Monday, December 12, 2011

Renewal: Constitutional proposals on removal of leader's policy veto, etc.

Time to provide a bit of an update on renewal matters. Specifically, I would like to refer you to a few constitutional amendment proposals that have been submitted to the party and will likely be before delegates for consideration at the upcoming biennial convention in January (the full slate of constitutional amendments will be posted on December 23rd according to the party website). These are significant proposals that speak to the democratic character of the party and are in keeping with one of the major themes/priorities expressed in the Roadmap to Renewal document: re-establishing a framework of organizational trust (1.1 (3)). These proposals are in relation to the policy development and implementation process in particular.

The proposals have been put forth by Paul Summerville, candidate for National Policy Chair of the Liberal executive and member from Victoria, and Sheila Gervais, member from Ottawa South. I would refer you to their websites respectively for both the text and background of all of their proposed amendments. The two principal proposals that I will refer to here are these:
Removal of the Leader’s veto over the Platform;

Altering the mandatory review of the Leader from occurring only after losing elections to occurring at each Biennial Convention of the Party;
If you have been following any of the renewal discussions, particularly pertaining to policy issues, you will detect an undercurrent of frustration from members that rings through it. I don't think it's a generalization to say that members feel that they’ve been left on the outside of the policy process looking in. Perhaps they have participated in good faith in the past but they haven't seen their participation come to any meaningful fruition. So they naturally wonder why they should continue to participate in the party’s policy process, something that should be part of the lifeblood of a political organization.

Part of the reason for that frustration is a quasi-presidential mechanism that exists in article 33(2)(e) of the party constitution. It permits the leader a line by line veto over the party platform. Such a veto seems strange within a functional democratic political organization. It may be one of those elements that has unwittingly fed a sense of leader-itis within the party.

The proposal to remove the veto provides an opportunity to reinvigorate a democratic sense within the party on policy matters. To do as the roadmap documents states in its invocation of organizational trust and allow for the “mass participation party” to be just that. Indeed, why would members participate in good faith in a policy process if they know their efforts may be for naught? Why would Canadians trust Liberals on issues of democratic reform, for example, if we don't live it internally?

In terms of the other principal proposal mentioned above, the leader's review being made to coincide with biennial conventions, that really goes hand in hand with the leader being in sync with the party's membership and particularly on the policy level. As the two movers of the proposal put it: "We believe that a review of the Leader's performance with respect to their ongoing role as Speaker for the Party should occur at the same time that the Party contemplates new policies and political directions."

For those wondering about the leader's role in the policy process in light of these amendments, and if it is being overly clamped down upon, there is a further companion proposal to add an offsetting power to the leader. That is, to permit the leader to "propose policy resolutions for consideration by the Party in accordance with Subsection 61(4)(d)." This would be a new addition to article 48 ("Responsibilities and powers of the Leader") of the party constitution. It is also noted in their background discussion that article 33(5) gives much weight to the leader as a part of the Policy Approval Subcommittee, further rationale for removing the line by line veto that the leader has over the platform presently.

Bob Rae said this, just over a month ago: "“A successful political party is not a debating society or a social club,” Mr. Rae told Liberals at a convention of the party's British Columbia wing in Victoria. He reminded Liberals that the purpose of their party is to elect enough MPs to form a government." That is true. And you can’t get elected if you don't have a strong foundation to stand upon, i.e., a vibrant policy process that is ongoing, that connects all stakeholders within (and outside) the party as an integral part of the getting elected equation.

I would encourage you to give their thinking and proposals a read for further explanation. They go into some detail but these are significant contributions to the party's debate that merit serious consideration.