Friday, May 20, 2011

"I shall be as secret as the grave."

I'm not totally sure it's purposeful, but it sure is cultural, that the LPC has a tough, tough time communicating with its members in a consistent, full and complete fashion. Today's communique with some details about the upcoming "extraordinary convention" seems to have been posted on the party's website, but not sent around to members - well not this member anyway.  I'd venture a guess that most members of the party are not twitterholics or cruising the party's website on a regular basis.  With all of the attention paid to this process, you'd think that a full-member email blast might have been in order.

The note does contain some useful and timely information that all members should have, about how to be apply for delegate selection, some deadlines and so on.  But the critical piece of information - what people will actually be voting on with respect to leadership vote timing is missing.  I guess it's just me, but when you are encouraging people to "have their say", you would think you'd tell them what they'd be talking about at the same time.  If the proposal isn't ready, the communique shouldn't have been issued.  Probably, they will issue another one, or a revised one.  Maybe that one they'll send it around to all of us? Sigh. There's enough confusion out there already. 

It's kind of like the exchange on Wednesday's Council of Presidents teleconference between one of the riding presidents and the Party President about how devoting 45 minutes out of a two-hour meeting to verbal briefings could have been avoided and allowed for more discussion and feedback if only some documentation had been sent in advance.  The President indicated that he was concerned, given recent incidents, with the potential for leaks to the media. To which the riding president replied: "Well, if it wasn't for the leaks to the media, I wouldn't have a clue what was going on."

I do have one specific beef with the information in the communique/note/blogpost with respect to the delegate selection process. One of the notations, under "Key dates - and How to participate" is:

Saturday, June 11, 2011/Sunday, June 12, 2011
Delegate Selection meeting date. You will be contacted if a delegate selection meeting is required in your riding.
As I've noted elsewhere, in my view, it is not acceptable to not hold a delegate selection meeting when less than the required number of potential delegates indicate their "intention to stand".  I understand the party finds it burdensome to organize unnecessary meetings. It's just that I don't see them as unnecessary, but opportunities for interaction.  These meetings are likely to be the only opportunity for members to question the delegate candidates on how they intend to vote and to ensure everyone understands the impact of the result of that vote.  To me, even if a delegate is to be acclaimed, the membership that they will represent, a membership that will have "delegated" their views, have the right to know what those views are even if they cannot impact them.  At any rate, these meetings might also be the only opportunity for members to get together to discuss the proposals period.  Surely what we need is more openness, more discussion and dialogue in the party, not less.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

"I begin to smell a rat."

Thought the new cabinet would be the news of the day?  Think again.

UPDATE: The new taxpayer funded per vote subsidy:
Fabian Manning: $9.00 per vote
Larry Smith: $8.50 per vote
Josée Verner: $6.25 per vote

Saturday, May 14, 2011

"Within a stone's throw of it. "

We're getting somewhere.  LPC sent out a decent note to (I am assuming) actual members of the Party today, finally providing some information about what's going on.  They also released it to the public so one has to read some of the contents as not purely informational and in the vein of member relations, but public relations as well. 

For example, the following excerpt, particularly in this first direct-to-member communication does not seem entirely neutral as an explanation for this special process:
"However, so many members like yourself have called, written and emailed your Board members, asking that this Leadership Vote be delayed. According to your feedback, the overwhelming reason to delay the Leadership Vote is to allow for meetings throughout our ridings, regions and provinces in the upcoming months so we may together discuss and decide upon our future as a party and focus on serious policy and organizational rebuilding work before we turn our attention to our leadership choices.  Your Board has heard almost unanimously that this is best done free of a Leadership selection process."
For my part, I'd rather that we were already in the process of holding "meetings throughout our ridings, regions and provinces in the upcoming months so we may together discuss and decide upon our future as a party and focus on serious policy and organizational rebuilding work" instead of these delays and distractions. En tous cas...

Unfortunately missing from today's note are the actual amendments themselves (perhaps they are not entirely finalized?) and a call for riding level and other discussion of them in advance of the delegate selection meetings.  

To repeat what I have written elsewhere, I for one would like to know that a potential delegate understands fully the implications of an amendment passing or failing and their position before I vote to send them or others as delegates.  After all they will be expressing the will of more than themselves. (Some people do simply put their trust in delegates to "do what they think best" and that's AOK for them, but that shouldn't be the norm on which these things are predicated, in my view).

I'd rather they didn't seem so forced into it, but this communication is a step in the right direction.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

"The more thou stir it, the worse it will be."

Like that Sinatra song says: you can't have one without the other.

Sorry to do this, esteemed National Board of the Liberal Party of Canada, but looking at the Statement That No One Seems To Have Or Admit To Have Except the Media, I'm not so sure that everything is entirely Kosher in what's being proposed (as I began to wonder a couple of days ago).  

Like others, I've been wondering why putting off the the biennial for a month to January 2012 was so critical to all of these existential discussions. At the same time I think it's a large part of the reason why people are beginning to oppose all these shenanigans.  It's not that there isn't sympathy for the view that maybe the leadership vote should be put off somehow, but people seem to really, really want an early biennial to change the current Board and get on with the rest. And, they do not trust their trustees much and so question their motives.

So what's the rationale?  The Party is required to hold a biennial convention every 30 months, but at any rate within two calendar years.  Given that the last biennial began April 30, 2009, the next biennial has/d to be held before Dec 31, 2011, and had been called for June 17/18, 2011.  When the election was called, the LPC President issued a note saying that the Convention would not be held in June after all, and that "a new date will be set shortly, as per our constitution, to take place within six months of the original date."

So far so good. Regardless of the reason then, it would appear that the Board is correct in requiring a constitutional amendment to move the biennial to January 2011.  And to get the required constitutional amendment adopted, they require a convention, so they have to hold an "extraordinary" one.

Here's what that section of the constitution says:
61 Types of conventions
(1) Subject to this Constitution, the convention of the Party is the highest authority of the
(2) Except if rescheduled in accordance with Subsection 65(4), the Party must hold a
biennial convention of the Party at least once in every two calendar years and not
more than 30 months after the previous biennial convention of the Party.
(3) At any time except within six months of a biennial convention of the Party, the Party may hold an extraordinary convention to deal with any issues of extraordinary

Note these words in particular: "except within six months of a biennial convention". Let them sink in.

They have to hold the biennial within six months of the original - mid December. (Rumour had always been that they had set a date for December 14, when the Ottawa Congress Centre had been secured.) They cannot hold an extraordinary convention within six months of a biennial, and June 18 is within six months of a mid-December date, so they need to move the biennial to a date outside of six months (January 12-13) to hold the extraordinary. But they they cannot move the biennial without an amendment which can only be passed at an extraordinary.   Let those words sink in.

I know it makes the brain bust.  But I'm pretty darn sure (and have consulted) that the extraordinary or "special" convention as they are describing (at which they will also propose to amend the constitution to change the leadership vote provisions) cannot be held on June 18, 2011.


“Let every man look before he leaps”

Members of the Liberal Party of Canada: inform yourselves so you can express yourselves.

Regardless of where they net out on when a new leader should be chosen and why, it appears as if the mood of the membership is not comfortable with the process defined by the LPC Board.  I say "appears" because no one really knows what the membership thinks because no one has asked them.  I'd venture a guess that many of the non-day-to-day active, but nonetheless committed party members aren't fully aware of the discussions about a "special convention" and all it entails (they are likely aware of the interim/permanent leader intrigue, but not of the other machinations). 

I say that because all of the evidence is anecdotal.  Many people expressing their opinions in public, on social media and so on, but I haven't been able to find very many who have actually been asked formally, by those who purport to represent them, their opinions and none who are just lowly average members.

Party President Alf Apps, in many public comments, and in a rat-a-tat blast of emails to yours truly (and others I gather) yesterday in reference to my own comments about "negative option consultation" has stated repeatedly that a wide consultation was conducted by voting members of the Board. 

" I have received submissions from well over 1000 Liberals and my PTA Presidents have consulted with almost 100 percent of riding presidents, ..."

Well, I've been unable to find one riding president in Ontario who has been consulted formally or informally by anyone from LPCO.  And of those that I am aware of who have been in other provinces, none of them were requested to even canvass their own riding executives, let alone poll their full membership.

I don't know how they can purport to "represent" the views of the membership when they don't ask the membership.  These are big issues, they require transparency and accountability for credibility.

Reports are that caucus members weren't consulted either, even though they had representatives at the Board meeting who expressed views and voted where eligible to do so.  I guess they were personal views.

While this is concerning in and of itself, it does not bode well for communications with the membership on the conduct and work to be done at the actual special convention.

For example, given that the "statement" from the National Board was apparently sent to caucus (and the media) but not to members of the party or riding presidents, how many people are aware that they will need to be members of the party by May 20, in order to vote for delegates to this special convention?  A note from a riding president might be one way, but I guess that's rather hard to do if they don't formally know.  There are also the many volunteers that flooded into campaigns across the country who may not yet be members.  I'm sure someone would like to inform them.

People need to know and understand the work that will be done at this special convention and how it will be conducted.  It's being said that it will be a "virtual convention", with an "internet ballot".  How will pro and con discussion of the constitutional amendments be conducted?  When you have virtual line ups at virtual microphones it's difficult to know if the first in line is really the first one to get to speak.  How will quorum be determined?

Then there are the delegate selection meetings themselves.  People need to know very quickly just how to put their name forward to run to be a delegate - what needs to be filed with whom and by when?  

But more importantly, if I'm going to vote for someone and delegate my views as a member to them, to express on my behalf, I want to know in advance what their positions are on the amendments proposed.  The party should be doing all in its power to facilitate meetings at the riding level for discussions of the amendments and to question delegate-candidates in advance of DSMs.  

Constituional amendments require a 2/3 approval.  It is important that we know the views of the delegates we are sending.

Ridings and riding presidents can be found by going to and clicking on the tab "Liberal Party".

Monday, May 9, 2011

"Truth may be stretched, but cannot be broken, and always gets above falsehood, as oil does above water."

So, we are being told by the apparatchiks that run the "party" that we need to have an "extraordinary" convention, but not necessarily what those extraordinary circumstances are. 

We have a party president telling us that we are exorcised by the circumstances under which we find ourselves: election loss and leaderless, while those are exactly the circumstances that the party Constitution already contemplates and addresses in Chapters 14 and 16, amongst others.  In fact all of the circumstances anticipaed by the Constitution with respect to leadership are in play without any "extraordinary circumctances".

Over the years, in trying to make it is thus and so, the membership (thought it had) put in place procedures for a swift succession process for every situation including all sorts of electoral emergencies outside of war. I'm not sure the opinion of a largely unelected elite cuts it as an "extraordinary" reason. All of a sudden, we find ourselves in a situation that doesn't suit the powers that be and so yet again, there's an attempt to find a way around what the membership, the people have decided.

The documents leaked to the public explaining the "reasoning' behind the purported neccessity to call an extraordinary convention mention the section of the constitution to be used but not the reason for the "extraordinary" nature of the circumstances: Chapter 16:  article 61, paragraph 3:

61 Types of conventions
(1) Subject to this Constitution, the convention of the Party is the highest authority of the
(2) Except if rescheduled in accordance with Subsection 65(4), the Party must hold a
biennial convention of the Party at least once in every two calendar years and not
more than 30 months after the previous biennial convention of the Party.
(3) At any time except within six months of a biennial convention of the Party, the Party
may hold an extraordinary convention to deal with any issues of extraordinary
importance. ...

The Constitution doesn't talk about what that extraordinary importance is, but I would venture a strong guess that that a petition of members in certain numbers might do it under available jurisprudence.  The Party doesn't publish membership numbers, let alone claim to correspond with them, and as I and others have screamed for, cannot provide empirical evidence of party "sentiment" regardless of what it claims.  It's all anecdotal.

I dare the Board and the secretariat to produce such evidence. Otherwise, hearsay just doesn't cut it. The only other reason could be timing and/or availability of a suitable venue. While the constitutional provisions provide for conventions to be held within 2 calendar years of the last (May 2009), and there are several sources indicating he convention originally scheduled for June would be held in early December because of the availability of the new Ottawa Convention Centre, one has to wonder if the proposed commensurate move of date to January 2012, by the NB  (tonight's) motion isn't somehow tangled up in all of these machinations. (They'll say it has to do with donation time periods but, yet again, it's all rather convenient, no?) This leads one to believe that the use of the "extraordinary Convention clause" is a crafted ruse.

It's late. I'm tired, just like everyone else.  But there are decisions being made tonight on our behalf in and in our name - and purportedly at our request - that just don't wash.

I don't know why, if the NB can't explain them to us, that we need to accept them.

"Here is the devil-and-all to pay. "

Okay, Liberal Party.  The time has come.  Rise Up!

Negative-option accountability in the Liberal Party has just got to go.

We do not have a problem with leadership from our Leaders.  We have a problem with leadership period.  Over the years, the vast majority if positions of authority in the Party, from riding presidents, to candidates, to incumbency protected MPs, to Provincial and National Board members to the Revenue Committee, Election Readiness and Campaign Committees and senior officials  - even delegates to most conventions (Big donor? You’re in!), have been acclaimed or appointed to their positions – basically they’ve been installed.

Rather than some great big open air tent, the Party is a bolted-door club house where you have to know both the secret password and the secret handshake to receive entry.  And once inside (if you are smart enough to gain entry) you discover just what a formidable fortress it is: the walls are super thick.  So thick In fact, they’re sound proof.

The only consultation that occurs in the club is “talk amongst yourselves”.

Every now and then, when uprisings amongst the proletariat rear, little bones of reform get thrown their way.  More often than not, however they are snatched away even before their implementation; think Lucy, Charlie Brown and football.  

Over the years in a variety of media and pieces I’ve described how the Liberal Party has tended to honour its constitution in the breach.  When that hasn’t worked, it’s issued odd interpretations, or changed interpretations.  And when that hasn’t worked, it’s changed the Party’s constitution.  Once it even did so retroactively. Yup, retroactively. 

The Great Reform Convention of 1985 removed Senators and members of the appointed Revenue Committee (and other non-elected officials) from the list of ex-officio (automatic) delegates to party conventions.  At the 1990 Conventions (three-in one – a constitutional convention, a biennial convention and a Leadership convention), these positions (in addition to a significant contingent of delegates representing the newly created Aboriginal Commission – a whole other but related story) were added back to the delegation the day before the vote by way of retroactive constitutional amendment.  They registered at the Convention as contingent delegates and left as full voting delegates having exercised that vote to boot.

And then there is the 2008/09 “Leadership process”... don’t get me started (although you can read about it here and here).

The Party’s been through enough.  It has been repeatedly reported and rumoured over the past week,  the Party Board is proposing another similar process without a proactive consultation of the full membership.  For me a feeling of "sentiment" is not consultation and is not accountability. Is someone is going to finally be called up to pay up?

Thursday, May 5, 2011

"Spare your breath to cool your porridge." II

Interim or permanent.  Where does the twain meet on leadership?
If the interim leadership of the Liberal Party is going to turn into the ipso facto Leadership of the party for several years, there’s a whole different set of criteria and questions that need to be addressed.  An interim ‘mandate’ of stewardship in the House of Commons with a side glance to the Senate is completely different than the type of mandate a Party gives to its Leader after a race that encompasses a whole host of positions. 

As a member of the Party, under normal circumstances, I might ask the potential interim leader:
  • What kind of deportment do you see your MP’s exhibiting?
  • Given the seats we won and the platform we put forward who will you put on which committee and which will you place the most priority on?
  • What will be the general focus of the issues you will raise in the House: issues of the day, or positions from the election platform?
  • How will you work with the National Board to ensure that members’ voices are heard by Caucus and taken into consideration?
  •  How will you ensure that Liberal voices from non-held ridings are heard in the House and the Senate?
  •  How will you prepare the discussion that needs to be held between the Caucus and the membership on the future of the Party? What type of mechanisms for consultation will you propose?

Note that none of these really involve the potential interim leader’s positions on substantive issues, party values or principles that would normally guide discussions.  They are very stewardship in their orientation.

If given the opportunity, I would think members would like to ask the potential Leader:
  • What are the values you think Liberals share; how many of these and which are unique to the Liberal Party?
  • What will you view and/or accept as your mandate from the Party to accomplish and in what time frame(s)?
  • What are the steps you will take to rebuild the Party?
  • What are your short, medium and long term goals in this regard?
  • What is the relationship you envision between the Parliamentary wing of the Party and the membership; who makes which type of decisions and why?
  • What is the relationship you envision between the Party and the electorate/citizenry
  • How do you propose to achieve gender balance in all of the structures and organizations of the Party?
  • The Liberal Party is a federation of provincial organizations. Do you think this structure remains appropriate in the current communications era? How do you view the relationship(s)?
  •  As per above, what are your proposals for efficient use of LPC resources?
  • How do you view policy and platform development in the Party? What roles and what responsibilities should be assigned to each level/position?
  • What are your views on the collaboration between parties at various points in the electoral and governing  process? 
  • What are your views on our electoral system?
  • Should we be examining our various political processes in conjunction with each other; i.e. electoral, election-procedural; campaign and party financing; party-exclusive; parliamentary; constitutional and conventional? 
  • How can we ensure accountability at various levels in the Party?
I've got my own ideas on most of these, but I’m guessing that many other people also have a different set or subset, but nonetheless these are the types of things we should be looking at.  And, I continue to think that these are not mutually exclusive activities, but should be enacted by exclusive individuals.

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.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

When the head aches, all the members partake of the pain

Why Michael Ignatieff will have to give up the leadership of the Liberal Party.

Last night Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff seemed to know what needs to be done in the Party's best interests when he said: "I will play any part that the party wishes me to play as we go forward to rebuild, to renew, to reform the vital centre of Canadian politics. I will serve as long as the party wants to make me serve or asks me to serve and not a day longer."

While some Liberals debate just how long and under what circumstances that continuing service might be, the Leader is really boxed by the realities of process.  No doubt, more important is the question of moral authority, but over the years the Party has gradually moved to put in place some checks on the misguided reading of that authority.

The plain facts of it are that Mr. Ignatieff failed to win a seat and it will be four years before another one may open up.  He cannot lead the Party for long even as a medium term measure without a seat in the House of Commons and there is not one out of the 34 we've got that could or should be risked in a resignation-based by-election.  That would be blatantly contrary to the democratic will just expressed, in both the positive and negative senses.  In other words, there would be no moral authority to support either action.  Everyone likely agrees this is just not on.

So why couldn't he just wait a while to resign, say a year or so? This is where the process kicks in.

When the election was called the Party rescheduled its Biennial Convention originally scheduled for June to mid-December, on virtually the last date that the Constitution allows for the holding of said Convention. It has to be held within two calendar years of the last convention which was held in May of 2009, so December 2011 it is. 

The Constitution also says that at the first Convention following an election at which the Leader fails to become Prime Minister, an automatic review vote or "endorsement ballot" will be conducted.  All well and good one might say, he can hang in until that Convention and face the music there, perhaps bringing a plan for rebuilding the party to the party for discussion and ratification.  

Problem with that (and there are many more) is that the review vote is actually conducted well before the Convention - by all members at the delegate selection meetings held between about one and two months before the Convention itself, in other words in September and October.  Mr. Ignatieff will not win that vote and the Party should not be wasting its energies fighting a review battle or even simply going through the motions of conducting a review process at any rate when it needs to get on with rebuilding. 

Nonetheless, if he chose to option his right to that vote, and he loses it, a vacancy is created immediately. On the spot. A Leadership will have to be held by mid-June 2012 and an interim Leader chosen.  The ironic result of that? An ipso facto year-long Leadership battle in two stages.

The Liberal Party knows full well how harmful and  divisive lengthy (or endless) Leadership battles are.  That's one of the reasons Leadership votes must now be conducted within 6 months of a resignation or intention to resign.

The experience of the recent Leadership race that selected Christy Clarke as Leader of the BC Liberal Party (they have the same one-member-one vote process that their Federal cousins now have too) should be a positive lesson for Liberals.  Swift and surgical, with minimum bleeding.  In fact an amazing ability to bring in new blood.

The Party may be surprised at just how many Canadians are actually prepared to help rebuild the Party having participated in giving us the breathing room to do so.

So, the only logical route for Mr. Ignatieff and the Party to take is for him to announce his intention to resign when the Party chooses his successor.  The Party should then set the date for the Convention it must have this year for late October/ early November, and conduct its Leadership balloting over the same weekend, and the Party can give its new Leader a proper mandate.