Saturday, March 28, 2009

"The proof of the pudding is in the eating."

And if the soup├žon of revelations provided by Pierre Trudeau Is My Homeboy on the report of the Renewal Committee that the National Executive will discuss this weekend are truly indicative, the pudding may prove itself to be fairly sweet.

Quixotique has been both buoyed and concerned over some of the discussions at En Famille particularly the overwhelming preoccupation with the potential change to a OMOV system of leadership selection (which Quixotique supports) as the panacea for greater, or "ultimate" membership engagement in the affairs of the Party, as while such a move is assuredly advisable, Leadership contests should be fairly rare occurrences in the life of a Party, and the membership most certainly must be continually engaged in (and in fact, drive) all manner of Party processes and decisions.

I am anxious to consume the full report and recommendations, particulary discussions around the concepts of engagement and delegation and the role of the Leader and others in the Party leadership in the institutional conduct and relationships, but generally like the tidbits that have been offered so far.

Implementation, of course, will be key.

"Make it thy business to know thyself, which is the most difficult lesson in the world."

It seems that Quixotique's most recent musings (okay, rant) struck a chord in certain circles and was both well- and ill-received depending on which of those circles one runs in most. Issues of loyalty and concepts of constructive and destructive contributions were raised; Quixotique was requested to examine her motivations. A tough, but ultimately positive thing to do.

Quixotique counts herself fortunate to have learned at the feet of masters of Liberal Party politics and has taken many lessons from some very principled people, including, frankly, her parents. Parents instill the values that form our personal belief structure, the structure upon which we deport ourselves, the foundation upon which we base our motivations in whatever we do. There's no right or wrong on the emphasis our personal values lead us to on the (long, convoluted and complex) continuum between self- and global societal-interest in the context of motivation.

In the context of "party", it is basic shared values that bring us together, but our varying emphases on the continuum that make a party strong, whole and complete; all motivations are valid and all are needed.

One of those Quixotique considers amongst the masters is former Senator and Party President, Al Graham, a grand, grand democrat. Hansard excerpts from the time of Senator Al's retirement from the Senate in 2004, speak volumes, much more eloquently than Quixotique could, about these concepts of values and motivation.

Senator Jack Austin: "
From 1975 to 1980, Senator Graham served as president of the Liberal Party of Canada. Out of this time came his deep commitment to the democratic process and his determination to spread the ideas and practices of democracy to the emerging societies of the world system. He took that message around the world in his leadership work with Liberal International and the National Democratic Institute. His book, The Seeds of Freedom: Personal Reflections on the Dawning of Democracy, promotes the power of the individual to effect positive change."

Senator Lynch Staunton: "Senator Graham succeeded as well as he did because Al is, first and foremost, a traditional parliamentarian who recognizes that the proper functioning of the parliamentary system depends on both government and opposition respecting each other's roles and responsibilities. When one resorts to bullying, or the other to obstruction, the system can break down, sometimes resulting in mistrust which seriously hinders the working relationship that is so essential at the leadership level."

It is Al Graham who first spoke to me about these values, relating his philosophy and approach to partisan politics through a simple catch phrase that continues to resonate:
"Country. Party. Leader."
That's my motivation in this little endeavour. That is the order in which my loyalties lie when it comes to my own political life. I don't view the choice between loyalty to Party and loyalty to Leader as a binary one. In fact, I don't really view it as a choice at all.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

"I find my familiarity with thee has bred contempt."

Why does the Liberal Party repeatedly continue to dis its atrophying membership, paying lip service to its relevance and importance through examination of "change" and "renewal" while at the same time solidifying control by the (interim) (unelected) Leader, the caucus and unelected officials? It's a contemptuous attitude - contemptuous of the membership surely, but contemptuous of democratic principles more certainly.

First (or more correctly, recently first) was the selection of a "permanent" leader without membership involvement whatsoever, not even a consultation. And, it should be noted this selection was made by caucus members, themselves with little (or none, in the case of Senators) recent connection themselves to the membership either - most having either been "protected" from their membership given their status as incumbents in the last election, or appointed (by whom? not by the membership surely).

Next came the un-appointment (disappointment?) of the National Director and appointment of the new one by the IUEL when the Constitution clearly states that this is the role of the National Executive as the representatives of all members.

Amazingly, these acts were followed by the acclamation of 93% of the delegates to the upcoming "Leadership" Convention and another dissing of the membership - denied, in 278 out of 308 ridings their right to express their views on the selection of Leader.

While this is going on the Party enters its examination phase, looking at cultural and Constitutional change related to Leadership selection; the Party's structure; its Commissions; and, note this for later: "
The development of a clear process and tools for connecting grassroots policy development to all levels of the party." It does not specifically examine overall membership rights and responsibilities, nor, in this context, the nomination process.

And, while that is going on the (unelected) Party leadership announces a new/old regime to protect incumbents. Tories try to do the same and this time the MSM (in addition to Quixotique!) wades in. Some argue that Parties are private organizations and the electorate don't notice these things or care. But others know that, as did Sancho Panza, you are known by the company you keep ("
Tell me thy company, and I will tell thee what thou art." ). The Tories, surprisingly given their hammer-hold, top down, command-and-control propensities, bent a bit under the weight of democratic principle (or populism) and agreed that their membership will get some sort of say. The Liberal Party? Silent. Meanwhile, the MSM (voice of the electorate?) continue to call the parties on this antiquated, undemocratic practice as suggest that they might better be reigned in by public regulation through the form of some kind of registration. Hear! Hear! Elections Canada take note: somebody trusts you.

And, now, to cap it all off, the very body that is examining
"the development of a clear process and tools for connecting grassroots policy development to all levels of the party," informs us that we're just a tad too untrustworthy and indiscreet to participate in the development of the Party platform. We don't understand the realities of campaigning and governing doncha know. We can have our little say, at great personal expense, but we're not to expect much, it's just not our responsibility to decide nor let the electorate know what we stand for:

"People are free to debate and voice their views and that's the way it should be and you deal with that. Whether or not a certain debate will be incorporated into the platform, or have influence on the platform is not for me to decide, it's the leader's responsibility"

So, why bother having a convention at all I say? Why bother having a convention when there's only one candidate interested in being President of the darn thing anyway? Why bother having a convention when virtually all of the delegates are unelected and therefore not arriving at convention with any sort of delegated mandate from anybody anyway? Why bother having a convention where the main question has already been decided and any others, whether policy- or change-oriented will simply be ignored?

Why bother period.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

"The ass will carry his load, but not a double load; ride not a free horse to death."

So last week we heard about the Liberal Party's plan to save incumbents from the time and expense of holding nomination meetings - they're awfully busy in Ottawa doncha know - and this week it's the Tories. This is scary stuff (although far from novel) and members in both parties need to address the issue. Scary too when you look at the similarities between what the Liberals said in similar circumstances in 2004 to what Peter Goldring says of the Tory circumstances now.

An October 30, 2004 editorial in the Ottawa Citizen, entitled "Democratic reform was nice while it lasted", described
PMPM's announcement about protecting the nominations of incumbent MP’s – in October, remember they had been elected in June and the House had barely resumed – before any of the “new ones” had even been given a chance to prove, to either their own constituents, or to the party “members” who nominated them in the first place, whether they were worthy of re-election, re-nomination or both. What was the motivation for this action? According to the editorial a spokesperson for the Prime Minister (presumably commenting in capacity as spokesperson for the Leader of the Liberal Party of Canada) said that “it’s to keep [Liberal MP’s] from having to worry about rivals organizing against them at home while they’re trapped in the House of Commons making sure the government wins parliamentary votes.” Key word: trapped.

Now look at Goldring's words in the Hill Times of this week:

"Mr. Goldring said in a minority Parliament trying to address the ongoing economic crisis it's critical for MPs to be able to focus on their work and be available in Ottawa for crucial House votes that could topple their government, without having to be worried about watching their backs.

"It takes time and anything that takes time away from them [MPs], if their focus has to be on doing work in the riding as well as working here, it's certainly much better to spend your time working on issues here that are for the people rather than just trying to spend time increasing your chances of being nominated or working on memberships because you're trying to protect your nomination," said Mr. Goldring."

And, of course as noted above, we have a not-so-new new internal policy from ILMI that says incumbents will be protected only if they meet certain membership and grassroots fundraising thresholds (400 members (adjusted for region) and 40 Victory Fund members). The CPC would be wise not to take lessons from the LPC in this regard.

You know, it's not that we don't get the logic of all this. It's just that it is sooo undemocratic. Considering that there are many MP's, most certainly in the Liberal Party as well as the CPC who haven't faced a real nomination since their first divissive slugfests many moons ago. A Party nomination is not a Senate seat - it's not an appointment for life (oops silly naiive me, there I go again!) It's just that we don't want to put them through the bother.

Wouldn't you think that ridings with MP's would always have healthy memberships so they shouldn't have to worry? (Note careful phraseology here: I did not say MP's with healthy memberships; the members are not the MP's, they are the Party's and the ridings'.) And so what if they did?! I think most members in held ridings looove their MPs and vice versa. A healthy membership that wishes to turf their nominated candidate should have the same right as the electorate does (and the electorate does fairly often; there's a farily high incumbency turnover rate in Canada compared to many other jursidiction such as in the US, where incumbents must always be re-nominated (primaries), but I kinda digress...).

I know that the original premise for incumbency protection, as was the case for the Leader's "right" to appoint, had its genesis in takeover attempts by various "special interest groups" in the days where a Liberal nomination East of Manitoba pretty much secured one a seat - or at minimum a very competitive crack at one, but those problems themselves came more themselves from a genesis of manipulated and truncated membership voting rules including brief and moving-target cut-off periods. Reactions to undemocratic processes with even more undemocratic processes - hmmm, isn't there a word for that?

Instead of continuing this charade, why don't we just fix the real problems? There are two things that ILMI and the National Executive and the Campaign Committee and all the other mucky mucks who run this stuff could consider to make Quixotique feel a little more listened to and a little less hot under the collar. And they're not biggies.

Firstly, if you must put in place incumbency protection for this one very last time give it a sunset clause timed for any election (and obvisouly nomination process) initiated after the conclusion of the Biennial Convention in Vancouver, where, whether binding or not, Party members just might like to have their say on some of this stuff and maybe even put in place a more democratic membership-nomination regime, or at least a sanctioned one.

Secondly, while the thresholds, if they represent minimum expectations, ain't necessarily a bad thing for MP's, impose a regime, where, as now, any incumbent not meeting the thresholds may be contested, but also where the membership in held ridings where the thresholds are met, will be the ones to decide. Let them decide if their MP can be contested or not. What a way to work together (always work together).

UPDATE: Well someone out there agrees with me!

UPDATE 2: And they did again, and um again, kinda.

Monday, March 9, 2009

"I must follow him through thick and thin."

So says conventional (pun intended) political party leader wisdom. Or does it? I simply can't believe I missed this: Advice for Michael Ignatieff. And that seemingly so did every other Liberal, Con, progressive blogger or pundit in Canada. Other than the comments at, I can't find anyone that has commented on this. Sort of speaks to what Bourque (J. C. not the Bourque you're thinking of!) (and Dalton Camp posthumously) is trying to tell us eh?

What this online article (and from Quixotique's POV, from a non-partisan, more academic POV) is talking about is the the relationship between Leader and Party; what it is, what it was meant to be and just how far parties, in this instance the Liberal Party, have moved away from the sense of parties as associations of "like-mindeds", who work collaboratively for the betterment of the Party and one would hope the country. Bourque, who obviously stems from the old Progressive Conservative tradition, provides not his advice to ILMI, but that of Dalton Camp, political organizer, strategist and ad man extradordinaire from the days when partisan politics, seemed well somehow less partisan and more gentlemanly than what we see today, at minimum when most had a better sense of "party" than I would venture we do now. Bourque's piece uses excerpts from a speech by Camp in 1966, who was PC Party President at the time, and who in challenging the leadership of (former Prime Minister) John Diefenbaker while championing the interests of the party, was said by many
to have forced a situation where for the first time in Canada's history a party leader was held accountable by the grassroots, bringing democracy one step further
. Camp's interventions on behalf of his party brought about the first, and since entrenched concept of "Leadership Review". Bourque uses this famous incident to "remind Mr. Ignatieff of his role, responsibilities and purpose, and the hues of legitimacy he has".

I think it is wise reading, particularly for a newly minted leader of a Canadian political party, especially one who by all accounts, likes to listen, and learn. I hope ILMI and his peeps read this. I really, really do. Not that the IL deserves bashing - it's simply too early to tell - but advice in the form of warnings: Stay on your toes! Remember who got you here (oops that one doesn't quite work, oh well)! The Party is paramount - it is what will get you there, not the other way around!

I love the headers that that Bourque has interspersed with (very) key messages from Camp's speech. My favourites are: The party should not be coerced, but led; The leader is responsible to the party; and, especially, Leaders have a responsibility to represent the party's ideals more so than winning at all costs. Heck I pretty much like them all.

Reprinting that part of the article below. Which ones do you like?

1. The leader is responsible to the party

"Leaders are fond of reminding followers of their responsibilities and duties to leadership...What is seldom heard, however, is a statement on the responsibilities of the leader to those he leads. Leaders are fond of saying how arduous their labour, how complex the circumstances and how unfair the press criticism, as though they have been called to their high office by some supreme power rather than those they are addressing."

2. The party must be prepared to guide the leader

"A party willingly submits to the leader's power. In the relationship between the leader and the led, there is a mutuality of interest and, as well, a continuing common experience of discovery, learning and revelation. Where the leader does not know the limits to his power, he must be taught, and when he is indifferent to the interest of his party, he must be reminded."

3. The party is permanent

"The party is not the embodiment of the leader, but rather the other way round; the leader is transient, the Party permanent."

4. The party should not be coerced, but led

"Mackenzie King once said the Canadian nation was built upon the spirit of reconciliation, meaning, of course, the reconciling of diverse interest, race, and outlook. A Canadian political party can be no different. Men who lead cannot demand adherence, they may only be given it, and this is the gift of those who are reconciled in some greater and more impersonal cause, which is the party's role and place in the nation."

5. A good leader allows for internal debate

"The argument is made that to question at any time, or in any matter, the acts of leaders will invoke a grave question of non-confidence. This is an argument for sheep, not for men. Men are not required to act in perfect harmony and concert, or to dwell in docile agreement, in order to belong to political parties... since silence is always taken for consent, why then should those who do not consent be silenced by the irrelevant question of non-confidence?"

6. Leaders have a responsibility to represent the party's ideals more so than winning at all cost

"It is assumed by some that leaders have a responsibility to win elections, or at least command a good portion of public opinion and the matter ends there. If this were true, then the party system is a deadly waste of time and enterprise and we would do better to recruit leaders through the classified pages or by public opinion polls. But, of course we do not; leaders are chosen by their parties, through the admittedly imperfect system of the convention, a process which produces a willing leader and a party's willingness to support him. It is not, as every politician knows, a lifetime contract."

7. Toadyism should not be mistaken for loyalty to the party

"Again, the leader should be given as much loyalty to his followers as he demands from them. This is not a personal loyalty, but rather loyalty to the party, to its continuing strength, best interest and well-being. This must be shared by leader and followers alike, if unity and harmony are to be enjoyed by both. While it is natural that a leader will gather about him a number of like-minded men and women, if their like-mindedness is chiefly that of loyalty to the leader then the party system ceases to function and politics becomes a matter of subservience rather than service, and of personality rather than purpose."

8. The limits to leadership

"The limits of the powers of leadership cannot be precisely determined, but they are far short of absolute, less than arbitrary, and subject to the reasoned second thoughts of others of responsibility and influence in the Party. The powers appear total only to those who confuse subservience with loyalty."

9. The responsibility of speaking truth to power

"There is a political fable regarding a supporter who tells his leader he supports his policy because he agrees it is right. And the leader remarks that he does not need his support when right, but requires it when he is wrong. Such a philosophy, in practice, reduces politics to an absurdity, converts supporters into hacks, and leaders into tyrants."

Up next in this vein: incumbency protection.