Liberals gathered in Ottawa affirmed a proposal Saturday to fundamentally change the party by making it possible for non-members to vote for the next leader.
Amendments to the party's constitution create a new category of Liberal known as "supporter." Unlike full party members, supporters will pay no fee.
However, spooked by fears that Conservatives and activists might try to hijack local ridings, delegates voted not to allow supporters to vote for candidates for MPs.
The goal was to open the party to broader representation, to generate a new base of engaged Liberal supporters, and to encourage media buzz.
"I implore the delegates" at the Liberal convention to adopt the new system, Interim Leader Bob Rae pleaded, calling the proposals "an extraordinary opportunity for the party."
Delegates were told that the great majority of Canadians do not wish to formally join a political party. "When it comes to political parties they want to date, not marry," one delegate explained.
But some party loyalists feared the leadership campaign would be overwhelmed by fair-weather Liberals and possibly even covert Conservatives.
"Why would I pay $10 to be a member when I have the same rights as someone who pays nothing?" a delegate complained.
Another warned against giving "rights and authority" to "random, transient people."
But as Toronto-area MP John McCallum pointed out: "When you're the third party, you take a little more risks."
After much chaos surrounding the electronic voting, the motion passed by the required two-thirds.
However, only 51 per cent voted to extend the rights of supporters to participate in riding nominations, which was not sufficient. Recent extreme measures by Conservatives to undermine Montreal MP Irwin Cotler – which included circulating false information that he was stepping down – spooked many delegates, who decided to keep the job of choosing candidates for MP in the hands of full-fledged party members.
Also defeated was a proposal to force the party leader to adhere to policy resolutions passed by the convention. The delegates may have been thinking about policy proposals to be voted on Sunday that would abolish the monarchy and legalize marijuana.
Voting delays and lengthy debates forced an end to voting before a crucial debate over whether to adopt a series of primaries for choosing the next leader could be decided upon. That decision will now come Sunday morning.