Sunday, May 15, 2011

Ok, so what are we voting for exactly?

Liberal Party of Canada members received an e-mail from the national executive yesterday about the leadership timing/constitutional amendment drama that has absorbed the party and the membership since the election.

While I applaud the desire to communicate with and inform the membership, and this note was a step in that direction that offered somewhat more “meat” than the previous e-mail that went out from party president Alf Apps, it still left many unanswered questions and seemingly left some more confused than when they started.

The letter outlines some of the pertinent details: there has been “overwhelming” (but anecdotal) feedback expressed to delay the timing of the next leadership convention, which under the current constitution must be scheduled for late October of this year. To change that, the executive is proposing a virtual convention in which riding delegates would vote on an amendment that would allow the executive to delay the leadership convention and delay the biennial convention, currently scheduled for December (although it would be replaced with the October leadership convention if that went ahead) until January 2012.

The letter also outlines the timeline for this process, including May 20th as the membership cutoff to be eligible to run or vote for a delegate spot to the extraordinary convention, which will be held in late June.

Broadly speaking I’m not completely opposed to the process. As I’ve said, I’m supportive of a delay to the leadership process if it can be done constitutionally and, while I’m no constitutional expert (some who are have raised concerns) I think they’re at least trying to respect the spirit of making it a decision of the membership.

But there are several significant problems remaining here.

1. The membership cutoff is in five days but, as it stands, new and old members still have no idea just what they’d be voting for. The e-mail outlines it only in the broadest of terms. Where is the wording of the proposed amendments? We’re still getting more detailed information in media leaks than we are from our own party, and that’s unacceptable.

2. When exactly would the leadership be delayed to? The e-mail doesn’t say. It does mention delaying the biennial convention (where the next executive will be elected) to January 2012, but doesn’t mention leadership timing. This has confused many and led some to believe January would be the leadership vote, but that’s not the case. According to the media leaks, the executive is asking for the right to schedule the leadership convention at will, any time between mid-2012 and mid-2013, something unmentioned in this e-mail.

That’s unacceptable for me. As I’ve written before, I can support a delay of one year, but I don’t want to go any longer with an un-elected interim leader appointed by executive who lacks a democratic mandate for reform. I don’t support giving the executive a blank cheque of over a year to set the timing. I want to vote on a specific date.

There are several reasons why that’s important, but here’s a big one: if this process goes forward we’ll elect a new national executive in January. This will be a key step in driving the kind of real party reform and renewal we need. If we leave it with the current proposal, that new executive will wield tremendous power setting the timing for the leadership. Which means the executive race will be turned into a proxy leadership battle, with each camp determined to stack the board in order to get their preferred timing. That would be a distraction from the real work of reform, and could be avoided if members vote in June on the timing.

3. How will this extraordinary convention work? The e-mail indicates it will be a teleconference. What will be the opportunity for debate? How will people be recognized? I trust, as per the constitution, a 2/3s majority will be required for approval? What will quorum be?

And more importantly, what will the process be for amendments to the proposed constitutional changes?

4. The timing is necessarily tight, which creates problems. That can’t be avoided, but I do have one major concern: it feels like we’re being forced into voting yes here whether we like it or not. Maybe you want to vote no to send a message, or because you agree with some of the proposal but not all of it (say, like me, you don’t want leadership delayed past next June.)

Let’s consider, for a moment, what a note vote would mean. If 1/3+1 of delegates vote NO on June 18 and the amendment is defeated (which is entirely possible) that means we’ll hold a leadership vote (under the weighted one member, one vote system) just four months later, on October 28/29. That essentially means we’d have a rushed four-month leadership race as we won’t know until late June if it’s on or not. Even if you don’t want a lengthy race, four months is hardly enough time for a proper race or for candidates to criss-cross the country. It’s not enough time for lesser-known candidates to mount a serious challenge, and would mean a choice based on name recognition rather than a debate of ideas.

I don’t want the four-month scenario to unfold, but I feel I’m being pressured to pick the slightly worse of two bad options here by giving the executive a blank cheque to set timing. That’s another reason why I want to vote on a specific date, and why I’d like to know about the amendment process.

So I appreciate the communication to the membership but I have several concerns about the content, and again, the process remains problematic. We’re still getting more information in media leaks than we are from our own party executive, and that’s unacceptable. Release the full proposals publicly, even if it’s in draft form and subject to change, and allow the membership to debate them. Then take that feedback and incorporate it into what we’ll vote on next month. There’s no reason not to.

I’ve heard from some higher-ups in the party who feel stung by what they see as regular questioning of their motives. I can sympathize. But people are going to be rightly suspicious when information is being held back from them, and when more is being leaked to the media than is communicated to them. Open up the backroom and open up the debate. We may agree or disagree with your course, but if we can debate that course publicly a lot of the criticism will be lessened.

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Steve V said...

"That’s unacceptable for me. As I’ve written before, I can support a delay of one year, but I don’t want to go any longer with an un-elected interim leader appointed by executive who lacks a democratic mandate for reform. I don’t support giving the executive a blank cheque of over a year to set the timing. I want to vote on a specific date."

EXACTLY! Give us some dates, because I want to delay, but I think two year is sheer madness. Get it together people, and QUICK.

Brian G. Rice said...

Jeff, does 1 month actually make that much of a difference? I don't see how an extra thirty days will change the outcome of a leadership race.

Jeff said...

Brian, I don't get what you're getting at. They want to delay the biennial by 30 days (December 11 to January 12), I'm fine with that. My concern is giving the exec a blank cheque to schedule the leadership convention for (according to press leaks) any time between May 1, 2012 and June 30, 2013 with 5 months notice. That would be a delay of up to two years, which I cannot accept.

Jeff said...

Sorry Brian, do you meas having a four month leadership instead of five if we vote down the amendment and pick the leader in October? Yes, I do think one month makes a difference there. Five months is too short already, and one month amounts to a 20 per cent shorter period. That's a big chunk of an already too short time period and makes it harder for someone newish to try to mount a challenge.

James Curran said...

I think we have to wake up and smell the coffee here. If there is a biennial in January 2012, you can bet your ass we ain't getting a leadership convention in the same calendar year. So that means no leadership until 2013. That is unacceptable to me.

Mark Richard Francis said...

The longer the amendment isn't visible, the less it can be debated. The shorter the time to the leadership vote, the more likely people will just give up and let it be delayed.

Quixotique said...


I agree with most of this and have written similarly. I'd like to add a couple of points of clarification, a couple of further complications and add even more to the confusion, if I may.

Firstly, we've got to stop referring to a Leadership Convention. There is no such animal anymore. There is a leadership vote process as you mention, but no requirement for a convention. I believe the thing is envisaged to play out like the recent BCLP leadership which was based on our new one. Lots of riding meetings, no convention.

That doesn't mean that there couldn't be coincidental timing though; the pros and the cons of which are highly debatable.

With respect to short leadership races of 4-5 months, that was the norm until 1990. We used to call it the convention that wouldn't die. St. Laurent resigned after the June '57 election and Pearson was chosen in mid-January 58 (less than 6 mos). Pearson resigned in Mid-December '67 and was replaced by Trudeau in early April '68 (about 4 mos). Trudeau resigned famously at the end of a leap year February and Turner was elected on June 16th in 1984 (3.5 mos).

All were robust national races, without the advantages of today's instant and electronic communications - and all had actual conventions organized to boot.

The reason we went so long in 1989/90 was because it was to the perceived advantage of one of the candidates, who controlled the executive at the time to have a long as race as possible. That long and divisive (both with respect to personality and policy) race unfortunately somehow became the norm for the next two.

While I agree with you that this could be the Board's attempt to consult the membership in a kind of ultimate way, albeit it a clumsy one, I think that they may put any putative leadership candidates in an untenable situation and the leadership will begin in earnest the second they formally set the date for the leadership vote (the October 28/29 dates). If the amendments fail, that race will be legitimately on and I'm sure no candidate would want to lose those 3 weeks in addition.

It's really messy. I get accused of being too much of a stickler for the process. Well this is a large part of the reason why. No one is served well by all of this uncertainty and second guessing.


Liberal Reform said...

Time for reform, learn about my views.

Fiddlers' Green said...

I agree with Sheila on this part - if the amendments are voted down, then the timing is fine - in fact, longer than 1968 and 1984, as she pointed out.
Personally I'm still in favour of putting off the leadership vote, and I'm not all that vexed by 2013; but I do appreciate the concerns raised by others. I would hope that these amendments are a series of different ones, so that for example the bienniel could be delayed, and that any amendment could be made to narrow this timing window (if thats what the majority want). Going into a leadership now, though, and combining it with a bienniel - then we're going to spend all our energy now on leadership, not rebuilding. I don't know how you keep a lit on the leadership race, but I'd rather see it attempted than we all jump in right now.

Jeff said...


Perhaps, but let's be careful not to confuse people. As we adopted womov there won't be a "leadership convention" per se. There may be a celebratory event to announce the results and get press, but it won't be a delegated convention with high fees. We'll all vote in our own ridings. Therefore having both in the same year is more than possible.

Sheila, I didn't know those historical timelines and that's interesting, but frankly I think we're in a different situation now and I don't think a 5 month or less race is desirable.

Quixotique said...

Well, we are kind of in the Pearson "situation": defeated '57, in a minority opposition, elect a new leader '58, defeated '58, in a majority opposition. Pearson then went on to build the party and again lose in '62 before winning the first of two minority governments in '63. Very active minority governments as we know that built the party for future majority.

If we're talking party building side-by-side with a Leader, it's not the worst model. Much, much better to me than 1990, 2003, 02 2006. 2008 doesn't really count, in my books. :)