Published On: Sun, Jan 15th, 2012

Keith Beardsley’s View From the Hill – The Americanization of Canadian politics delayed. – January 15, 2012

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CFN - The Liberals held their biennial convention this past weekend in Ottawa. For the most part a good show and I am sure the delegates went home with a warm and fuzzy feeling. While it was billed as the convention to reinvent the Liberal Party, I didn’t see much of that. In fact it looked like they were going down the same path that the former Progressive Conservatives trod back in the 1990s and up to 2003.

There was one very interesting aspect though to this convention and the policy resolutions that were put forward. This was their attempt to radically overhaul how we do our politics in Canada and if all of the motions had been approved we would have seen the Americanization of our politics on a scale not seen to date.

Now keep in mind that the Liberals often attack the Conservatives for practicing an American style of politics, using American style attack ads, being in permanent campaign mode etc. Some of that is accurate, but never have the Conservatives advocated adopting the American political culture in how they pick leaders etc.

What did the Liberals try to do at this convention? It comes down to three key resolutions. If all had been passed it would have meant a radical change to how we do politics here. I say that because invariably other parties whether through internal pressure or media pressure would have felt a need to go in the same direction as the Liberals.

As an initial step, the Liberals brought in a couple of President Obama’s top operatives to teach them (based on their US model) how to win campaigns.  They gave a good presentation, especially for a Presidential style leadership race with some excellent points for a federal election.

Now back that up with a few motions that would have resulted in a fundamental change to party politics in the Great White North.

First there was a motion to adopt American style primaries for Liberal leadership elections. The hope being to generate the same type of daily we hype we see in the American leadership system, similar to what the Republicans are going through now.

The Liberals also proposed a new “supporter” membership category which is taken right out of the Obama playbook and his successful campaign for the US Presidency. Add in another motion that would have created a republic after severing ties with the Queen and if all had passed we would have seen the greatest Americanization of Canadian politics in memory. And the Liberals are the party that always accused the Conservatives of using American style politics. I can almost write the Conservative attack ads on this one. With this attempt to Americanize us I am surprised that they didn’t include a motion to make us the 51st state!

Fortunately for the Liberals the motion for primaries and severing ties with the Queen were defeated. But they did create a new supporter membership category. I am not sure how they will resolve this issue in the future. This category works best with a primary system which they voted down. “Supporters” can only vote in leadership races, not in nomination races at the local level. How do they now incorporate these new supporters into a leadership campaign, especially the one the Liberals will be facing in the near future?

If you don’t have a primary system, where do they vote? Can they attend a leadership convention if the party holds one? Will the party be forced to set up regional voting sessions? What will be the cost to the party to allow these supporters to participate keeping mind that this new category is not required to pay a membership fee?

Lots of Interesting ideas.  American ideas, but as of now not yet fully implemented.

Keith Beardsley is a senior strategist for True North Public Affairs in Ottawa, as well as a blogger and political analyst. He can often be found running or cycling on his favorite bike trails.

Best Western Cornwall

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  1. Furtz says:

    It also opens up the opportunity for thousands of motivated Reformatories to vote for THEIR favourite Liberal leader, ie the weakest one. What were they thinking?

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