The Convention that was: Part II (Highlights and Recommendations)

So here is part two of the rant on the Convention:

Five Things Done Well

1. Ignatieff

The relationship between Michael Ignatieff and the Liberal party is a complicated deal. There are many within the party (myself included) that see him as the primary (although not the only) cause of the May, 2011 disaster. It took him a mere 48 hours from campaigning to become Prime Minister to jump ship to the University of Toronto (a little unseemly), and many say the timing of the election call had more to do with his own whims than anything else. But I thought that the way he was handled at the convention was excellent. They could have stuck him at four in the afternoon or nine in the morning, but instead the put him in prime time. And they put on a classy, well organized tribute. They announced a scholarship program in his name (which I will be applying for!). It was simply the right thing to do. I don’t know if Ignatieff’s contribution to Canadian politics will be as lasting as those on stage that night said it will be, but the party did the right thing by giving him what he deserved. As Ottawa Citizen columnist Andrew Cohen (admittedly, he may be some relation to me) put it, the Liberals “could have erased Ignatieff, but they didn’t.” 

2. The Mood of Change Within the Party

For all the talk in some circles that change didn’t really happen (endless speculation of Rae for permanent leader, the rejection of the primary proposal), there seemed to be a good feeling of renewal within the party. Although history (as almost always) was front and centre, it was more about Laurier, King and Trudeau than endless “we did this, this and this the last time we were in government.” And we tried some new things.  We voted to legalize pot. We opened our party to “supporters.” We chose a President who was by far the most radical of the candidates. And more than that, we had a mood that demonstrated we were ready to shake things up.

3. Opening and Closing Speeches

Bob Rae’s speeches at the opening of the Convention on Friday and the closing on Sunday were both barnburners. They had delegates on their feet multiple times (almost too much) and they got tons of positive media attention. Although he’s only interim leader (for now), I don’t think this style would be too bad to use on the campaign trail in 2015.

4. Youth

An oft-quoted figure in the media and on Twitter was that one third of the delegates at the Convention were under 30. But it was more than a number. Youth contribution was felt everywhere. We were playing key roles in the presidential campaigns, Shane MacKenzie and Theresa Lubowitz being standouts in this regard for the Copps and Crawley campaigns, respectively. We also made our presence felt in the plenaries, speaking constantly. But most of all, it was the resolution proposed by the Young Liberals (marijuana) that became the biggest story after the Convention. This “dead party” seems to have quite an active next generation.

5. Merchandise

This actually both something done well and something to improve upon. The “swag store” was a great idea, especially historically themed products with Laurier, King and Trudeau. Not only does this bring in money, but it also builds the “brand” (literally) and provides free advertising. I think we can do even better on it (see below).

Five Things I’d Change

1. Make debate the focus

Open debate should be the focus of a policy convention. In my view, there was an incredible lack of this. The plenaries were relegated to Saturday afternoon and Sunday morning, much lower priority than the multitude of workshops and “Critics Corners”. Unsurprisingly they went way over time, and speakers had to be limited. For the next biennial, there should be plenaries/debates that are pretty much ongoing. I found that hearing the opinions of other members—whether I agreed with them or not—was the most valuable part of the weekend. If we’re serious about being the next government of Canada, then we should be serious about hearing everyone’s opinion. Open dialogue is what will revitalize the party, this is the best forum for it.

2. Make the whole thing more open

As we move to make the LPC an “open party”, we need to open Conventions. I found that they were several barriers that hindered this. One was the large delegate fee, especially for young people. Several people, including YLC Vice-Presidential Candidate Josh Hutchinson suggested we re-think this, and I agree. Two hundred bucks is a lot, even more so when you consider most delegates are already paying for travel and lodging. I think lowering it to $50 or even completely getting rid of it for Young Liberals is an excellent idea. Secondly, I think it should be easier to be an observer. The fee is an insane $1100, meaning people from official groups are essentially the only ones who go. A much better idea would be to open a class of observers to “supporters” who’d be able to go for free or a very small fee. They wouldn’t have voting rights and perhaps they could only come for one of the days or to some of the sessions. But it’d be a great opportunity to build the party if we could allow these people to easily experience the convention. After we’d heavily encourage them to sign up as members. We need to stop thinking of these weekends as money-making opportunities and more as party-building opportunities.

3. Modernize the voting, and move it to Sunday

After a vote that necessitated three recounts, I don’t think it’d be a bad idea to change the voting methods. We could do it by electronic ballot, Sunday morning. Everyone would have their ballot emailed to them, and they could vote on their computer/smartphone for a designated period of time. There would be computers set up for those lacking one. Having it on Sunday would also spread out the hospitality suites over more nights.

4. Streamline the Pre-Convention Process

I’m sure I’m not the only one confused by the barrage of communication we got from the people running for various positions within the party. In December and early January I was bombarded with emails, phone calls and even some letters encouraging me to vote for various people for Policy Chair, Membership Secretary and other positions. Not only was this excessive (even though the candidates were limited to two each), but also they were pretty repetitive and vague. Pretty much every candidate for every position wanted to “rebuild” the party. Well that’s great, but what beyond that? I think there should be an email the party sends out for each position, with a list of the candidates and a short paragraph on their stances and perhaps a few answers to some pointed questions. Not only would we be able to make better choices, but we’d be less frustrated by all the spam.

5. More Merchandise

As I said before, I loved the “Liberal Swag Store.” I saw people all weekend with buttons and coffee mugs and other things they bought. I think there should be even more of it (outside of conventions too, but that’s a topic for another time). The “vendor’s alley” was notoriously derelict (or at least when I was around). Blogger Joseph Uranowski has almost highlighted the need for more merchandise. I’d encourage more riding associations, commissions and other groups to create products and sell them at the next convention. In my riding we even have Liberal dry-cleaning bags. There could be some pretty fun regional variations (Umbrellas from BC? Toques from Quebec?).

So there, the last you’ll have to hear about the Convention! (If you’re still listening at all)

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