Wednesday, April 15, 2009

The road to Vancouver: Smaller slates, terminating memberships and protecting policy debate

While one-member, one-vote (OMOV) and the YLC quota amendment has been getting a lot of attention ahead of the Liberal convention in a few weeks, along with a dollop of related procedural shenanigans, these aren’t the only constitutional measures delegates will be asked to vote on in Vancouver.

Many are housekeeping, but here’s a closer look at a few of the more interesting ones (Full PDF is here).

*The national executive is proposing to reduce the size of the delegate slates each riding can send to convention from 20 to 14. Interestingly, in Montreal attendees voted to INCREASE the size of the slates.

I don’t know why they’re proposing this change, and as it stands I won’t be supporting it. Why not have good-sized slates? The only argument against it I can think of is one of regional-weighting: it may be easier for larger, more prosperous ridings to send full delegations while smaller ridings will send only partial delegations. This can lead to over-representation, particularly if the larger ridings back-fill into the other ridings’ unfilled slates.

With OMOV (fingers-crossed) this concern is somewhat alleviated though, as delegated conventions will be primarily policy-focused. But the biggest advantage of larger slates is that it allows more people to attend convention, thereby spreading the fixed costs amongst a wider pool of people. That means lower delegate fees, which will actually help those smaller ridings send fuller slates.

With the larger slates we have now, when Vancouver was going to be an actual leadership convention the LPC was expecting higher attendance than Montreal, and was forecasting much lower delegate fees: in the area of $600, instead of the $900+ we ended up with. It’s simple economies of scale.

So I’ll be voting NO on this change. Let’s keep larger slates.

*The membership working group has a few membership-related amendments.

One is to allow party membership for Canadians living abroad, giving them associate membership (non-voting on riding matters, but a vote for leadership races) in the riding association of their choice. I think this is a good idea, I’ll be supporting it.

Another change seeks to bring some structure to the whole idea of kicking-out members of the party. I’d speculate this is in response to Paul Martin’s banning sponsorship figures “for life” despite him having no constitutional power or ability to do so.

The proposal here doesn’t include any lifetime bans (nor should it), but it does put a process in place for booting people. It’s rather lengthy so I won’t paste it in, it’s on page 21 of the PDF.

But, essentially, if someone’s conduct is judged to “be detrimental to the Party” then their membership can be terminated by a 2/3s vote of the national executive. They must be given 13 days notice of the meeting, and will have the right to plead their case at it. They can appeal it to a Permanent Appeal Committee.

So far, I’m on board. Due process, right to make your case, right to appeal, 2/3s majority, all good. There’s an 18-month cooling-off period before they can apply to join again, so no lifetime ban. Good. But they start to lose me with the process for re-joining. Basically, the application will be heard exclusively by the national membership secretary, who can reject it “for any reason.” And if rejected, the clock is re-set at 12 months before they can apply, again, to the national membership secretary.

I think that’s too much power to put into the hands of one person. Rather, I’d prefer to see that decision go to the full national executive, and be appealable, with the reasons for any denial made public.

The amendment also goes on to give the Leader or the National President the ability to issue suspensions of up to six-months, with 13-days notice and the right of written appeal to the national executive and the appeal committee. The suspension must also be confirmed by the executive at its next meeting, or it ceases. I hope this would be a power that’s sparingly used, but it seems reasonably set-out.

While I agree with the need to bring some formality to the suspension and termination of members, and these proposals are largely well considered, I am concerned as I mentioned about vesting so much power around re-admission with the membership secretary. I’d like to see an amendment there; otherwise, I’m inclined to vote NO on this amendment.

*While I’ve obviously taken issue with the youth wing’s OMOV amendment, they do have a few other amendments that I think are good ideas that I can get behind.

The first is to reduce the influence of ex-officios at conventions, which will be largely increased if the amendment to reduce delegate slates from 20 to 14 is passed. Rather than extending automatic ex-officio status to past MPs and Senators, the YLC proposes limiting it to current sitting MPs/Senators. This is a good change. I don’t believe in giving anyone status for life. I’ll vote YES on this amendment.

Another youth amendment deals with the policy process, and speaks to the issues I’ve raised about how it has been badly mismanaged by current policy chair, Joan Bourassa, leading to a lessening of the grassroots influence.

The youth proposal would require policy, before going to the floor, to be considered in workshop by delegates at the convention.

I’m mixed on this proposal. I agree that the way policy was handled this time around was ridiculous. And I know the YLC is concerned that the advantage their delegate quota legitimately gives them was nullified by this process, and could be permanently if we made the online consultation process binding, without building-in protections.

So, while the preference for policy work-shopping and prioritization I’ve argued for in the past has been for either a full, open debate and binding vote online or, as a compromise, an online vote for delegates, I’m coming around to supporting an affirmation of the delegated system for policy.

Why? Well, if we’re still going to have policy conventions, they should mean something. And if we’re going to maintain the demographic quotas for policy conventions (and I think we should), then that must be reflected in the policy workshoping and prioritization voting.

I could see down the road an entirely new policy process that sees regional policy workshops, where more people could participate and debate and take have their say. I think we should explore that, and how we can do it in ways that ensure strong voices for the commissions. But that’s a long-term rethink and debate.

For now, the shenanigans of this year’s policy process shouldn’t be repeated, and this amendment ensures they won’t. So I’ll be voting YES on this amendment.

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1 comment:

WesternGrit said...

Nice laying out of the issues. You helped clarify more than one point for me. Thanks!