Keep the Queen but lose the law on pot-smoking, Liberals decided after a three-day convention that focused more on process than policy.
In a high-stakes attempt to breathe new life into the moribund Liberal Party, delegates argued over legalizing marijuana, a preferential balloting system and severing ties with the British Crown. They also elected a new party president and, most significantly, the party broke new ground in adopting a new leadership-selection process they hope will attract more Canadians to their cause.
In the end, about 3,300 Liberals left Ottawa Sunday hopeful they’ve set the party on a path to renewal after their humiliating defeat at the polls last May.
The president: It was so close. But after a recount, Mike Crawley, a former president of the party’s Ontario wing, won by 26 votes over Sheila Copps, the former MP and senior Chrétien cabinet minister. Considered the favourite, Ms. Copps tried to dispel suggestions she did not represent renewal. Liberals went with a newish face in Mr. Crawley, 42, who had the support of younger delegates.
About one-third of the delegates were under 30.
“I am very energized by all of you,” Mr. Crawley said in his acceptance speech. “The convention signals a party that is clearly focused on the future.”
The policy: “After the resolution on marijuana today, there is going to be a group of even happier people in the Liberal Party,” interim party leader Bob Rae joked in his closing speech.
However, he did not shy away from the delegates’ decision – which provoked some of the most vigorous debate of the weekend – to support a resolution that a new Liberal government will legalize marijuana. “I want to be very candid about it,” he said. “Do you really think it makes sense to be sending another generation of young people into prison when you realize the most addictive substances facing Canada today are alcohol and cigarettes?” To loud applause, he declared the war on drugs “a bust.”
Liberals, however, did reject an attempt by the youth to abolish the monarchy and have a Canadian head of state.
The process: Delegates believe they’ve found the secret to renewal with their creation of a new “supporter” class of Liberals, who won’t have to buy memberships or participate in riding associations. Instead, they can vote for the new leader simply by declaring their support for the party and completing an application form. No fees, no obligations.
The politics: Liberals showed a united front, seemingly resisting old patterns of infighting. Though there was a whiff of the decade-long Paul Martin-Jean Chrétien battle in the election of the party president – Mr. Crawley had some senior Martin loyalists with him – it was quickly dismissed.
Lurking around the convention were observers from other parties, of course. NDP MP Olivia Chow was whispering in reporters’ ears that there is always so much more policy at NDP conventions. The Conservatives’ Fred DeLorey was critical of what he characterized as “hyper-expensive, failed, big-government promises from the 1970s heyday of the Liberal Party.”
The past: Despite the focus on renewal, there were nods to the Liberal past. John Turner, 82, came to the convention to address young Grits. It was quite a contrast – the former prime minister and foe of Pierre Trudeau, who first entered the House in the 1960s and then led the party in the 1980s – sitting amid all of the young faces. “Stay loose and relaxed,” he told them. Public service, he said, was a rewarding vocation.