It seems the Liberals want to tap into the winds of change that flew past the NDP and Conservatives in the last federal election. This comes after the Liberals held a policy convention in the past weekend and this has put the Liberals under the microscope by the mainstream press.
In what was probably a giant sigh of relief for the organizers, the turn out for the convention was above expected with roughly 3,200 individuals. Several members of the opposition parties within the NDP and Conservatives were also present. There was a youth presense as well, and with all the talks it seems the conference was a success.
For quite some time, the Liberal party has been in need of a rejuvenation, after countless years of bitter internal politics (quite ironic) within the party itself. In raw political numbers, the Liberals have been losing seats in ridings over the past 3 federal elections in a row. The convention held a very tight presidential race for the Liberals, between Sheila Copps and Mike Crawley, with Mike managing to best out near the end. In fact, according to sources that have contacted CBC, Crawley seemed to have won the leadership by 26 votes. The race between the two was very close indeed. In Crawley’s victory speech, he stated, “The convention has expressed something very clear, that the way forward is about much more than all of us within these four walls. The convention signals a party that is clearly focused on the future. A party that will provide a truly new and fresh alternative to Canadians in the months and years ahead.” Even in Rae’s closing speech, the interim leader said the convention was about “change and openness”.
Crawley is not known to Canadians in the way that Sheila Copps is. Throughout her political career, Sheila was a very active MP and served in various prominent roles. Sheila once served as Deputy Prime Minister of Canada and held other cabinet posts under Jean Chretian’s administration (Environment, Communications, Multiculturalism & Citizenship). She was part of the “Rat Pack”, a group of Liberal MPs that made it their duty to bring down the Mulroney government. Back in 1996, she promised to resign if the Liberals did not scrap the GST (goods and services) tax. And that she did, and then she ran in a by-election where she won. She also ran for the leadership of the Liberals but was defeated by Paul Martin. Even with all of her previous experiences, she was defeated in the ultimate vote to determine Party Presidency. This may indeed indicate the voters are looking for “new blood” in the Liberal party.
It seems the Liberals may be on to something with their choice in new leadership selections. A recent poll conducted by CROP for L’Actualite looked into opinions of Quebecers as to the real reason for the poor performance of the Liberal party in recent elections. The poll illustrated that over 30% of respondents said the “latest leaders were not inspiring”. 25% said because it was because of the sponsorship scandal. 14% said the party had not renewed itself. And 12% said there was a lack of clarity in the Liberal’s proposed policies. What is interesting from these results, is the large numbers of Quebecers that still have a bad taste from the sponsorship scandal. It remains to be seen whether the scandal’s effects will haunt the party moving forward.
In the opening of the convention, Dalton McGuinty gave an opening speech, speaking to over 3000 delegates and observers. In his speech Dalton said, “we learned the most important question, that is, not [what] the people want today, but what will the people need tomorrow.The first question speaks to followership. The second to leadership. People want leadership. ” It seems the Liberals know their big weakness was in their leadership selections over the past. There is more evidence to suggest this is the case further down into the article. Dalton also shot down the idea of a merger with another party, and in a motivational approach, described the many trails and tribulations he faced back in 1996 when he first ran for office in Ontario.
One of the biggest changes in of the convention, was a new proposal implemented by the Liberals, allowing people to join the party as a supporter without having to pay for a membership. Rae said creating the “supporter” category would allow Canadians to take part in the future leadership votes without paying a membership fee, and would help dissolve the walls between the Liberal party and citizens. Rae felt this was the most important issue of the 3 day convention, and said, “We’re saying, literally, that the choice of the next leader should be up to all Canadians who are sympathetic to or supportive of the Liberal Party.” Well this might seem as a welcome sign, considering the significant defeat of the Liberals in the last federal election.
Before this decision was put up to a vote, speakers at the convention presented their arguments for and against the motion of supporters being allowed to vote. Some speakers expressed concern this new development would create “two tiers” of Liberals and that they would devalue the meaning of the membership. The resolution for supporter status achieved the two-thirds majority it required to pass, as did the motion to allow these new supporters to vote for the next leader. However, the vote for allowing supporters to vote for local candidates did not receive the two-thirds majority from delegates.
On several of the other decisions voted on over the weekend, 77% of Liberals were in favour of legalizing marijuana. In a Green Party press release, the party stated, “It is nice to see another party come in line with Green Party policy. We have said for years that we should be regulating and taxing marijuana and freeing up our police resources to fight real crime.” She also added, “I totally agree with Interim Leader Bob Rae that the war on drugs has been a complete bust. The traditional approach to preventing drug use has not only been a spectacular failure in itself, but has resulted in building a massive crime industry and has had catastrophic negative impacts on numerous young people, especially within poverty-stricken areas both within Canada and abroad.”
Also, 67% of Liberals voted to reject a motion that would have seen Canada sever its ties with the monarchy and 73% of Liberals were in favour of a preferential balloting system. The motion reads that the party “implement a preferential ballot for all future national elections.” MPs Justin Trudeau and Stephane Dion spoke in favour of the motion, and Dion said the motion would lead to a “more civilized debate in our country.”
The convention also had author of macrowikinomics, Don Tapscott, reminding delegates that political and democratic institutions that were built in the industrial age, needed to embrace innovation and establish participation in meaningful ways by tapping into the internet. Tapscott encouraged the Liberals to open their party up, otherwise they would face losing legitimacy like so many other political parties around the world have by their electorates. Tapscott stated, “the body politique is deeply broken. The stakes are very very high.” And he also mentioned the way the internet is being used has brought a “new age of transparency” that governments should welcome instead of oppose. And the Liberal convention was not about leadership, but moreso about policy – however there were rumours abuzz whether Bob Rae would give up his interim status in order to run as the leader of the party. Bob Rae neither explicitly agreed nor declined when asked if he would run for leadership, and several other Liberals including David McGuinty, Dalton McGuinty, Gerard Kennedy, and Dominic LeBlanc also stated they were considering their options for leadership.
It remains to be seen if the winds that helped uplift the Conservatives to victory in May will grace the Liberals in time for the next political election within the next 4 years.