These are all words that I have heard used to describe the changes made to the Liberal Party’s internal structure at a special general meeting last weekend. Do any of these words really apply? Not really, but that does not mean that the changes are not good.
In a matter of three hours, a group of 120 Liberal Party members re-wrote portions of their party’s constitution and threw out the only recently approved rules for their just started leadership contest. I commented on the changes soon after they were proposed two weeks ago and while I do not believe that the Liberal Party will find an easy solution to the problems they face in these changes, it may be a move in the right direction.
The structural change that appears to have attracted the most attention was the move to give supporters who do not want to pay $5 to purchase a party membership a vote in the leadership contest (this appears to be similar to what the New Brunswick Liberal Party does, except that party only collects $5 if a member wants a membership card to carry around in their wallet). This change attracted general scepticism from political watchers like David Climenhaga and former Edmonton-Meadowlark Liberal MLA Maurice Tougas.
Only a completely politically inept person would believe that a $5 fee is what has been stopping Albertans from flocking en-masse into the Liberal Party ranks, but that is not what this is really about.
From an organization standpoint, the changes are about collecting contact information from existing or future supporters and then trying to draw this new blood into the party, something that it desperately needs.
The changes are an attempt to generate some much needed attention for their leadership contest, which became a necessity when that party’s two-year long leader David Swann announced his resignation in January 2010. The race has attracted an odd cast of characters in former PC MLA Raj Sherman, Calgary union leader Bruce Payne, and Edmonton MLAs Laurie Blakeman and Hugh MacDonald.
The Liberals announced the changes one day after the Alberta Party chose Glenn Taylor as their new leader. Liberals will boast that their leadership contest will attract more involvement than the lower-key Alberta Party contest and they are likely to be right. There were 8,000 Liberal members eligible to vote in that party’s 2008 contest, a number that the Liberals should be able to recreate in 2011.
Regardless of how open the Liberal leadership contest is to supporters, it will still not attract the amount of interest and attention as the looming Progressive Conservative leadership contest. Albertans will still need to pay $5 to vote the in the PC contest and in 2006 over 140,000 Albertans did. Expect at least the same number to do so in 2011.