Sunday, March 19, 2006

Liberal Executive Lays An Egg

The Liberal Party will pick a new leader in early December:
The leaders also took steps to reduce financial barriers for candidates, party president Mike Eizenga said.

Those steps include reducing the entry fee to $50,000 from $75,000, leaving more money in candidates' hands by eliminating the party levy on the first $500,000 raised, and tightening disclosure rules. (The levy on funds above $500,000 is 20 per cent.)

But the executive approved a $3.4-million campaign spending limit, which gives an advantage to candidates who can tap into rich backers.

Most striking, is the missed opportunity to project an appearance of equality. Despite the tinkering, the fact that the spending limit is 3.4 million sends a clear signal that money and power trump the grassroots. Instead of endorsing a 2 million limit, which apparently was on the table, the Liberals go with the high end number and basically say "nothing's changed". Eizenga can point to the cosmetic changes(any serious contender can come up with 75 thousand) as evidence of reducing financial barriers, but the bottomline is the spending allowance and in that regard it puts a barrier on certain candidates, while allowing others a distinct advantage.

This was the first test of the "new" Liberal Party and I think they failed badly. If you really are concerned about opening up the process, and it isn't just convenient politico speak, then you should make rules that level the playing field. Setting a high spending limit betrays candidates who don't have "important" friends and their organization will suffer, no matter the process. This decision allows people like Stronach to thrive, not on merit but influence. The national executive can spin all they want, but on the important matter of the day they went with the status quo and essentially revealed their disconnect. Money and power are alive and well in the "new" Liberal Party.

Liberal reaction:
"Candidates should be competing based on ideas and vision, rather than on bank accounts," Brison has said.

That could be seen as a dig against Stronach, also a former Conservative with deep pockets thanks to her multimillionaire father's business success as head of auto parts giant Magna International.

Stronach applauded the new rules, saying they will "ensure the leadership race is more open, accessible and accountable process . . . that will guarantee a level playing field for everyone who decides to run."

The fact that Stronach applauds the rules pretty much says it all really. I put in the earlier Brison quote because it speaks to the real capital that should dictate.

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