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liberal party of canada convention 2012 – renewal past the tipping point.

Zack Siezmagraff - Alberta Liberal Daveberta.ca

Zack Siezmagraff

Guest Post by Zack Siezmagraff

I am confident that the LPC convention this past weekend, which I attended as a delegate and past candidate for AB-Yellowhead , is an event that I will look back at in 50 years and tell people, “I was there”.

For those of you who pithily pontificate that the Liberal Party does not fully comprehend the gravity and seriousness of its situation following the 2011 election – we know. Lord in heaven, do we know. As I chatted and dialogued with over 3,200 fellow Liberals in Ottawa, I found unimaginable optimism. With the Harper majority, we have several years to renew and reinvent ourselves – and enough time to get it right.

I believe we have passed the tipping point towards full renewal. We had several bold policy initiatives and constitutional changes on the docket, and with a 2/3 majority required to pass them, there was no certainty at all heading into the convention that the delegates would opt for change and bold ideas as opposed to maintaining the status quo (which won us a great majority in 1980 but hasn’t done much since).

Although we retained leader veto over specific policy and the ability of the leader to appoint candidates, we made several seismic structural changes that have set the stage for the Liberal Renaissance.

First – we are now the most open federal party in the history of the country with the adoption of the “supporter” system. Those delegates that spoke at the microphone for the “No” side of this resolution pleaded that this would open the party to be hijacked by special interests. I marched up to the yes microphone and I told 2,000 Liberals (and whoever was watching on CPAC) that in order for this party to truly become a party of the people, we cannot be afraid of Canadians, we must embrace them. The more voices we have, the better our platform will be. The more Canadians we engage, the more that will trust us with their vote in 2015. Against the odds most pundits and talking heads predicated – the party agreed.

Second – rejecting Sheila Copps for party President, we collectively rejected the leader-centric “Messiah” model in favour of pragmatism. I have nothing but respect and admiration for Ms. Copps, and as talented and dedicated as she would have been, electing her as party President would have sent the wrong message about renewal. Her presence is a reminder of the destructive leadership wars of the 1990s, and I am not convinced that she would not have implicitly gravitated toward the “winning formula” of the 1990s, a formula that only works with a shattered and splintered opposition. Furthermore, I doubt she would have remained in the background. She made more TV appearances in the weeks up to the convention than past President Alf Apps has made in his lifetime.

Third – the policy we passed is Liberal and is in concert with current Canadian sentiment. We rejected the option of severing ties with the monarchy. (For the undecided in the room, all it took was a delegate to march up to the microphone and thunder “Two words: PRESIDENT HARPER”.) We recognized the need for innovation in our infrastructure, and reaffirmed our commitment to development of the oilsands in an environmentally sustainable way.

But of course – the pot resolution. Like most, I was sceptical it would pass. But when I saw the results on the gigantic screen – well over the required 2/3 to pass – I had a profound realization. This convention, with all of the national media in the room – said loud and clear that we are no longer afraid to be Liberal.

As a Liberal, I believe in evidence based policy. I also believe in creative solutions to challenging problems. And I am not afraid to defend my position.

During the tumult of the minority parliaments, we were afraid. Time and again we capitulated to Harper in order to avoid bringing down the government. We did not have the balls to stand up to him – especially on crime. Terrified of the inevitable barrage of “soft on crime” ads, we lied about who we were.

No longer. Not a single person spoke against the pot resolution by arguing that we should be afraid of what Harper will do to us. No one trembled at the thought of an apoplectic Vic Towes predicting Armageddon should this policy come into effect. Why? Because we have evidence, science, and Canadian public opinion on our side. Imagine that. A policy based on evidence. (I’ll explain “evidence” to Gary Goodyear later.)

We opened the party. We took bold policy initiatives. We rejected the celebrity President in favour of a backroom business man with a brilliant vision. And we weren’t afraid to adopt a bold stance on a taboo subject and we will not be afraid to be Liberal.

And we also realize that our return to power will not be easy, and it may take more than one election. The arrogant Liberal Party that sent 3 “power brokers” to Harvard to pluck the next Prime Minister of Canada out of academic obscurity, complete with rigging the local riding nomination to shut out the two local candidates who signed up hundreds of new members, is no more. Casting our eyes south to the hysterical partisanship of a two-party state, we are secure in our belief that there must continue to be a Liberal Party of Canada.

So where does Alberta fit in? Well I learned something astounding. Albertan Liberals are held in tremendous regard by Eastern Liberals. Why? Because given the uphill battle we face in Alberta, our commitment to the Liberal Party is sincere. The supporter motion was born at the Alberta Liberal Party level, and part of the reason I helped convince the delegates to adopt that motion was the fact that the ALP database grew by over 1,000% during the course of last year’s leadership race.

The Liberal Party recognizes that the days of winning majorities with only a smattering of seats in the prairies (see Trudeau, Chretien) are over. There is a sincere and honest desire to build a grassroots, national party. As one delegate put it to me, “when we win a seat in Alberta, it will electrify the whole party.” And I know it can be done. Our new President made it clear that grassroots rebuilding in Alberta is a priority. The Liberal Party gets it. We cannot govern – in fact, I would argue we don’t deserve to govern – unless we can command support across this great nation.

Necessity is the mother of invention. Boy, did we ever (re)invent!

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Zack Siezmagraff is a fixture in the Edmonton Liberal community. He ran for the Liberal Party of Canada in the 2011 election in Yellowhead , and currently serves as the President of the Edmonton-Glenora Provincial Liberal Association.  You can follow him on Twitter @ZackSiezmagraff.