Wednesday, October 15, 2008
If Mr. Dion Were To Resign... New Rules For Leadership
Yes, I said "if".
A lot of people are calling for heads today. We may be a little upset, but we need to look at the positives... And there are some... Harper did NOT get a majority (huge positive). Many were predicting we would do much worse. We had a leader that was slapped around for 2 years, and seemed to grow during the last week of the election...
Still, we hear that this person should quit, or another should run for this, or that... The spin continues, while the machines start warming up...
If our leader - and he is still the leader until a leadership review loss or he resigns - decides to step down, we are faced with some questions. We know Harper's ambition is to "destroy the liberals". Like a "war on terror" it is really interesting how he would try to attack an ideology. Best not to pick fights with things you don't understand, Mr. Harper... He is hoping to weaken the party through a series of leadership battles, and election losses, resulting in a "broke" party, hoping that would cut the electors' ties to us.
What do WE do NOW to avert Harper's resolution to his quest? Here are a few ideas:
1) If Mr. Dion is going to step away, he needs to do it now. We have an election scheduled for this Fall, and we'll need time to "reload". Not every leader needs time to settle in. Many can lead bravely into an election. I would argue that sometimes it is best that we take the popularity imbued by the leadership contest and translate that directly into an election... Don't give the opposition time to "frame you". In the US, the conventions are a mere 3 MONTHS before the election. Why don't they worry about the readiness of their leaders? We change leaders, we should take the convention momentum and jump into an election at the first opportunity.
2) New rules for leadership: Kill the huge spending limits. We don't need leadership candidates to assemble huge debts, then waste time fund raising when they should be engaging the government. We wasted months fund-raising to make up for the expenditures during leadership. Harper's gambit is that we'll do that again. Our simple solution is to eliminate that. If we had set a limit of $1 million on a leadership bid, then let's shrink it down to $500,000, or less. Provide enough funds for the candidate to get around the country - with a limited entourage. I would suggest that "local surrogates" will serve the purpose of saving the campaign money, AND ensure that the local party and riding associations are more involved. If they are more involved, then the general populace will also get more involved.
Hold simultaneous leadership "conventions" in each "region" (one in Ontario, one in Quebec, one in the Atlantic, one in the Prairies, one in BC). It will make it easier to tap all the numbers, and if people want, we would have the ability to join the "main" convention, wherever it may be. Delegates should not be kept from being delegates, or voting, just because they can't afford the time, or cost, to attend a convention at the other end of the land. We would up our attendance numbers, link the conventions electronically - creating a "new wave" convention process. We would bring on new members (it's hard to convince someone to be a delegate in BC, if they have to spend up to $3000 of their own to fly out to Montreal or Toronto).
While I enjoy the camaraderie of our nation-wide meetings, let's reserve that for our Biennials. Leadership conventions should tap into the grass-roots of EVERY region, and bring forth individuals from all over. New faces. New blood. Imagine a leadership convention where every Liberal truly had a chance to voice their opinion.
The regionally dispersed, electronically linked convention would have the benefit of saving the party - and members from spending all their "political donation money" in one place. The party would also get by without having to spend to subsidize all those flights from across Canada. I'm an average middle-class guy, but honestly, I can't keep spending $3000 every year to attend conventions. I do it, but most don't. In doing this, we would also be perceived as being "greener". Hey, we're limiting flights across Canada, and we'll even promote car-pooling to the regionals...
Keeping leadership campaign spending low, will ensure that our future leaders aren't cash-strapped. Another measure has to be taken: limit the time-line. Whose idea was it to run a marathon campaign? It should be a sprint, then a quick transition to election. Look at the time-gap between the US Dem and Rep conventions and the election... mere months. No-one down there has ever said, give our leader time to get used to leading. They dive right into it. Giving candidates a year to fly across Canada meant our candidates SPENT THE YEAR flying across Canada. At what expense? The party's, in the long term. While these "broke-ass" "would-be leaders" then licked their wounds and fund-raised to avoid debts and embarrassment, the world passed us by, and the party suffered. Instead of public events to get ready for the campaign, we were busy with "private" party events to fund-raise.
Speaking of fund-raising, just how stupid is it to alienate your voters and future campaign volunteers by hosting $500/plate fund-raisers? I hope the days of those are long gone. While the corporate crowd needs to hear the message, they aren't the people that we need to reach out to early on, and during leadership races. I've long been the proponent of $5 and $10/head BBQs and pasta dinners. Take a lesson from Preston Manning of the tailgate stump speech and "$5 in a hat from every farmer" campaigning. I have worked with many different people during my campaigns, and the ones who we need most are often the ones who get turned away because they "can't afford us". I'm talking about the youth - who we need to engage - and are tireless volunteers. I'm talking about the seniors. Many seniors will spend hours engaged in managing our campaign offices and phone polls. Their support, opinions, and mentorship are indispensable, and we need to ensure that they can be a part of the process... Pricing events out of their fixed income range is NOT the way to do that.
If we can manage to have a change of leader and a leadership convention within a 4 to 6 month stretch, we can succeed. We need to change with the times. We need to adapt to a flexible campaign process, and a flexible and realistic fund-raising process. A million people giving $5/head is a lot better than $5000/head from 1000 people. It won't be the millionaire tycoon knocking doors or answering phones for us. Keep that in mind. People drive our business. People drive our party, along with the ideas they bring. Accessability is the key to bringing those people in. When you get the "little people" - people like us - then you will get the tycoons and industrialists, because they need to sell products to all us "little people". If 10000 people show up to a leadership event, the media will be there.
If Harper wants perpetual campaigns, let's be ready for it. Let's "tighten up" our party and our party's fund-raising efforts. Let's ensure we are always "ready to go". Short leadership campaigns, raise small amounts of funds from many people versus large amounts from few people.
Harper won't "kill" our party. Not even close - but, we'll need to adapt to the times.