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The Liberal Party Mid-January Convention: Members vs. Leadership

Posted by Michael Teeter

• One thing the press did not pick up on at the Ottawa 2012 Convention was the large difference between the views and demographics of the Liberal membership and their Parliamentary representatives. Nearly 1/3 of the 3000+ delegates to the Convention were under the age of 25. They are active, involved and deeply concerned. They had a large influence on the activities and issues where they put their efforts. The New Executive of the Liberal Party was delivered by the Young Liberals. Resolutions that saw the light of day were also heavily pushed and supported by young people. Unfortunately, the sitting MPs do not reflect this demographic, nor do they reflect many of the concerns expressed by these young people. The youngest sitting Liberal MP is 40 years old and most of the caucus leadership is 60 or over.

• It was a grumpy crowd regardless of demographic. In every session, difficult and pointed questions and comments were raised; more people wanted to speak than time allowed. There was a clear need for members to express their dissatisfaction and to suggest changes. More opportunities will be required before many of the Liberal rank and file will be ready, willing and able to follow unquestioned and in deference to those who are in control. Change will be expected from the new Executive - most of whom have few debts owed to the existing leadership.

• The Press is now picking up one significant change the Liberal Party adopted at the convention. This is the constitutional amendment which allows “supporters” and members alike to vote for the next and subsequent Liberal Party leader. It recognizes that present and future communities of interest will include people that are uncomfortable making the commitment to membership (and all it entails) but will get involved in support of a particular and personal concern or a particular candidate. Expressing this concern through supporting a candidate who address this concern is one way a person can empower themselves to help support the changes they want society to make.

• The opportunity to vote for a prospective party leader is an incentive for supporters to declare themselves to the Liberal Party. The benefit to supporters is the prospect of affecting a leadership outcome. The benefit to the Party is to gather enough personal information to begin a dialogue with these supporters hoping that they will consider membership, contributions and other forms of direct involvement.   The evidence from other jurisdictions is that opening up the leadership selection process works. It encourages broader based involvement. It extends the publicity benefits associated with leadership contests. It builds up dialogue with engaged citizens. It remains to be seen if other Canadian political parties feel pushed to follow this model.

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