Last night I was sent a link to an article in the Winipeg Free Press about Bob Rae calling out Liberal cliques, Liberal navel gazing, and turf wars. The Globe and Mail pipes in as well. I couldn’t agree more.
Mr. Rae has signaled that he wants Canadians–all Canadians–to be invited into the leadership race for the Liberal Party of Canada. I suspect this point of view has come out from the Albertan experiment last summer with the Alberta Liberals who engineered a supporter system that drew in 28,000 individuals to vote for our leader across the entire province. It allowed regular people to vote in the leadership race without needing to pay for a membership. The system also allows people to walk off the street and vote for their favorite in their local nomination races. It was reasonably effective, was takeover proof, and was great to find a base to build from for new riding associations.
Also, it undermined long standing factions in the party in Edmonton and Calgary, and opened up the field demonstrably for others to partake in the race as candidates, supporters, and organizers. It wasn’t an insider’s game of who had what lists or where you could get more membership forms from–you could walk around with your own sheets, pull in the information of hundreds, and build up a campaign from there. It washed over the previous battled and infused both a new energy and blood into a party. As the new president of Calgary-Klein I hugely appreciate being able to simply circumvent the unhappy cliques of four, five years ago, skip over candidate squabbles that have existed for some four to eight years, and get right into building the association in preparation of a 2012 election.
I feel this type of infusion of new blood is needed in the federal Liberals. In my own case there is not one day in the last three years (since I began being active in the Liberals) that I haven’t noted my blessing that I skipped the Martin-Chretien spat of 2000 to 2005. We had Martinites coming into AGMs, electing their preferred president, and, well, then doing nothing afterward. After “winning” and beating out the other guy the associations were left to rot with no leadership and no people. And I had to work under the shadow of this conflict.
When I was in Calgary-East as its president it had been four years since a downtown clique came in, imposed a lawyer as president, and everything went to pot. And year after year after that it fell apart: first with Paul Martin being defeated, then with that downtown clique retreating to provincial politics, the year prior to my presidency they had a young Turk who was tied to a leadership race who then disappeared after his guy lost, and ultimately collapsed in 2010 to 7 members, no money, no board, was unregistered by Elections Canada, and no leadership.
This then turned around when I entered into that one Liberal graveyard, re-registered the riding association, increased its membership to 110 from 7, had our wonderful candidate take a strong leadership role, had the association (and not myself!–I left it to the grassroots that were being built in the riding after being encouraged by myself!) run a $20,000 fundraiser in early 2011, and then I ultimately pulled away, quietly, to let the association–full with local people–take over and run a fabulous campaign in 2011 that brought a large amount of attention to Liberals in Calgary. While all of this was being done I was being sniped at in the background, that old clique calling for my resignation not once but twice, and I was a consistent target of sabotage. During all of this our current candidate, Josipa Petrunic, was trying to be our candidate, show leadership, and create a Liberal bastion… that one clique lost her nomination papers twice, lead her around in circles, and, only when the LPCA stepped in and an election was upon us, moved to have her as our candidate. We could have had her be our candidate just after the end of the 2008 campaign ended and a riding association up two years before I was needed to be called in.
When I tried to figure what was the cause of this rather mighty bit of enmity toward me I found out it was rather simple: I was “the enemy” and a “pawn” of an opposing clique that no longer existed. Let me re-emphasize this: I was “the enemy”–a young Liberal of 19 years who never had once went to a leadership convention (aside Ignatieff’s in 2009 which may not count, arguably) and never conceived of past leadership spats and barely even knew the faction–and was being targeted as “the enemy.” People hated me that I never met. To this day it still shocks me. The presidency of Calgary-East left me bitter–a bitterness I’ve tried to hide–and I am so glad Bob Rae is taking such a stand against these past turf wars and cliques. I have never been a part of these turf wars–but I have always been in the shadows of them. And I know that other volunteers, other possible leaders of the grassroots, and many young liberals have been in the shadows of these internal squabbles and pushed out from it.
And it’s not just from one camp that did this. Other small factions and groups tried to do stuff as well, much of it revealed to me from minutes, listening to Liberals of decades gone by, and bitter, angry ex-presidents. And don’t forget the fights in eastern Canada: the amount of idiocy that has gone on in Alberta is probably much, much less than what has gone on in Ontario and Quebec where Liberals have been more powerful and quite a bit more organized, which makes me think it has been so much, much worse there than it has been here.
If you want to know a surefire way to kill an association or irrevocably harm an association organize a coup against the local liberals during their AGM. Or foist a non-resident, ‘star candidate’ on them at the last minute. Or walk in, without any notice or communication, and introduce a person that that association has never met and never heard of that will be their candidate in an election when several candidates were already raring to go. The constituency of Wildrose dealt with this last one almost three years ago and made several young Liberal bitter about the party, and is a wonderful talking point amongst the provincial Wildrose Alliance partisans talking about “undemocratic Liberals.”
This is ongoing stuff and it creates a very long shadow into the future and sabotages the very people that Liberal Party of Canada needs to build itself up now more than ever. It has hurt myself, rural Alberta, Calgary, and so many other places for the Liberals.
These type of actions hurt us, hurts volunteers, and hurts the Liberal movement. I am a strange, strange politico: I get bothered by bitterness and annoyed by intrigue, but it doesn’t push me away. I’ve dealt with worse and will struggle through it. But I’m not the average person. The average person, who wants to get involved and be a part of something, will not tolerate that type of abuse by others. And these regular people are the ones that build parties and make things happen. I’m a stalwart, and I know I’ll outlive the cliques that have targeted me, but that doesn’t mean that these regular folks will stay with the Liberals after they are on the receiving end of their abuse.
I am so blessed that the Liberal Party of Canada in Alberta governing council stuck by me in 2010, that people weren’t intimidated, and that Josipa was given a chance. I don’t want different factions beating on each other, I don’t want those old battles hurting more people ten years on, and the struggle I had to go through be felt by others.
I want an open party, that includes as many people as possible, and that seeks to bring in new people by every day. An open primary process removes these hardcore cliques and factions: they’re worth having to be the engines of the party but the ultimate power and strength of the party should be found not from them but from the roots of Canadian society. An open process, with membership not so much controlled by presidents or PTAs or national headquarters or any faction, but in individuals who say that they want to be a part of the process, who have or haven’t been involved before, can do so easily and contribute their ideas and energy.
I want that.
I want Rae to take a leadership role in redefining the Liberal way of doing things, reform us, and leapfrog past the other parties in the way and method we do things. I’m sick of the bitterness that I had no influence in causing and I’m tired of volunteering in the shadow of conflicts that persist to this day. I want to move above and beyond what has gone on before and build a brighter, stronger Liberal Party of Canada and a strong tomorrow for Canada.
So, Rae, lead the way: I’m 100% behind you. Let us build a brighter, more open, and more inclusive Liberalism.