Friday, November 12, 2010

"A little in one's own pocket is better than much in another man's purse."

It seems that when it comes to reports about political fundraising in Canada we see the same headlines and stories recycled quarter after quarter year after year - at least when it comes to the Liberal Party and at least since 2004. "Cash-strapped Liberals". "Liberals lag behind."   Virtually every such headlined story contains a line or two suggesting that it is simply mind boggling how the party has been unable to "adapt" in over 7 years to the "new regime" of limits on donations and sources of funds.  The usual excuses are trotted out.  We had a Leader who was "dumb as a bag of hammers" (not); we never got over losing access to the corporate teat and continue to look for ways around it; we're doing okay, the Tories are just better at it; we've had problems (in this day and age, sheesh!) developing or buying the proper database; those mean old Tories used those nasty 10 percenters.   The one that hits closest to home is that the Tories inherited a more grassroots-oriented system or rather culture from their Reform wing.  

I would tie to this Liberal Party cultural shibboleth the unfortunate structure of the organization itself.  The Liberal Party of Canada remains a federation of "Provincial and Territorial Associations".  Until 2006 the constitutionally defined members of the the LPC were these "PTA's".  Actual individual membership in the party was not held at the national level, there was no standardization with respect to dues, privileges, and the like, other than the most basic (not a member of another party, etc.) and the PTA's, having wrested "control" of the lists away from the riding associations, guarded their membership lists fiercely from the national party.  While successful in creating (on paper at any rate) a "National Register of Members" in 1992, the national organization was not to fundraise from these lists, if given, and the biggest budgetary consultations each year occurred around "revenue sharing agreements" between the various levels.

Even with the obvious impact of the 2004 and subsequent changes to the Canada Elections Act, and with the move in 2006 to a real national register of members, the party continues to constitutionally vest power and authority for operations to the PTA's (real power and authority however is vested with appointed officials and bodies in the party but that's for another post) and separate revenue sharing arrangements are negotiated each year with each PTA.

This federated structure made sense in the days when there were closer and in fact unifed relationships between Liberal "Parties" at the national level contesting for seats in the House of Commons and Liberal "Parties" at the provincial level vying to form provincial governments.  In today's world, the BC Liberal Party for example has no ties related to members, policy, funding or frankly ideology to the Liberal Party of Canada. Provincial Leaders and MLA's have no standing at National Conventions or within the LPC constitution for any purpose including consultative.  Some of the smaller provinces retain some ties, mostly related to cost-sharing for secretariat operations, but the CEA and similar provincial acts have made financial and other ties virtually obsolete.

So who can, and who does raise money from whom remains an annual and individual matter of negotiation. Individual members, while being members of the national organization through their local organization are organized by their PTA's and subjected to the commensurate loyalty/affinity tuggles and jealousies.  

The main outcome of this is an ingrained culture of members giving at the local level and influencers giving nationally, although members will give when they are charged up and stimulated either by policy or passionate advocacy or both.  I think that this impression also influences the perceived voting preferences amongst the populace at large.  In other words, rather than Canadians giving less to the LPC when polls decline, the polls decline when Canadians see that the party's own membership either declines, or reduces its own vocal and financial support.

Like most things in the Liberal Party, organizational change occurs at a snails pace. In some sense this is understandable for a party that "knows" that if it can just wait it out until it's back in power, things will all be right once again.  But the required cultural change will not in my view occur without it. 

Cultural change and organizational change.  It's like love and marriage.  You can't have one without the other.       

No comments:

Post a Comment