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Liberals must 'let democracy blow through,' Copps says

Sheila Copps is seeking the Liberal Party presidency.

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Restricting Bob Rae from seeking the leadership is just one symptom of what is wrong with the Liberal Party, former deputy prime minister Sheila Copps says.

And there's so much more.

The veteran Liberal, who is seeking the party presidency at the Liberal convention in January, points to the command-and-control structure that has infected the party over the years. That includes leadership coronations (including the selection of Paul Martin and Michael Ignatieff), controlling nomination meetings, closely guarding membership forms as a way to control ridings and restricting delegates to conventions.

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"The executive has to step out of the way and let democracy blow through the Liberal Party," Ms. Copps said in an interview with The Globe. "Part of that means open nominations and part of that means open leaderships. We have had leaderships where people have been crowned, which has not been healthy for the party."

As for Mr. Rae, Ms. Copps says the executive should not be able to restrict who runs and who does not. That's up to voters.

She noted that when Mr. Rae took over the leadership, he agreed to rules set by the party's "current" executive that the Interim Leader would not seek the top job permanently.

But a new executive could change that rule. And Ms. Copps will if she is elected president.

Part of the argument in restricting a bid by Mr. Rae was that he could use his interim leadership as a launching pad for a permanent run. He'd have an advantage because of his profile and his ability to meet Liberals during his travels.

But Ms. Copps dismisses this. She doesn't believe that being leader of the third party gives anyone the leg up.

"On balance, I'm more in favour of more candidates than fewer," she said. This is even more important, she added, given that the party is considering electing the new leader through a primary system – one of the measures that will be considered at the January convention.

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Ms. Copps noted that means there will be the "potential for literally thousands" of voters. "With those numbers anything can happen but wouldn't you want to have a great crop of candidates. The more the merrier," she said.

The idea is to reinforce "openness" and not put restrictions on memberships or nominations. Ms. Copps, who is in favour of the primary system, said that's what was wrong with the Liberal Party, which saw voters walk away from it droves in the May election.

Mr. Rae, of course, has not indicated that he wants to run. However, he remains vague when asked. On CTV's Question Period Sunday, for example, he was asked about his future plans. Again, he skated: "Look, I became under rules set by the party. I think those rules are pretty clear. We will have a very successful leadership race. I'm looking forward to continuing my conversation with Canadians as the Interim Leader."

The leadership contest is to take place in the spring of 2013. A shift in thinking is required between now and then, Ms. Copps said. The party should be turned from "a club into a movement."

The January convention begins on Friday the 13th – not exactly the luckiest of days. But Ms. Copps wants to use this, too, to make some changes in the party.

She's planning to hold a "Very Scary Stephen party," complete with Stephen Harper masks (if she can find some), as part of her bid to become the party's president.

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"We want to try to make the party fun again," she said. "And make it a go-to place for people who want to make change and have fun can get involved."

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About the Author
Ontario politics reporter

Jane Taber is a reporter at Queen’s Park. After spending three years reporting from the Atlantic, she has returned to Ontario and back to writing about her passion, politics. She spent 25 years covering Parliament Hill for the Ottawa Citizen, the National Post and the Globe and Mail. More

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