Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Liberals Need Reform

We hear a lot of lip service, about engaging the grassroots and the idea of renewal within the Liberal Party. I don’t think anyone would deny that the Liberal Party in its current configuration is a top-down organization, prone to cliques, camps and inner circles. Clearly, there needs to be new approaches and reforms, if the Liberal Party is to adapt to a changing political landscape. If I could offer one reform that would be beneficial, for a host of reasons, it would be that the Party adopt a MANDATORY nomination process for all candidates, in every riding.

I don’t want to criticize Dion, because the practice is now an institution, but the whole of idea of appointed candidates, hand-picked by the leader, parachuted into a riding, is an affront to the grassroots. Are local Liberals not capable enough to decide who is best suited to represent them? How exactly do you energize people on the ground, when they aren’t part of the process? If someone is truly a “star”, why do they need the crutch of appointment? Doesn’t a nomination process demonstrate whether a particular person has the “right stuff”, sharpen the talking points, better represent the feedback from the members? If you are having problems with fundraising, doesn’t a healthy debate motivate people to get involved?

As I recall, Justin Trudeau made out just fine in a contested contest, and I would submit he is a better candidate for the experience. Why does the Liberal Party find in necessary to dictate to the ridings? The Liberals in MacKay’s riding were told there would be no candidate, other ridings have the anointed “star”, while many others must adhere to the idea of the gender quota. Where exactly does the grassroots fit in, where is the local voice? The message is clear, head office calls the shots, now be good little minions and tow the line, father knows best.

If the Liberal Party is really interested in re-building itself from the ground up, then there has to be a clear signal that the ground is important, as opposed to a convenient vehicle for the Party brass. Every local riding should have the final say on a candidate, the stamp of approval. The “inner circle” can suggest, coax, encourage, offer, but not dictate. In this way, no one is alienated, people actually feel important and relevant, and you build a real team.


Idealistic Pragmatist said...

If someone is truly a “star”, why do they need the crutch of appointment?

This is the part I don't understand. By all means, the Liberals are going to want to run star candidates. If the leader feels strongly about a particular candidate, then he can make that clear--even campaign for that candidate. But why not send the candidate through the nomination process anyway? I just really don't see the logic of appointing candidates when there are other ways of achieving the desired goals without pissing people off.

northwestern_lad said...

If this power of "appointing" a candidate was only used in the most extreme cases, I could live with it (while I still wouldn't like it). But it seems that the Liberals under Chretien, Martin and now under Dion tend to use it a whole lot. If that star candidate is really that strong, then the riding association should want to get behind them and if they really feel that the candidate is that good, they would elect him as a candidate. Where's the problem in having that candidate earn their spot???

What I find doubly interesting is that you have Dion hand-picking and appointing candidates, yet on the other hand, you have someone in Marc Garneau, who could be considered to be a star candidate, wanting to run and looking to go through the nomination process, being told by the Liberal Party that he's not wanted. How ass-backwards is that??? You are right though Steve, if the Liberals ever truly want to rebuild, they need to start from the bottom up, and stop this bottom down approach. People want to be a part of something when it comes to politics, they don't want to be dictated to. It's that kind of "leadership" that has pushed many people (some prominent ones too) away from the Liberals and towards other parties.

Mushroom said...

Hey, we may be going to the polls by the end of November.

Dion made a promise. One-third of Liberal candidates must be women. This number needs to go up to over forty percent by the following election be it in 2009 or 2011. In this short run, Dion will have no option but to use his power and appoint them over the wishes of the riding executives. Guaranteeing uncontested nominations to sitting MPs, there are over one hundred of them meant that many women will be running in rural ridings with less traction.

Anonymous said...

I would be against the clause mandatory. There are ridings where any party's riding associations can get hijacked. There could be a stipulation that when votes are less then 100, appointments can be made.

-lib outsider

DM said...

yup. This was the main reason I supported GK during leadership. I think he is the only Liberal who gets this.

A BCer in Toronto said...

I'm not a big fan of appointments either. Or at least the excessive use of them. You could argue the power needs to be held incase a riding is hijacked, but the leader can also refuse to sign anyone's nom papers, so that's another safeguard.

If people feel strongly about this, what they need to do is amend the LPC constitution. Follow the process to get a motion before the next biennial convention, and lobby the party members to elect delegates that support the motion. Lobby the delegates to support the motion, and hopefully get it passes.

The grassroots gave this power to the leader. If they want to take it away again, they certainly can. Until then, appointments are perfectly within the rules.

stageleft said...

Give up direct party appointments... you might well ask them to get rid of the party whip - neither will happen, power, once held, is not relinquished.

Jason Bo Green said...

Well, there's no doubt in my mind you're absolutely right, 100%.

If someone is truly a “star”, why do they need the crutch of appointment?

While I agree totally with Steve, I suspect the answer here is that star candidates aren't parachuted to win a riding - they are put in for the federal optics. Having Karen Kain (hypothetically) running in Toronto Centre means everyone in the country gets a chance to think, "Golly, Karen Kain - that _______ party sure is attracting top Canadians!" or whatever.

Like others here, I think the power of appointment is a fine safeguard - but just a safeguard. If it was used judiciously, and rarely, then there'd be no problem with it.

But right now, there *is* a problem.

Koby said...

I usually agree with on most things but not this. I do not want the Liberals adopt the old Reform line.

For just this reason.

Former Conservative MP Ted White " The Reform Party did adopt a very important, but little known, restriction on the power of the Leader, and it has worked well in terms of encouraging free votes by Reform, and now C.A., MPs. This control of the Leader did not, however, come without an internal struggle.

That struggle occurred back in 1988, when a very controversial and colourful columnist, the late Doug Collins, was chosen by the West Vancouver Reform Party Association to be their candidate for the 1988 election.

The Constitution of the Reform Party gave the sole right to choose a candidate to the members of the local association. This rule had been included in the Constitution in order to prevent the Leader, or the Party administration, from parachuting in candidates or from directing the Association whom to choose.

The Leader of the Party at the time though, Preston Manning, was unhappy with the choice and announced that he would not sign the candidate nomination papers unless Doug agreed to a set of conditions in writing related to his controversial views. Doug refused, so his papers were never signed, and a new candidate had to be chosen.

The local Riding Association was furious with Preston and made sure that Party members across the country recognized the Collins incident as highlighting a problem in the Party structure which we had not foreseen

That said, do I think the Liberal brass should make liberal use of their powers to nominate? Nope. However, once in a long while it is justified and it is always a good idea to have it in your back pocket should another Tom Wappel or Paul Steckle come along.

Steve V said...

Given the comments, maybe the solution is leave the power in place, but adopt a posture of "only under extreme circumstances".

Anonymous said...

As a historical note, this didn't start under Chretien, Martin and Din. The Liberal Party is far more democratic than it was in the 1970s, if appointed candidates is the measurement you choose to use.

Another point worth considering is that the number of contested nominations in the Liberal Party of Canada is far, far more than that of any other major party. That is true in 1988, 1993, 1997, 2000, 2004, and 2006.

I would wager there are three times as many contested nominations in the LPC than the CPC, and at least 4 times as many than the NDP.

Mushroom said...

My way of going through this is simple.

Adopt MMP federally.

This will give the Liberal leader the power to appoint candidates to run in the party lists. They will no longer be appointed over the head of the local riding associations. The candidate appointment process will be subjected not only to party approval but the wishes of the electorate.

I used to support the notion of having party candidates run in the riding before becoming a list candidate. The process I highlighted above is much simpler. In fact, I changed my attitude to the extent that I may argue that the members of the Cabinet and the Shadow Cabinet must run as a party list candidate instead of a local candidate. Thus, the future ministers need the approval of the whole electorate in order to serve this role.