to vote, so that wouldn’t be fair. Riding presidents are encouraged to canvass their members, and even hold meetings, to guide their votes.

The latter argument, I dismiss. With some exceptions they’ll still vote how they want, bottomline. I’ve actually been trying to get involved with my riding association for over three years – the riding president has never returned my e-mails. They don't seem to want me involved. So I know my voice won’t be even be heard, never mind considered, by my riding president.

As for Web access, that’s fair, but I still think it’s more inclusive then just letting riding presidents vote. And you’re already countering that argument by having the debate online instead of at convention.

If you want to democratize the policy process then actually do it. Let all members vote.

And get the word out about the process. It’s incumbent on both the LPC, on the commissions, and on riding policy chairs to get the word out and get members involved if this is going to be a truly inclusive process.

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Anthony said...

Also worrisome is that policy had to be submitted by august 30th, 2008.

Two major things happened since then.

There was an election.

The economy hit the tank.

I feel like Liberal policy will feel a little dated.

Anonymous said...

The same reasons you advocate for weighted OMOV is the same reason the vote has been restricted to the riding President. In a recent pilot of this process Ontario ridings were able to vote on the resolutions that LPCO was going to put forward (10 were chosen from some 50+ that had been submitted). In that case 6 members, chosen at the discretion of the riding (they could do it democratically or not, it was their choice, though most ridings only had 6 or less members signed up for En Famille) from each riding were able to vote.

At the LPCO Executive meetings recently it was recommended that the President and Policy Chair be allowed to vote, or allow just one vote per riding but not restrict it to the president. Otherwise, there was no desire to attain full suffrage of members since that would give active ridings dominance over ridings with less members.

I'm the Policy Chair for a Toronto Riding and you're welcome to get involved with us. You shouldn't have problems linking in to your own riding.