Wednesday, January 04, 2012

36 proposed Liberal constitutional amendments dissected and explained

Happy New Year to all; I hope you enjoyed the holidays. Especially Christmas.  I won’t say I’m resolving to blog more this year but I will try, and I’m sure I definitely will be in the next few weeks as we head into the 2012 Liberal Biennial convention in Ottawa, beginning January 12th.

I’m on vacation for another week, and so I’m spending some time preparing for the convention. Yesterday it was poring over 27 pages of proposed constitutional amendments, and cross-referencing with the current constitution to try to figure out what it all means. Below is my analysis of each proposed amendment and my current thinking on each; I welcome your thoughts in the comments. A future post will tackle the policy proposals.

For your reference, here's a PDF of the full list of proposed amendments and here's a PDF of the current constitution. To be adopted, each amendment must be approved by 2/3s of delegates voting at the biennial.

Amendments proposed by the the national board of directors

 1.  Elimination of the National Revenue Committee and Appointment of Chief Revenue

I feel the professionalizing of our fundraising is long overdue. This would see one person hired with
direct responsibility and accountability for fundraising planning and implementation, and would seem to constitute needed reform in this area.

I’m voting yes.

2. Registration of supporters of the Liberal Party of Canada

This is to allow the creation of the primary system, which I oppose for leadership selection. That’s voted on separately though. I do support experimenting with primaries for riding nominations, so I’m willing to support creation the supporter category. I do have a few concerns, though.

You can join the Liberal Party at age 14, but you need to be 18 to register as a supporter. The supporter rules seem to mirror those for voting in a general election. But if this is about nurturing and building support, why exclude youth? Why not try to involve them early, and try to convert them into members and/or general election voters when of age? I’d support an amendment to lower the age.

Other concerns: there’s no time-period on being a supporter, it lasts until you opt out, your snail mail bounces back, or you’re kicked out. Also, they seem to anticipate making PTAs process all the supporter applications, which will cost money. The only mention of a fee is in the section on supporters voting in the leadership selection, but no fee seems anticipated to simply become a supporter. What will it cost to process these applications? And it LPC downloads it to PTAs, will they download resources to pay for it too?

I’m voting yes, with reservations, and hoping for amendments.

3. Participation of supporters in leadership vote

This is the one that has gotten all the attention, and my previously noted objections to the primary system for the leadership still stand. Instead of re-hashing them, I’ll direct you to this article where Iexplain my objections at length.I think weighted one-member one-vote is a better system, we adopted it at the last convention and we should at least try it once.

It should be noted the final proposal eliminates the idea of making the Council of Presidents function as an electoral college, which is a positive change. It’s a preferential ballot, weighted by riding, 100 points, with lowest candidates dropped off overall until we get to 50+1. Same as current weighted one member, one vote system so that’s good.

The imposition of a fee for voting is up to the national board. But here’s the thing.  According to these amendments, members have all the rights of supporters. In many new sections, supporters is used to mean both members and supporters. Could this mean members could have to pay a fee to vote for leader? I would be massively opposed to that. While I’m voting no anyway, that should be clarified.

I’m voting no to this amendment.

4.  Participation of supporters in candidate selection meetings of their EDAs

This proposal allows “supporters” as created by the earlier amendment to vote in their riding’s candidate nomination contest. As mentioned, I’m opposed to this system for the leadership but I’m willing to give it a try for riding nominations, and I think it could be more effective generating excitement and attracting candidates at the local level.

I do have some concerns with this proposal as written, though. The biggest is that, while the leadership vote requires supporters to be signed-up 41 days before the vote, for riding nominations no timeline is specified. Instead, it leaves the timeline up to the national election readiness committee. I dislike leaving discretion in these things, particularly when nomination rules have been so abused in the past. I’d like to see wider reforms to the nomination process. We have fixed election dates; I want fixed dates where all nominations are opened and meetings held, with all the related deadlines fixed too. But that's a reform for another day.

I’m voting yes, but I’d like to see this section cleaned-up and approved.

5.  Annual strategic plan and annual report tabled by national board of directors

Requires the board of directors to table an annual strategic plan and an annual report on progress against the strategic plan, to be reviewed by the Council of Presidents and released to all members, and posted online. Makes sense, seems basic, and odd it wasn’t required already.

I’m voting yes.

6. Untitled, relates to candidate nominations

Requires a nomination candidate to have been nominated by 100 members of the riding association or at least 15 per cent of the riding members (supporters excluded, apparently), whichever is less.  I’m fine with that, requiring candidates to get support from existing riding members is important. I’m curious though how this would interact with leader’s power of appointment. I’d imagine an appointment would probably supersede this rule, although requiring some riding support before allowing an appointment would be nice.

I’m voting yes.

7 and 8. Removing the leader’s veto over the content of the policy platform

These sections amend several sections that give the leader an effective veto over the content of the party’s election platform. It’s important to note there are two separate policy processes: the policy passed by the biennial convention from the PTAs and commissions, and that developed by the policy and platform committee. These amendments deal with the latter; the former is still too unlinked from the actual platform creation for my liking and I want the next national policy chair to lead further reforms in this area.

Under these reforms, the leader can still propose policy for the platform but can’t veto other proposals from the committee outright; policy will be decided by the policy and platform committee. The leader still appoints many of its members though, and it seems rather large and unwieldy. This committee also existed before, yet the leader still seemed to always circumvent it by appointing a few MPs to go off and write the platform on his orders. 

So I’m sceptical how effective these reforms will be, and they’re but a drop in the bucket of the reforms we need to make to the policy process. But this is a small step in the right direction.

I’m voting yes.

9. Election of executive officers using a weighted “one-member, one-vote” system

This is one proposal that wasn’t included in the original roadmap to renewal proposals, and I was glad to see it in the final list of amendments. It would institute a weighted by riding OMOV system to elect the national executive, instead of delegates doing it at convention. This is an important step in the democratization of our party, just as implementing WOMOV for leadership was. My only quibble is that it’s not a preferential ballot; that would be a nice addition.

I’m voting yes.

10. Prioritization of policy resolutions using a weighted “one-member, one-vote” system

Moves the policy development process from the delegated biennial convention to a weighted by riding one-member, one-vote system. I’m supportive in principle, but I have concerns because this will, by necessity, largely mean moving from an in-person process to a more impersonal electronic one.  The benefit of the biennials is that it allows in-person debate and interaction, which has benefits you just can't replicate online.

Before I decide to support this, I want to know how the policy process will be reformed to encourage/require in-person debates on policy across the country, perhaps regionally. This can’t be done online alone. If I’m not satisfied this can/will happen, I’m inclined to vote no.

I’m undecided.

11. Untitled, relates to EDA accountability

Allows the national board of directors to put a riding association into trusteeship if it fails to meet its constitutional obligations. Rogue, closed, unresponsive and dormant EDAs are an issue. I’m a little leery of this proposal, though. However, with PTA approval required as a check on the national board, I’ll support it.

I’m voting yes.

12. Electing a leader using a system of staggered regional voting days

A key part of the primary system for leadership voting, instead of one day/weekend of voting across Canada it seeks to create drama and media attention by having the votes over a period as long as two months, with groups of regions voting in as many as six blocks. So, for example, Ontario may vote five weeks after British Columbia does.  The preamble makes clear this has nothing to do with democracy, and is all about preening for media attention. Like PDO, I find this proposal highly undemocratic.

I have several concerns. First, not everyone will get to vote for the candidate of their choice. If a candidate shows poorly in the first group of provinces, they’ll be pressured to drop out. Fundraising will become challenging. Look at the U.S. primary system we’re trying to copy. I want to be able to vote for the candidate of my choice; I don’t want New Hampshire to narrow the field for me.

Second, the order in which the provinces will vote isn’t set by this amendment; presumably this would be determined by the national board of directors, or a body appointed by them. This creates a huge opportunity for conflict, as leadership candidates lobby the board, or try to get slates elected to the board, to set an order that favours them by putting their strong regions first to show momentum, pressuring opponents to drop out. We have enough drama of this sort as it is, without creating the opportunity for more.

We also shouldn’t be trying to create a system for the purpose of giving the media something to report about; it should be about the best way to get the best leader possible. And this isn’t it.

I’m voting no.

The following amendments are from the party’s Ontario wing. Several deal with reforming the Council of Presidents, which primarily consists of the riding association presidents, and that many feel is a meaningless, powerless body.

13. Officers of the Council of Presidents

Several reforms to CoP here, particularly changing the CoP president to be elected by CoP members and be either a riding or commission president, instead of automatically being the party president as today. The deputy president will be similarly elected. I agree, it should be an EDA-led body.

I'm voting yes.

14. Chair of the Council of Presidents as a member of the National Board of Directors

This makes the CoP president a non-voting member (can attend and speak) of the national board of directors. If it was voting I’d definitely vote no. The board is big and unwieldy as it is. My concern is with making the board bigger, and the cost that generates for the party. I’d rather go smaller, not bigger.

I’m undecided but leaning no.

15. Meetings of the Council of Presidents

This section seems to remove some of the flexibility  for holding CoP meetings virtually, with an eye to more in-person meetings. My concern here is how much will this cost us, and if it’s worth the expense. The proposal calls for partial subsidies for some attendees, but seemingly not all. If this body is to have meaning, cost can’t be a barrier to all eligible members taking part. But your talking 308 riding presidents and additional members, and  I’m not convinced we can afford to do this in person, outside of maybe a biennial, and that it would be worth the cost. What’s wrong with improved virtual or teleconference meetings?

I’m leaning no.

16. Untitled, more CoP reforms

Seems housekeeping to me.

I’ll vote yes.

17. Candidate selection meeting to be held at the request of an EDA

Requires a candidate nomination meeting to be called within 120 days of the request by a riding association. I’ll support giving more power to the ridings, but my preference is still to see set identical dates for all ridings across Canada.

I’m voting yes.

18. Withdrawal of nomination contestant or nominated candidate following criminal charges

Seems obvious to me.

I’m voting yes.

19. Election of a National Campaign Co-Chair

Instead of both co-chair being appointed by the leader, one would be elected by the membership the same way we elect the national executive, with the leader appointing the second. Since the members go first, that means the leader must satisfy the English/French, Man/Woman rules by appointing the opposite of the membership. If (9) passes, WOMOV will elect the first co-chair. I like this amendment, as it takes some power back from the leader for the members, as this is a position that sets many of the rules that govern nominations. Letting members pick one is a good balance.

I’m voting yes.

20. Representation of PTAs on the National Election Readiness Committee

Adds representatives from each PTA to the committee, which sounds good to me.

I’m voting yes.

21. Appointment of candidates of the Party for election to the House of Commons

Seeks to limit the leader’s power to appoint candidates to 20 per election maximum, and no more than 25% or five in any one province whichever is lower. I support the spirit here; my worry is if this would encourage appointments up top that level. I’m not sure appointment have been that high in past (presumably it would be if you include protecting incumbents). Why not propose lower caps? Personally, I’d rather remove the leader’s power of appointment all together, and just leave the leader the ability to veto any crazies (who should be screened out by the greenlight committee anyway).

I’m undecided but leaning yes.

22. Rules of Order for the conduct of a biennial convention

This would allow a biennial convention to amend the proposed rules of order that will govern its proceedings, such as how sub-amendments can be proposed and voted on. Currently, these rules are set by the national management committee and cannot be amended by the convention delegates. Before the Vancouver convention, the committee tried to implement unacceptable rules in order to influence the voting on constitutional amendments. Only an outcry from the membership forced them to back down. This amendment would mean members wouldn’t have to rely on the committee’s willingness to bend to public outrage.

I’m voting yes.

23. Policy prioritization process at a biennial convention

This seeks to force policy workshops and policy debate to happen in person, at the biennial convention with online engagements as a supplement, not a replacement. The last two biennials (including Ottawa) have dumped the former in-person prioritizaiton workshops and much of the real debate happened there, not on the plenary floor. This amendment seeks to bring that back. This would seem to be in conflict with (10) and I’m curious how they’d be reconciled if both passed. I’d like to see the best of both, more in-person debate, including at biennial, with provision for all members to vote in a weighted system.

I’m leaning yes.

24. Amendment to the Preamble of the Constitution

Essentially adds a line about making electing MPs part of our reason d’etre to the constitution’s preamble. No real impact but sure, why not.

I’m voting yes.

The following amendments are proposed by the party’s British Columbia wing.

25. Liberal members’ initiative

This seems to allow a member at large to propose constitutional reform or policy to members directly and get it on the biennial agenda, if they can gather a threshold of support form the membership. Today, it has to filter up through a commission or a PTA. It’s an option to cut the red tape and allow direct engagement, which I think is a great idea.

I’m voting yes.

26. Inclusion of priority policy resolutions in Party Platform

This requires that at least three priority policy resolution (coming from the PTA/commission to biennial policy process) be included in the next election platform. I’d like the number to be higher, but it seems to be the first proposal to link the biennial process to the platform process, which I feel must happen to make the member-driven policy process meaningful. So it’s an important step.

I’m voting yes.

27. Election of Executive Officers using an unweighted “one member, one vote” system

This would be seen as competing with (9) but with two key differences: it’s preferential, which I support. But it’s unweighted, which is a huge deal-breaker for me. I’m astounded BC would propose a system, that, essentially, would see member-rich Toronto pick the national executive. I think this is a horrible idea.

I’m voting no.

These proposals are form the National Women’s Liberal Commission

28. Removal of membership fees specific to the National Women’s Liberal Commission

This would remove any possibility for the NWLC requiring an additional membership fee to be in the NWLC. I don’t know if they’re currently charging a fee. If they are, as long as they don’t expect funds form general revenue to make up for the loss of this fee, I’m fine with it.

I’m voting yes.

29. Fundraising plan for the Judy LaMarsh Fund

Seems like housekeeping.

I’m voting yes.

Now some from the Seniors Liberal Commission

30. Untitled, member rights

Adds boilerplate about membership and EDAs to rights of members section. Seems purely symbolic, and without real effect and, while I’m not keen on fattening the constitution with pabulum, I’m not too worked-up about it.

I’ll vote yes.

31. Untitled, caucus rights

It basicallty seeks to encourage caucus members to remember they’re party members too. But again, it’s largely empty symbolism.

I’ll vote yes.

32. Authority to amend the Constitution of the Liberal Party of Canada

Essentially, this section requires constitutional amendments to be voted or ratified by all members electronically, instead of by delegates at a biennial convention. Two amendment avenues are proposed: a special electronic vote, or a traditional biennial with ratification of the result by a member electronic vote required. I’d support extending the weighted one member, one vote system envisioned in earlier amendments to constitutional amendments, but this proposal from the Seniors is for an unweighted system. I cannot support a system that doesn’t have riding weighting; I’d rather keep the biennial system as delegates are at least weighted by riding. I’d support an amendment to weight it by riding.

As written, I’ll vote no.

33. Policy approval and prioritization process

This requires the policy and platform committee to write guidelines to help EDAs with policy, which I’m fine with. But I don’t like attempt to standardize the PTAs’ policy processes; they should be free to set their own processes. It would also seem to contradict some of the sections in (7)/(8) removing the leader’s policy veto.

I’ll vote no.

Finally, it’s the turn of the Young Liberals of Canada.

34. Free of charge membership to the Liberal Party of Canada

The title says it all. Just processing a membership has a cost. I feel it at least needs to make it cost-recovery. $10 is hardly a barrier to membership. I’ve heard this proposal may be a backup in case the primary leadership proposal fails, but it’s unclear it would be withdrawn by YLC if it passes. I’m also leery of the section that seems to indicate campus clubs would be looking to the party for some sort of help or subsidy to make up for their lost membership revenue. In some provinces, riding associations also get a piece of membership fees and would lose that under this proposal. At a time when we’re cash-strapped as a party this proposal makes no sense to me.

I’m voting no.

35. Period of membership required to vote in Leadership Vote

Currently, you need to be a member of the party 41 days before a leadership vote to be eligible to vote in the leadership contest. In another amendment that seems to seek to replicate a primary system if it’s rejected by members, this amendment seeks to lower that time period to 14 days. The same dates would apply under the primary system, presumably backdated from the staggered regional votes (if approved). I oppose this under either scenario.  For one, I don’t want the leadership period to be totally dominated by a focus on membership sign-ups. I want those 41 days (at least) to be focused on winning over new and existing members instead. This proposal would see campaigns focused on sign-ups to the exclusion of nearly all else until nearly the very end. And logistically, it would be helpful to have the time to plan the logistics of the vote knowing how many eligible voters you have; two weeks isn’t that long. And finally, as a general principle I want to encourage long-term membership over last minute drop-in voters. This proposal goes the other way.

I’m voting no.

36. Regional Voting Days

Just when I was growing dispirited with my YLC friends, they redeemed themselves with this proposal. This proposal would amend the proposed system of staggered regional  leadership votes to pre-set the order the provinces vote in, instead of leaving it up to the board which, as I explained, is fraught with issues. This proposal addresses that concern, and also requires the full results of each regional voting be posted within 48 hours, instead of only the first place support. I’m still voting no on the original regional voting proposal, but if it passes I’ll support this change to make it more fair.

I’m voting yes.

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Ken S from Ramara said...

What is your position on the "Preferential Ballot" proposal? Had Jean Chretien made this change there never would have been a Stephen Harper controlled PMO.

Jordan said...

Good read, though I only skimmed a lot of it I still found it very useful. I think this is all the party should be focusing on when members meet next week. I don't think there is much sense in focusing on election policies, like the monarchy and marijuana legalization, at this point in time. While I'm not a member of the party or anything I think it would have been smart for this convention to be about rebuilding the actual party from inside out and waiting till the next convention, when there will be a permanent leader, to actually discuss policies for the next election.

If the party doesn't adopt a primary system, and if some of the rules can be rearranged after the convention, I think the party should look at having basically two different conventions for selecting the next leader. What I mean by this is that the party should look at having a vote in one city, which would possibly decide the top two or three candidates, and then waiting a few weeks and holding a convention in another city where members would vote for the leader. Similar to what the Alberta PCs do, except I don't know if selling memberships in between is right. I think this would spread out the leadership race a bit more (possibly adding more excitement), holding it in different regions of the country allows for more people to attend at least one convention, it would allow members to get to know the top candidates more, and it would give them more time to decide who exactly they want as their next leader. Members should also be aloud to vote in person, by phone, or internet. This type of race would only work of course if there is enough candidates, it would not really make much sense if there are only three candidates running for the leadership.

Jason Cherniak said...

For the limit on appointments, I would consider that to include protecting MPs. That being the case, 20 is really not that high at all.

Jeff said...


I think you're referring to a policy proposal; those are separate from the proposed amendments to the LPC constitutions discussed here and I'll tackle them in a future post. Without knowing the specifics of the proposal though, I'll say the idea of a preferential ballot for general elections has merit.

Thanks Jordan. I disagree with doing policy and reform separately, though. The constitutional stuff needs to begin, obviously. And on policy, it can't wait until we pick a leader. Policy development needs to be an ongoing organic process, developed from the membership up. It doesn't need a permanent leader to happen. The next leader should buy into the policy being developed by the members, not come in and force policy down.

On leadership, putting primaries aside we've essentially done away with traditional conventions. Assuming there's no change it will be weighted one member, one vote, with voting likely happening electronically, and/or by phone. There may still be a central gathering with speeches but it won't be a traditional convention, and I expect ridings and regions will want to organize satellite events and watch the results.

Jason, when the protection for incumbents angle occurred to me it definitely softened by concern about appointing up to the number. I still wonder though, why allow 20? It could still a leader to protect their favourites and leave opponents unprotected, instead of using the reserve to appoint fresh new "stars" as may be the intention. I would still prefer completely open nominations, but I leaning voting yes as it's moving in the right direction.

Jennifer Smith said...

I'm disappointed with #4. This would have been the perfect opportunity to bring in the same 41-day voting requirement for local candidate and even EDA elections, but they totally punted it.

Here in Halton, we just had one of those farcical executive elections where the whole process was hijacked by a guy who brought in a bus load of new 'members' who we've never seen before and will likely never see again. It was sickening, and it happens all the time.

I know these 'insta-member' drives give a temporary boost to the bank account, but ultimately they are demoralizing, counter-productive, and would be incredibly easy to eliminate with a 41-day membership rule. We just need someone with the guts to do it.