From: Maria Minna [mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org]
Sent: January-09-12 3:17 PM
To: undisclosed recipients:
Subject: Constitutional Amendments.
January 9, 2012
Dear Liberal Colleagues:
I want to share with you my concerns with the major and sweeping changes being proposed to the Liberal Constitution. I believe that, if passed, they will have a major impact on the culture and future of the Liberal Party of Canada.
First, I want to address the time allocated for discussion and voting. Despite the massive restructuring of the party’s constitution and its operations, the organizers have put together an agenda that, in my view, does not work to the benefit of delegates or an open party. There are two different Q&A sessions on Friday (1:30-3pm & 3:30-5pm) to explain, I presume, the changes which include adopting the primary system. It seems to me that time allowed is disjointed and does not allow for debate. Delegates should be getting the explanations at the same time that the constitutional amendments are being done so that, once discussion on a given amendment is over, delegates can vote with information fresh in their minds. As it is, these small time frames may make delegates feel they have had their say and not attend the real show which is the constitutional amendments which takes place in two different time slots on Saturday (1-2pm & 5-6:30pm).
The two small different time slots for constitutional discussion and voting are also disjointed and do not allow for enough continuous time to debate and vote. The discussions and amendments should take place at the same time with plenty of time dedicated to this critical piece of our party’s restructuring. I am also concerned that some delegates may leave Saturday night and others may be busy attending other functions such as hospitality suites and we may get low turn-out.
Given the importance of the changes being proposed, I would have expected a good deal more time earlier in the day to be allocated. If the current executive really means it when they say they want an open party, then they should make the Friday (because having a general Q&A by itself is a waste of time) and the Saturday time slots all a constitutional debate and voting and collapse all the time slots earlier in the day while people are more engaged.
In a reply to a Liberal member on the same issue, the LPC’s Andre Brisebois explained that the reason for the agenda structure was that some members wanted policy discussion. Meanwhile LPC spokesperson Sarah Bain stated in an interview that “the three-day conference was planned as a policy convention, but has adopted an emphasis on renewal at the request of membership.” She also says that, “the resolutions that have garnered the most votes online would have the Liberals establish a renewal commission.....”
So, given that the road map, including the primary system, is the core of the renewal debate why relegate them to bits of leftover time?
I do want to share with you my concerns with the proposed primary system which creates a two-tier system -- supporters and members.
1. I believe our leadership process could be hijacked not to mention possible manipulation of data. Since it would be open to anyone who cared to register, the only thing a voter has to do is to sign a paper and that gives him/her the right to vote for the Liberal Leader, no fees needed. Remember that this is one of the only two most important privileges that the current paid-up member has in the Liberal Party.
This same supporter can register today, vote and deregister when voting is over. No other obligation is expected of them except to pledge that they are not a member of another party which is easy to do as most people are not members of the parties they support. We could potentially end up with supporters of other parties registering and voting for the Leader they think is the weaker one, thereby hijacking our process. Similarly, special interest groups could register and influence the process unduly.
The election of riding candidates will even be more influenced by special interest groups and cause major problems for the party.
Registration to vote can happen as late as 27 days before voting.
2. A member of the Liberal Party, on the other hand, has to pay a membership fee of $10 for the privilege of voting for the next Leader and of course is expected to do all the work of running a riding association, volunteering at riding events such as summer picnics, work in elections, raise money for the party and much more.
3. The constitutional proposal also has the election of a leader taking place over a period of 70 days, region by region across the country with results being made public as each region votes. This is the American primary system. In Canada we have changed election laws so that results of one region cannot be made public until the rest of the country has voted so as not to influence or discourage those voting later. I do not support having voters either influenced or demoralized as the vote rolls across the country. This could also skew the results.
4. The leadership vote is to be held in the different EDAs which means volunteers in associations having to manage possibly thousands of voters with interest groups controlling the vote.
5. There is to be a Leadership Committee within the party who is supposed to oversee the whole process, but I don’t believe that a volunteer committee can ensure no manipulation in such a complex system.
I don’t believe that our party has the infrastructure (I don’t believe any party has) to administer such a large number of registrants (several million possibly) not to mention the financial cost. We have had huge challenges in the past running large nominations in ridings and have had some very bad messes. This large-scale exercise across the country would lend itself to manipulation, and huge costs and major problems which could do a great deal of damage to the party. We are an organization of volunteers -- not Elections Canada.
6. Our leadership candidates of 2006 spent years trying to eliminate their leadership debt and some, I believe, are still trying. With a much larger campaign which would be required with a broader voting base, a long primary would entail major expenses both for the candidates and for LPC . Among other things, this could cause women to stay out of the race. The additional cost to LPC alone has not been assessed both in terms of human and monetary capital.
7. The powers of the President of the Liberal Party would change dramatically in this case but there is nothing in the document to address this.
8. The primary system would give the Liberal Leader and his/her office more power over Caucus and the Party. As a recent Member of Parliament with almost 18years of experience, I can say with first-hand knowledge, that, most of the time caucus is not considered or listened to by the leader and especially his office. There is very little accountability to caucus members. Especially during our years in opposition, we could have avoided a great deal of pain and losses if the leadership and their offices had listened and taken into consideration the expertise and advice of caucus members. Therefore, I am convinced that a Leader who is so broadly elected will feel even less accountable towards caucus let alone any accountability to the party at large.
9. I see no checks and balances in this proposal. In the American Presidential system the President has to go to Congress and Senate to lobby to get his agenda approved. We do not have a presidential system in Canada and our Parliamentary system already gives the Prime Minister huge powers which would become that much stronger with a primary system that elected him/her as leader of the party.
Colleagues, I am not saying that this system should not happen in Canada, but I believe that, if and when it ever does, we have to have in place all the proper checks and balances, address the issue of membership better, and not run the process ourselves but have Elections Canada run it to ensure a true independent and accountable process for Canadians to see.
In the meantime, I would recommend that we establish a Change Commission to study the recommendation and look at all the issues raised above and more and report back at the end of 2012 or at the next convention. In the meantime, let’s elect our next leader with the one member one vote which we established at the last convention and have never put to use.
Please share these few thoughts of mine with your Liberal colleagues and, if we are on the same wavelength, make sure the convention organizers know how you feel before the convention gets under way.
Hon. Maria Minna, P.C.
Former Member of Parliament