Tuesday, April 28, 2009

"Let us make hay while the sun shines."

The Report of the Change Commission, Advancing Change Together: A Time to Act, if it is given appropriate play at Convention has the potential to make the Convention a "Convention about something" after all.

The report is the first seen in many a year that is about real renewal and change. And, about what plain, old, average members of the Party really think about what needs to be done to return our Party to movement status; about changing our deportment in front of the electorate, but more importantly in front of US. Changing the culture of our Party.

The report develops into a story what Quixotique and many members of the Party have been thinking and saying for quite a while. We care deeply about the Party and its values. We care less for how remote we have become. I cannot link to the document yet as it is on En Famille, but not the LPC website (yet)...so I will attempt to help in the telling of the story through some copy and pasted quotes (and my own emphases in bold).

“... The central objective of reform should be to enhance the party’s capacity to perform its core functions, and the key to doing that in our view is to put the sidelined membership of the party back on centre ice.

We also need leadership from leaders. From the top of the party, from the caucus and the parliamentary leadership, from the National and PTA Executives, and from the staff, and, closer to home, from EDA Presidents and Executive officers, members should hear recognition of the difficulties facing the party and a powerful commitment to renewal or reform. There is a need for inspiring language that will reassert the importance of the membership. Likewise members need to hear an affirmation of foundational values and a commitment to honour the constitution. Members will need to see all levels of the party working together on this. The Leader’s message of unity is very timely for the project of renewal. For members from east and west, north and south, the urban centres and the rural ridings, new Canadians and Aboriginal Peoples, unity means that everyone has a sense of belonging and being valued. What starts with the party membership will spread to Canadians as a whole – the Liberal Party of Canada will be the party of unity and belonging. “

“We believe, as you do, that the Liberal Party of Canada needs to rebuild from the ‘bottom up.’ It is clear that we must ensure the culture of the Liberal Party of Canada is not ‘top down’ but has a genuine respect for the values, ideas, and the contributions of time and energy of its members and supporters in the trenches. Liberal Party members and candidates in all 308 ridings in this country must feel that they are valued and can play a role in winning back the Canadian people’s confidence of in our party. But it is also clear that culture change has to be more than reassuring rhetoric.

Any revitalization of the party structure must embody our Liberal principles... The core definition appears in the Preamble to our Constitution... The participants in our consultations across Canada made frequent reference to these core values, calling for the party to champion and embody transparency, openness, inclusiveness, high ethical standards, engagement in communities, social responsibility and fairness, a focus on human rights, fiscal responsibility, international orientation, listening to the grassroots, and treating people – members of the party and members of the public – with dignity and respect.”

The isolation of party members from policy input is a major factor contributing to cynicism. Yet the pathway to better finances lies right through this territory. As one member stated in an online contribution, “As a Canadian and a Liberal, I am not going to be inclined to lend financial assistance if there’s no 2-way dialogue between me and the party. There has to be a motivation, one has to feel as though he has a stake in the direction the party takes.” The party’s current experiment in policy development for the Biennial Convention has shown promise but it will need to be reviewed in terms of how well it succeeds in allaying the cynicism of members who wish to contribute. In an analysis of the present system, Ron Hartling, a wel lregarded party volunteer and the founder of En Famille, suggests that it does not provide sufficient opportunity for reasoned debate. There is no systematic process for engaging subject matter experts or drawing in information about the policy context that could be helpful in shaping sound proposals. We must continue to develop mechanisms, online and through meetings, to enable members to contribute their concerns, insights and knowledge to the party’s policy development process. ...

Review of the policy process. A review of the policy process should be undertaken with these objectives in mind, aiming toward the substantive re-engagement of interested members and Canadians in the process and respecting the provisions of the Liberal constitution. The National Policy and Platform Committee could review and recommend to National Executive a new process whereby party members can vote on policy issues between conventions. More specifically, we recommend that the policy development process should be done both online and by mail for those who do not have internet access. The party website should contain an explanation on how the party policy process works and how members can get involved.

Recommendation 36: Policy process review. A review of the policy process should be undertaken by the National Policy and Platform Committee.

Use as many resolutions as possible. No matter what the process, the party’s election platform must use as many party resolutions as possible – otherwise the policy process is meaningless. This has been a source of considerable disillusionment in the past.

Recommendation 37: party resolutions in the platform. Every effort must be made to maximize the number of party resolutions in the election platform.”

“Liberals want their values to infuse the party, but they also want these values to be reflected in the formal processes which shape the party and facilitate its performance. Along with the formal policy development mechanisms, members wish to see all aspects of party governance become fully transparent, accountable and responsive. ...

Any issues with our Executive are not restricted to transparency and accountability to the members. There is a general lack of clarity of roles and responsibilities in the party. This applies not only to components of the structure manned by full-time staff but also to various volunteer based committees and task forces, of which there seem to be a lot.”

“The problems identified with the party structures were not simply matters of pure organization. Participants spoke about the need to increase the level of trust between different elements of the party; for instance between EDAs and PTAs, or between PTAs and the National Office. ...

Perhaps the most important issue of trust concerns the feelings of the broad membership about their place in the party. The Constitution states that a fundamental purpose of the party is to “provide a forum for members... to have their say and influence the policies and platform of the party.” Many members who communicated with us do not feel that they are being provided with the opportunities that are their right under the constitution. They have been disenfranchised. This in turn has not build the necessary amount of trust within the party. Linda Julien expressed the desire for change during our consultation in Laval: “Activists cannot be used as instruments for the party; the party must be the instrument for its members.”

Disenfranchisement has had far-reaching effects. As Tim Roy of Wild Rose put it: “The most critical challenge facing the party is the disenfranchisement that grass roots members feel with the party Executive and elected members. I believe this has resulted in party members becoming inactive due to their realization that they have very little input into policy formulation. It’s also meant they’ve held back on their regular financial contributions, which is evidenced by the current incredibly low number of regular contributors to party coffers.” "

Too often, the constitutional procedures of the Party are neglected, only adding to the distrust and frustration. The issue most frequently raised during our Commission’s consultation in Laval was the need for the Party and its executives to observe the constitution.

Our Party must work hard, not just to update our Constitution, but to ensure it is respected by PTAs, EDAs and the membership, and that every assistance is given to ensure that it can be, and is, followed. Members felt very strongly that infractions should entail consequences.”

“Nominations and Appointments Committee. We recommend that the National Executive form a Nominations and Appointments Committee to review the procedure and to monitor these processes in the future. This committee could look at the determination of winnable and unwinnable ridings. It could also be involved in debriefs from unheld ridings, the determination of the viability of the losing candidates, and the mechanisms of incumbent protection.

Candidates who do not win elections should have a serious conversation with the riding association as soon as possible after the election. The sooner a decision is taken the better. An early decision for the candidate to stay will allow the candidate to work to maintain their presence in the riding, helping maintain and rebuild the EDA in an unheld riding. those ,for whom there was ‘ not a fit’, be able to get on with their lives and decide how they can best make their contribution to the party.”

If you are going to the convention, please review this report before you go. Chat with your fellow delegates before you go and with your riding president if they are not going. Come with a mandate and participate in these discussions on real, true renewal and culture change.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Sometimes, "all that glisters" IS gold

Quixotique is about half way through the Report of the Change Commission and it is a fabulous document. It is blunt and sincere in its committment to the institution of the Party. It's a Party first document.

More to follow

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

"In the night all cats are gray."

I have been tardy in finishing up my posts on proposed amendments to the LPC Constitution. There is one last, little, wee, inoccuous, housekeeping one that rots my socks. Not because it should be defeated, it shouldn't be; but because of what it indicates about our current administration (and here I am not talking about ILMI or his or the Party staff), and how carefully all of us delegates must scrutinize the candidates seeking office to the National Executive and to hold them to their words in the future; to hold them accountable to us, the membership, and to us through upholding of the Party Constitution, whether we or they agree with what is in it or not.

The amendment is to amend subparagraph 54(3)(e)(v) (Appointment of additional members of the Leadership Expenses Committee) which is currently inconsistent with wording elsewhere in the Chapter and to other Chapters, to read (additions emphasized):

(v) any number of other members of the Party appointed by the co-chairs in consultation with the National Executive and respecting the principle of equal participation of men and women and the recognition of English and French as the official languages of Canada.

Avid readers of the LPC Constitution will note that this amendment would make this subparagraph virtually identical to that currently contained in the Chapter on the National Election Readiness Committee (Chapter 32) except that in the case of the NERC, the consultation is intended to be with the Leader and the National Executive.

My problem is not what either subparagraph says or does not say, but with the way in which the clause has been (as have several others which Quixotique has pointed out in other diatribes) dishonoured by the NE and its constitutional advisers.

Just before the last National Executive meeting, members of the NWLC were concerned that the National Election Readiness Committee had been announced with a membership that was 2/3 men and 1/3 female. While no member of the NERC was present at the NE to discuss the issue with them, it was raised, and the answer? That the intention of the words "respecting the principle of of equal participation of men and women..." was unlikely to have meant 50/50 in all instances. I get that, but 2/3-1/3 is pretty far off from the "principle of equal participation" and in this day and age, particularly when the women's vote is so bloody critical to the Party, it's not a grand message to have an Election Readiness (Campaign) Committee that is so old, white and male. But that's not even the most critical "breach".

The fact of the matter is that this clause requires the NERC Co-Chairs to consult the Leader and the NE, and while the (interim) Leader may have been consulted
(actually you can bet your booty he was), the National Executive most certainly was not. They were told, like everyone else. And not even formally so, they had to ask, well after the fact of the appointments/announcement. Apparently the youth were equally concerned with the composition of the Committee. Not with the individuals themselves or their caliber, but with the overall representativeness of the composition of the Committee. This aspect was not addressed.

So, one wonders what the point is of having constitutional instructions, when those instructions are not abided, or worse, ignored.

The Renewal Committee in doing its very fine work, while not placing sole responsibility on the PTA's, nonetheless said this with respect to their obligations: "Put succinctly, one can easily come to the conclusion that some PTAs have failed to live up to their new constitutional obligations, and that the transition from administrative and membership functions to a more proactive organizational role has been slow." They often admonished the full administration since the 2006 revamped constitution for not adhering to or implementing intended changes swiftly enough. After all, that new Constitution represented the will of the Party.

The addition of a consultation with the National Executive on the appointment of the NERC was a conscious one. We should expect the Co-Chairs to have then consulted - I would say specifically with the NWLC, but most certainly with the full Executive. It is an obligation that the Party has imposed on them, not one that can or should be ignored in the guise of tradition or prerogative.

So while we are all swept up in Constitutional change, I certainly hope that there is as much discussion at Convention, and concrete action post-convention for cultural change in our Party.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

"The pot calls the kettle black."

Ignatieff lacks 'moral compass': Harper. Or as Constant Vigilence says: That pot's got chutzpa!

Some more more things...

...the YLC proposes: no MPs, Senators or candidates on the National Executive; policy resolutions to be debated by delegates; and, an Outreach Secretary.

Concerned about potential conflicts of interest, the YLC proposes that "Except for the Leader and the representative of Caucus ..., no person who is currently serving as a member of the House of Commons or the Senate of Canada may serve as a voting member of the National Executive", and that a voting member of the National Executive who becomes a nominated candidate would have to take a leave of absence from the Executive during the writ period.

I'm kind wondering what those conflicts of interest might be. Or, is there concern about the undue influence of Caucus in the affairs of the Party?

Not even any background discussion was required for this one: "All policy resolutions which are duly sent to a biennial convention by a PTA or a Commission according to the rules set out by the National Policy and Platform Committee must be considered by delegates at a convention before going forward to the floor for a final vote."

The next one, on the addition of an Outreach Secretary to the National Executive and Management Committee, I've got a bit of a problem with. I think the background, as opposed to the amendments themselves will suffice here, with one exception. My concern is in bold.

"The Special Committee on Party Renewal recently found that to be successful electorally, the Party needs to engage more consistently and more strategically in reaching targeted groups. This report recommended that EDA's, at their discretion, add outreach directors to engage the targeted populations of each of their commissions. These outreach directors would liaise with national commissions to collaborate on ensuring that strategic objectives are realized. The effect of the proposed amendment is that an Outreach Secretary is constituted as a voting member of the National Executive and as a voting member of the National Management Committee."

One of the related amendments: "Include the ORS in the list of appointments made by the National Executive under paragraph 23(1)(d)."

In the report of the Special Committee on Party Renewal, the Committee reviewed the revised composition and size (reduced from 64 to 25 voting members and 8 non-voting members) of the National Executive, stating:

"This reduction in size has been positive for the Party. National executive meetings used to be prohibitively expensive and, by virtue of the numbers involved, unwieldy. The new structure is far more apt to generate meaningful discussion and better decision-making. Efforts to “re-grow” the national executive should be resisted."

The voting members all have some sort of electoral mandate. The non-voting members of the NE are all appointments made by either the National Executive itself, the Leader, and/or the President.

There are some, like Quixotique, who have argued that all appointments to the Executive, and presiding positions of Standing and ad hoc committees should also be subject to some sort of ratification, or at minimum review by the membership (much as is done now by Parliamentarians for key government appointments), perhaps by the Council of Presidents.

Even if one disagrees with Quixotique's position or views it as unrealistic, it seems odd to suggest that a new executive/officer position, not dissimilar in type of mandate to the Membership Secretary should not be a nationally elected position. Otherwise, given the close relationship of the proposed position with the Commissions, one can see the battle lines drawing at the first NE meeting now. Candidates would most likely still have to campaign for the post, it's just that their electorate would be reduced from several thousand delegates to 25 colleagues.

So, I say if there is merit in adding the position to the National Executive, so be it. But if it is to be an appointment, it must be a non-voting position. Otherwise, the incumbent should receive a national mandate in return for their vote.

Some more things...

...of a constitutional amendment nature. In addition to the OMOV amendment to the amendment, the YLC (and this is not to pick on the YLC, it's just that they have put forward some of the more interesting proposed constitutional amendments) have proposed a couple of sets of changes to the composition of the National Executive which are worthy of debate. They have also proposed one regarding ex-officio delegates at Convention which might raise some eyebrows given the "other" discussions about influence going on right now. Let's start with that one.

The amendment itself is simple. It would remove the words "has served" and replace them with "is currently serving" in paragraph 62(1)(h)(in the section right to attend and vote at conventions), so that it would read: "each person who is currently serving as a member of the House of Commons or the Senate of Canada and who is a member of the Party."

The thought process is very interesting. Here is the background paragraph provided in the amendment document (highlights are mine):

"Background: Concerns have been raised about the influence and number of ex-officio delegates versus that of elected EDA delegates. This does not suggest that certain elected positions do not warrant ex-officio status, however, under the current rules some individuals have virtually a life-time ex-officio status. Also, it should be noted that a proposed amendment that will be considered at the Convention will reduce the number of EDA elected delegates from 20 to 14 (and youth from six to four). Should it pass, the influence of EDA elected delegates will be diminished even more so. The amendment would limit the number of parliamentary ex-officios to sitting MPs and Senators and reduce the overall number of ex-officios versus elected EDA delegates."

To Quixotique this is a good amendment, very much in keeping with the overall premise of the move to OMOV in leadership selection that the member is ultimately supreme, and real-time participation in the Party is more important than historical, and is certainly more democratic than the current (new in 2006) delegate structure. (As an aside, the prevailing wisdom for the upcoming leadership convention is that former MPs and Senators, whether or not they are former Liberal MPs or Senators, as long as they are current members of the Party, will be allowed to be delegates.)

It's just that I can't square the thinking on undue influence with the "other" amendment. Are the youth not arguing here that "delegates for life" are an artificial enhancement of the influence of a faction (elites?) within the Party? Maybe someone could explain (rationalize) it to me.

Monday, April 6, 2009

"There is a time for some things, and a time for all things; a time for great things, and a time for small things."

There is a good and intelligent debate going on about the YLC's proposed amendment to the National Executive's proposed constitutional amendment to institute a universal vote in leadership selection. Good that the debate is occurring a few weeks before the Convention so that members who are not delegates can make their views known both publicly and to the EDA delegates who will (should) be carrying their views to the plenary. But what about the rest of the proposals? How will they fit with what the membership may or may not wish to see in the context of renewal?

Quixotique has received the draft of the full set of proposed amendments and other than the leadership selection proposal(s), sees not much renewal, a fair bit of housekeeping and a couple of items that while perhaps well intentioned should also receive scrutiny, debate and discussion well in advance of the Convention. In general the proposals seem to fit with the Renewal Committee's stated premise in their report that not much really needs to be done, other than a more aggressive implementation of the 2006 changes:

"This report is, of necessity, more tightly focused than the Red Ribbon report. Many of its recommendations will urge speedier implementation of the provisions in the 2006 reform. However, some fine-tuning is required."
Every Voter Counts: the 308 Riding Strategy, Report of the Special Committee on Party Renewal

Here's one that might provoke some discussion.
A set of amendments (a related amendment is brought forward from 2006 by a Quebec EDA) related to the "Suspension and revocation of membership".

While it is reasonable to expect that an organization have the right to suspend or revoke a membership under certain circumstances, those circumstances should be clearly defined and penalties or remedies commensurate.
The proposed amendment does not appear to provide for reasons for the consideration of termination by the National Executive (it does require notice be given to the member, the right to address the NE, and a 2/3 vote):
"The National Executive may terminate the membership of any member of the Party whose conduct is considered by the National Executive to be detrimental to the Party..."
It does also not appear to address how the consideration of termination might reach the NE, in other words, whether a complaint needs to be filed, who can file such a complaint if required or request a hearing into a member's conduct (i.e. PTA, EDA, any other member?), nor provide guidance to the NE as to what might constitute "detrimental conduct".

The proposal also would allow for a terminated member to apply to join the Party again after 18 months and the re-application would be decided by the Membership Secretary:

"A person whose membership has been terminated under subsection 9(2) may apply to join the Party again only if 18 months have passed since their membership was terminated. Their application must be considered personally by the National Membership Secretary and may be rejected by the National Membership Secretary for any reason. If the membership application is rejected by the National Membership Secretary, then the person may not apply to join the Party again for another 12 months and this subsection applies to that further application."
If a 2/3 vote of the NE is required to terminate a membership, is it appropriate that the reinstatement decision be given to the Membership Secretary? Not taking a position here; just asking.

The amendment goes on to describe "suspension" as opposed to termination, indicating that in such instances, the Leader or National President may make the decision to suspend (again no guidance), although if the NE does not confirm the suspension, it will die.

"The Leader or the National President may suspend the right of any member to participate in the affairs of the Party and its organs for a period of no more than six months if the member whose membership may be suspended under this subsection has received notice...

The Leader or the National President, as the case may be, must report any suspension under subsection 9(4) to the National Executive at its next meeting, and if the National Executive does not confirm the suspension, then it will cease."
If I were the Leader or the President (both scary thoughts), I'm not sure I'd want the responsibility for suspension, but then again, that's probably why it's proposed that either have that responsibility in the first place, so that the consideration is taken very seriously.

It is likely that consideration was given to the seriousness of "detrimental conduct" requiring a booting out period of 18 months, versus a 6 month suspension for "less detrimental conduct", but it would be kind of nice to have some further explanation of the thought process behind the proposal, in particular the vagueness of the "why and the how".

Quixotique has actually just become quite concerned about her continuing status as a paid up, card carrying member of the Party!

More to follow in subsequent posts.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

"It is the part of a wise man to keep himself to-day for to-morrow, and not to venture all his eggs in one basket. "

Quixotique is once again confused. Debate springing up over the weekend in the youth wing of the Party shows us that our youth are both amongst the most progressive and the most conservative elements in the Party at the same time. This weekend the YLC put forward an amendment to the proposed National Executive sponsored constitutional amendment to institute a riding-based-weighted one-member-one-vote system for leadership selection.

Many have already weighed in appropriately on this debate with well-reasoned arguments.
Youth in favour of the status quo?? Youth for youth? or Youth for a strong party?

While Quixotique favours the proposed OMOV process, she has consistently been concerned about the over-emphasis on this change as the key reform that the Party can make. This one change is not a panacea for all that ails the party, but a start based on and illustrating the democratic principles that should permeate all of our other processes and governance.

Now, what has been held out as seminal change runs the risk of being bastardized; debased, in the name of vested interest.

And not for the first time. The 2005 biennial is a case in point. What was striking as the Convention moved through its agenda of policy discussion through to matters of structure and process was just how absolutely the vested interests remained in control in the Party.

Early on, the Youth wing of the Party engineered a defeat of a policy resolution proposed by the Women's Caucus and the Women's commission to state, as a matter of party policy (there was no accompanying, binding Constitutional amendment), that the Party was committed to gender equality in all of its structures and that it would put in place an action plan to move towards at least 50% female candidates for the next Federal Election. As the preamble to the resolution stated, women represent 52% of the Canadian population. We were told that the Youth representation at the Convention was close to one-third of the registered delegates, yet Statistics Canada told us that the population of those in the age group eligible for membership in the YLC (14-25) stood at around 16% of the Canadian population. The motives of the Young Liberals in defeating this statement of principle could only be related to their desire to maintain an inordinate control over Party matters. To Quixotique, this most certainly represented a vested interest.

In 2006, while the youth were successful in whipping their (over-represented) delegation to obtain a similar amendment to the OMOV proposal at the time, they were somehow unable to whip enough votes to have the main proposal adopted. Was the amendment to the amendment a poison pill? Would OMOV be in place now had the youth not protected their own flank?

It would be a shame to yet again have OMOV fail at the convention while this concept was the most ardently debated at En Famille and in presentations to the Renewal Committee and while there appears to be such a wide consensus of support for the notion throughout the Party, but I think it even worse that it pass in the gerrymandered form that it would take should (some of) the youth be successful this time.