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Liberal buttons await supporters at Michael Ignatieff's election-night headquarters in Toronto on May 2, 2011. (Peter Power/Peter Power/The Globe and Mail)
Liberal buttons await supporters at Michael Ignatieff's election-night headquarters in Toronto on May 2, 2011. (Peter Power/Peter Power/The Globe and Mail)

Robert Silver

Liberal Party executive at last proposes substantive change Add to ...

If January's biannual conventional is a canary in the proverbial coal mine for the Liberal Party – foreshadowing whether it has a bright future, or not – there are some encouraging signs emerging that the party at the very least gets the severity of the situation we are facing. That's progress.

One of the most encouraging signs to emerge to date is a series of reforms the national executive is coming forward with in the days to come as part of a White Paper to overhaul the inner workings of the party. Let me start with the positives: Some of the changes are outstanding, long overdue reforms that the executive deserves massive kudos for.

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Some of the reforms the executive is proposing include:

» An end to protected nominations for incumbents. Sweet lord, thank you. While no one change will fix everything, this is a massive step forward. Popular MPs who are active in their ridings should hold them easily. Democracy can be messy – and will be – so some incumbents may lose nomination battles. As long as they are open and fair, that’s okay. This is a big bold change that’s a decade late but still important.

» An end to the leader's power to appoint candidates. See above. Really important. As with all of these, sure to meet strong resistance by some Liberals.

» The elimination of the Provincial and Territorial Associations by the end of June 2012. This is really inside baseball but the Liberal Party of Canada is not one national party currently; it is a decentralized federation. Some steps were taken in 2006 to fix that but structural barriers remain. If you were starting a new party from scratch, nobody would ever consider structuring it the way the Liberal Party has. But, as you'd expect, there are lots of people who are very comfortable with the status quo. This will be a bun fight but hopefully the party decides to move forward and not live in a deeply flawed past.

» Modernization of the party's fundraising and membership recruitment through the creation of a National Liberal Fund and an internal call center. Ya, the Conservatives have had these for their entire existence so we're late to the game but these are still important modernizing steps that the executive deserves to be congratulated for recognizing and taking steps to catch up.

There are other proposals – including open primaries that I wrote about months ago – that Liberals can chew on leading up to January. The entire White Paper, weighing in at almost 100-pages, is a frustrating document (that’s me being nice; there are parts that are really bad, in particular the sections on “what we believe in”) that risks obscuring these really positive changes that Liberals will hopefully support in January as a step in our rebuilding process. But for taking leadership by proposing changes that will be controversial in lots of circles, the executive deserves a big thank you.

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