Wednesday, May 4, 2011

It is past all controversy that what costs dearest is, and ought to be, most valued"


Let’s elect a steward as the Party’s next Leader. 

We’ve got a lot to do to rebuild and one of those things, an important one but not the only one is to pick a new Leader.  Let’s not once again over-inflate the critical nature of this choice by trying to get around process. We have too nasty a legacy of that as it is.  The precedents aren’t pretty.

For years, I’ve been arguing that the Liberal Party has placed too much emphasis on the personal characteristics of our Leaders and not enough on their values.  After all I’ve argued, when we choose our leaders at whatever level, we should be seeking those that best articulate our shared values, not those who make them up for us and then deliver them to us.   

For years the membership was ignored or bypassed while the views of donors and outside experts were sought first or exclusively.  Members were told to wait, anxious and drooling for the platform tablets to be delivered from the mount. Very few discussions were held on policy matters at the riding level, and in recent times, not even at the national level.  Conventions were rah-rah affairs, scripted and too expensive for average people with thoughts to share to actually participate.

Some of us suggested that we shouldn’t be discussing policy specifically, certainly by way of policy resolutions at Conventions anyway.  What we should be discussing are our values and belief structure in a modern context and providing a prioritized subset of those to the Party’s leadership to go away and craft a platform and programs with, and then come back for some sort of ratification.  
In other words, the Party should be providing a mandate to its leadership, not the other way around. These discussions, consultations and ratifications would be ongoing and regular, assisted greatly by today’s technologies and social media.  The Leader and the caucus would of course continue to provide leadership on most issues of the day, but they would benefit from the guidance provided by the party; by a more intimate relationship so to speak.  The same is most certainly true with respect to the important organizational and structural matters facing the Party.

This type of process would have stood us in much better shape if for example we had used it to discuss democratic notions such as coalitions and pre-election cooperation, together and consensually as a party. 

It could serve us decently now, if the Party executive, who are after all supposed to be accountable to us the membership - the people who “elected” them - deigned to ask us our thoughts and seek some guidance on the choice of an interim leader.  After all, the caucus only makes a recommendation.  The people decide.

I think that most Liberals agree on changing the relationship and taking more control, but are now saying that we should wait to have this discussion “amongst ourselves” before entering into a leadership race to determine who best could take this sort of direction from the Party.  Not so much wait to have the discussion I guess as to put the selection of a new permanent leader off while we do this work.  

There are no saviours after all.  That I agree with.  But aside from the fact that my reading of the party process doesn’t allow for this – and I would hope that we have learned that adherence to the process does matter; after all it is hard to argue about prorogations and contempt in Parliament and then turn around and dis your own party’s processes just because you disagree with them due to unanticipated circumstances – I don’t think the party will ultimately benefit from a lengthy interim leadership. Lengthy periods of interim leadership tend toward lengthy and divisive periods of pseudo leadership races, and interim Leaders, even though they have all of the powers of permanent leaders tend to focus more on caucus leadership and less on the organizational side.  Where I might concede on the process side of this discussion is if the full party was consulted in some sort of vote or guiding straw vote, as alluded to above.

Tom Axworthy has argued quite eloquently for some of the things the party needs to do and the length of time that may be required to do it, and concluded that a side benefit of waiting until a year before the election to choose our new leader, will be less time for their “demonization”.  Many, many others are echoing those thoughts, primarily on the rebuilding front.  I tend to think that we can walk and chew gum at the same time, and that we will be better off doing this work alongside any candidates, having deliberative discussions with them instead of making them debate themselves seeking divergence and division as the determinant of intelligence or leadership ability.  They’re Liberals too.  Presumably they share our values, and what we should be seeking from the “race”, is as I say a determination of who best articulates them. Then we work together on a jointly developed plan in a networked organization. 

Also, are we so sure that the other parties will be able to demonize every single person capable of leading the party that we need to shyly bring them in at the "end"? Maybe the problem has been as Tom says that we have elected those leaders with the expectation or their own stated goal of becoming Prime Minister as the sole raison d’être of their leadership. If the one we elect has pledged to rebuild the party in a collaborative way, why would they be pressured to leave if they didn't win? Pearson didn't leave after one loss or even two.  He was a steward.
The biggest thing the party needs to do is to define its sense of purpose.  We need to do this together.



2 comments:

  1. Craig ChamberlainMay 5, 2011 at 7:58 AM

    "Some of us suggested that we shouldn’t be discussing policy specifically, certainly by way of policy resolutions at Conventions anyway. What we should be discussing are our values and belief structure in a modern context and providing a prioritized subset of those to the Party’s leadership to go away and craft a platform and programs with, and then come back for some sort of ratification."

    THAT IS ESSENTIAL.

    "I tend to think that we can walk and chew gum at the same time, and that we will be better off doing this work alongside any candidates, having deliberative discussions with them instead of making them debate themselves seeking divergence and division as the determinant of intelligence or leadership ability. They’re Liberals too. Presumably they share our values, and what we should be seeking from the “race”, is as I say a determination of who best articulates them. Then we work together on a jointly developed plan in a networked organization.

    Yes.

    Let's not have a "I'm smarter than the other guys" kind of contest. And let's not look for the leader that will -presto- make us the governing party. Go to values. Policy will follow.

    Canadians have said, "We don't necessarily want to see the end of Canada's Liberal Party, 'cos trust us, we would have done that on Monday if we really wanted to see that. But we definitely are benching you so that you can get yourself sorted out -- or collapse. It's up to you!"

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