alberta liberals hype structural changes.

Groundbreaking. Gargantuan. Real renewal. Politics re-imagined.

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.

If anything, the Liberals should be hoping for numbers closer to the 25,000 members that the Wildrose Alliance has grown to since electing Danielle Smith as their leader in 2009.

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.

22 thoughts on “alberta liberals hype structural changes.

  1. nick parker

    The most successful parties have exclusive leadership rules, not the other way around. Avoid instant Liberals who want to take over the party.

    Reply
  2. Corey Hogan

    Hi Dave,

    Quite expectedly I’m sure, I disagree with your assessment that the changes aren’t large in scope. This is quite literally unprecedented in Canada.

    To vote in our leadership and nomination contests, you no longer need to become a member. You do not pay a fee, you do not sign a card. You do not “become” a Liberal.

    From this point on, if you are on the elector’s list and want to, you are now able to vote in Alberta Liberal Party elections. That’s a level of open no political party in this country has ever hit.

    After June 1st, give us your name, and we’ll send you a voting PIN to use online or by phone. That’s pretty cool.

    Corey Hogan
    Executive Director
    Alberta Liberal Party

    Reply
  3. Jonathan

    @ Roman: this interference you speak of is always possible even with membership based votes. How many instant Tories bought temporary party memberships to vote in the last PC leadership contest? If people are motivated, they will act to vote for a leader. I agree with Corey’s assessment of the ALP candidates.

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  4. Jason

    I think Corey’s closer to right on this one. It is a fundamental change in the theory of how political parties interact with the broader community. Whether it will have the desired effects remains to be seen, bit I think the principle is sound.

    Reply
  5. Jane

    Political parties are private organizations and should have stronger membership controls, be it PC or Liberal. The Liberal’s proposal is like allowing customers to have a say in how a business is run without buying any products. Ridiculous in this day and age.

    Reply
  6. Matt Grant

    All parties are going to have to adapt to the changing political realities out there now. Admittedly, people like you, Dave, and a lot of people involved in the Alberta Party, are on the forefront of this necessary adaption; that being said, our democratic system benefits when as many parties as possible open themselves up, respond to what Albertans want, and are prepared to do things differently, when it’s called for. You guys aren’t alone in thinking about good process anymore, and more negative commentators like David Climenhaga are going to have to get used to that.

    I have no doubt we’re building a better, stronger party with the ALP. An improved process combined with our broad commitment to basic principles like equality of opportunity is exactly, I think, the platform for growth we need.

    Reply
  7. daveberta Post author

    Thanks for the comments. I agree that they are good changes, but I think it’s too early for them to be hyped as “Groundbreaking. Gargantuan. Real renewal. Politics re-imagined.”

    I am supportive of anything that gets more people involved in the democratic process and if it does successfully engage more people I hope that more parties move towards this kind of model.

    – Dave

    Reply
  8. CalgaryGrit

    The Liberal’s proposal is like allowing customers to have a say in how a business is run without buying any products.

    I think businesses would be better off in allowing customers to have a say in how a business is run.

    If you want to expand your customer base you need to reach those who aren’t buying your product right now.

    Reply
  9. Wade Izzard

    The greatest system of government created by humanity is Democracy. It works best when it is open and transparent. It is also a system that relies on the collective wisdom of the people which more often than no gets it right. History will record that the ALP took this bold step to change how parties work in Canada. The reward that the ALP can get from this policy far outweighs the risk to the party, and shows the people of Alberta they are ready to govern.

    Reply
  10. Fran Irwin, Medicind Hat

    This initiative reminds me of my youth in Seattle, Washington where my Dad was the Democratic “Precinct Committee Chair.” Our neighbours (the Precinct was only a few square blocks) would come together in our living room to vote on delegates, raise money for candidates and otherwise talk politics. Even in those highly politicized days of Nixon and Kennedy, the attendees were NOT all members of the Democratic Party – but were the names of folks who had “Registered as Democratic Supporters.” Dad’s contact lists for the meeting, as I recall, came from the Voters Registry folks and NOT the Democratic Party.
    In the last 20 years, of course, more folks are registering as Independents but I believe all registered parties continue to have access to them as well for organizing.
    In the last US election the Precinct Committee Chairs (a couple of my now middle-aged plus friends hold these positions) were used by the Clinton & Obama leadership bids – and continue to be the “grassroots” connection with “registered” Democrats.
    Closer to home and in the history of the ALP – the largest number of actual ALP Memberships was during the Decore years when there was NO COST to belonging to the Party.
    Now, with the slippage for every political party in the number of citizens willing to JOIN – and with the current grumbling from Albertans that they don’t want to pay $5 to have a say in who will be the next Premier (at least until the next election cycle) this “registered supporter” concept is going to be a winner. Whether the voter joins to support a particular leader (based on ties to unions, arts, medicine, education, a faith-based community, democratic reform etc.) OR just feel like they would like to have a vote on the ALP Candidate or Leadership hopeful – it is an investment of their time. It provides the ALP with voters from the demographics outside of the “usual” political pulse in Alberta and lets members of other parties “flirt” with the ALP. I sold many memberships in support of David Swann’s leadership to NDP members, I could have tripled that if there was not the “onus” of “belonging” to the ALP.
    I’m anxious to start signing up registered supporters – as, I’m sure, are the Leadership Candidates!

    Reply
  11. Denny

    Am I the only one who has a hard time believing that many Alberta Party supporters would be using “Groundbreaking. Gargantuan. Real renewal and Politics re-imagined” to describe the Alberta Party making a move like this?

    That said it’s an interesting move on the Liberals part, but not one I’d advocate.

    Reply
  12. Denny

    Sorry I meant I’m having a hard time believing many Alberta party supporters would NOT be using “Groundbreaking. Gargantuan. Real renewal. Politics re-imagined.” to describe a similar move by the Alberta Party.

    Reply
  13. Roman

    I posted a bit too quickly and didn’t mean to imply that any of the Liberal candidates are incompetent. I meant to say that the process strengthens the ability for Conservatives to give the Liberals the leader the Conservatives would most want to see in that position for their own benefit.

    Reply
  14. Real Liberal

    Former Liberal Constituency President Bryan Kapitza has a great analysis on his blog. Read it here

    “How this sort of transformation is going to happen in the ALP is problematic. The party controls are, for the moment, securely in the hands of a federal liberal cabal that ,with a few exceptions, directed a terrible federal election campaign that was entirely disconnected from Alberta reality. Regrettably, their federal ideology/perspective is seeping into the provincial party. It is the old “we need to educate the electorate” attitude (yes, this was actually said at a recent gathering of ALP power brokers). Well – your wrong. We need to listen to the electorate! And we need to be clear to Albertans. The ALP is absolutely distinct from the LPC. For the ALP to survive, let alone thrive in this province, the break with the federal Liberal party must be absolute. Then there is the 3-day-old resolution that binds the ALP to membership policy. Superficially, a great idea. Practically, it prevents any leadership candidate from offering anything new – they will need membership support at a convention to have their idea implemented.

    Is the future as bright as convention organizers would us have believe? No, its not. We need to remove our ideological blinders and incumbent ideologues and truly re-imagine politics.

    Perhaps the best thing to do is to sit back and watch the impending disaster unfold. It will clearly demonstrate the silliness of the last week and the years that proceeded it. Counter-intuitively, the problem then becomes that the worse off the ALP is, the more entrenched old, unsuccessful, irrelevant “leaders” become – they are the only ones left.”

    Reply
  15. Flintstone Astaire

    I was on the fence but if Brian Kapitza is opposed I’m absolutely sure these guys are on the right path.

    And really, that stuff is just weird. Who in the ALP was supposedly running the last federal election? If they’re so elitist why do they want to give away their party to Albertans? And – most importantly – are we really supposed to believe Kapitza was invited to a meeting of senior Liberals? If they did, maybe they’re as crazy as he says.

    Reply
  16. Vincent

    This is the first time I’ve ever heard of Brian Kapitza.

    Perhaps it’s time we Liberals brought him back into the fold? He does seem happy to target Liberals (and the NDP) and is stuck in doing such behavior, though, which might make it difficult.

    Reply
  17. Corey Hogan

    I disagree with Bryan, and wish he would use a more respectful, constructive tone in debating issues, but he has good liberal values and truly wants to see a better Alberta.

    Like everybody else, he’s always welcome in the Alberta Liberal Party. Big tent, etc. etc.

    Reply
  18. Josh Kjenner

    As someone in the Alberta Party, I personally think it’s great that the ALP is looking to explore new ways of connecting with the public and reexamining assumptions they’ve made about how they operate. It’s good for everyone when parties start competing to see who can be most responsive to the people they aim to serve.

    That said, I am curious to see how much of a difference this particular measure is going to make. Functionally, there is virtually no difference between “registering” with the party and buying a membership. The people who “register” are still going into the database, they’re still going to be getting emails, etc. They’ll just save themselves $5, and won’t be able to vote at general meetings. The question, to me, lies in how the public perceives what in my mind is a pretty fine distinction.

    Reply
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