Bloggers note: see: 2018.liberal.ca/policy/ AND https://trudeaumetre.polimeter.org
Liberals’ policy convention a ‘litmus test’ of Grit membership, a time for leadership to listen, say Libs
By Samantha Wright Allen Apr. 16, 2018
The Liberal convention in Halifax April 19 to 21 is the last chance for party members to talk policy ahead of the 2019 election.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will head to the Liberal Party's biennial convention in Halifax this week at the end of an international trip to Peru, London, and Paris with a quick mid-way stop back in Canada Sunday to navigate Kinder Morgan pipeline problems with B.C. and Alberta. The Hill Times photograph by Andrew Meade
They also say the party’s top brass has to listen.
While not likely to prompt surprise additions to the platform, national policy conventions are a place where “you really can push the agenda,” said longtime former Liberal Hill staffer Kevin Bosch, although he said the flip side is the government is “absolutely free to ignore” those directions.
Policy conventions are important for “keeping Liberals, Liberals” when governments have a tendency to “go off in direction or become captive of the views of bureaucracy,” said Mr. Bosch, who has attended every policy convention since 1990 and is again headed to the Halifax Convention Centre from April 19 to 21.
“If those people start getting discouraged or disengaged, you’re in trouble. …
They want to come out of [convention] unified, invigorated, definitely want to be pushing forward on the policy front,” said Mr. Bosch, who is now Hill + Knowlton’s vice-president of public affairs.
Impact, then, depends on how loud membership is on a particular policy and whether senior leadership is listening, something Liberal Senator Terry Mercer (Northend Halifax, N.S.) said is essential for success at this weekend’s biennial event.
“The party leadership should come with an open mind and a willingness listen to what members are saying,” he said and pay attention “to any rumblings that the party wants to move in one direction or another,” especially given the membership can be a reflection of what the public is thinking.
Improving communications is one area this government should focus on, said Sen. Mercer, who was the party’s fundraising director in 1995 and national director from 1997 to 2003.
The approach to its controversial Summer Jobs Grant attestation is one such example, where members like Sen. Mercer agree with the party’s unabashed pro-choice stance, but “it’s the implementation that may not meet with everybody’s approval.”
So, not necessarily what they’re doing, but how they’re doing it, may earn critique from members.
“We’ve got some good things … some good policies, but we’re not communicating them well,” said Sen. Mercer. “We’ve fallen in the trap of bundling things together in too big bills.”
The “omnibus” bills open the government to criticism that it is repeating the approach it slammed their predecessor for —and “God forbid that we ever get compared to Harper,” said Sen. Mercer —it’s also a lost opportunity to be seen as moving forward on files where they can win support from Canadians.
“We could have scored some major political points,” he said, like in the case of Bill C-49’s changes to the Transportation Act, which if split he estimated the agriculture portion could have passed both chambers “not overnight but very quickly.”
When you “lump it all together,” Sen. Mercer said, “you waste your poltical capital.”
This convention won’t be the place for a major “turn of the rudder,” said former Liberal MP Joe Jordan, but rather to reaffirm some of the party’s core positions.
“It’s a quick litmus test about the base,” Mr. Jordan said. “The people that go to these conventions are generally lifelong Liberals.”
On the whole, they said the mood in the party is good, with members still confident in Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (Papineau, Que.).
None seemed concerned about the dip in polls recently, most pronounced after the gaffe-filled trip to India—an issues management nightmare for the Liberals.
This is a party that came back from a devastating loss in 2011, they noted, and weeks out from the 2015 election the polls weren’t showing the red surge that led to the current majority government. As Liberal MP Darren Fisher (Dartmouth-Cole Harbour, N.S.) put it, 18 months from election “is a lifetime” and Halifax MP Andy Fillmore said “polls come and go” and it’s “a distraction to pay attention to them.”
Decriminalizing sex trade, Kinder Morgan likely hot policy topicsRanging from environment, to health, to justice, many of the 30 policies up for discussion this week suggest calling on the government to continue with its existing approach, some should prompt lively debate.
The controversial Kinder Morgan pipeline is likely to come up during an Alberta-supported resolution to implement a strategy for oil and gas independence that presents interprovincial pipeline construction as “an opportunity for nation-building and Canadian infrastructure development.”
Mr. Trudeau changed international travel plans, returning mid-way through his trip Sunday to navigate the stalemate between B.C. and Alberta’s NDP governments after the company threatened to cease “non-essential” spending.
And, Sen. Mercer noted there are additional political ramifications because both are provinces are where the party hopes to do better than it has in the past. It has only three Liberal seats in Alberta and will have to fight to keep its 18 seats in B.C. where NDP leader Jagmeet Singh is setting his sights on seat gain.
The 30 resolutions at convention are in line with existing approaches, but the one policy jumps out to Mr. Bosch is a motion to decriminalize sex work.
“In my view, that’s probably the most contentious of the resolutions on the order paper,” he said, adding he’s not sure where the party will come down on it.
That has also “piqued” Mr. Fisher’s interest, as well as a Manitoba resolution to create a made in Canada Tax Credit Program to drive wind, solar, geothermal, and biomass investment.
“I find that fascinating as well, but the of idea a tax credit isn’t something that our government has necessarily been hugely supportive of so I think it’s going to be a good discussion,” he said.
One policy on flying time put forward by the Yukon Liberals discussing how many hours a commercial pilot is allowed to fly is likely to garner disagreement, Mr. Bosch said.
“That’s contentions because it’ll have a big impact on rural and remote communities, the cost of tickets and cargo,” he said. “It’s sort of contrary to what [Transport Minister Marc] Garneau is proposing.”
Mr. Fisher said he’s excited to see pharmacare put forward, an idea that came out of the national caucus and appeared in budget. It’s something several ridings have put forward, indicating it’s an idea “whose time has come,” said Mr. Bosch.
At its recent policy convention, the NDP signalled a universal plan for both prescription drugs and dental care would be pillars of its platform.
Mr. Fisher said he’s not concerned the two parties running a similar platform, that it’s about “doing what’s best for Canadians” and it’s the “the right thing to do.”
He also highlighted a policy motion he said was planned by provincial colleague Liberal MP Mark Eyking (Sydney-Victoria, N.S.) that has his support.
“He’s hoping to get [employment insurance] for up to 50 weeks for people with disease that keeps them from working,” he said, noting that right now Canadians only get 15 weeks for chronic illness.
The party is often years, even decades ahead of government and the caucus, Mr. Bosch added.
“That’s not a bad thing,” he said noting the Young Liberals are well known for being ahead of that curve. “You want to constantly create the new path but not get so radical that you’re so fall out to left field that Canadians are not willing to follow you.”
Youngest policy convention on record, Atlantic Canada rewardedWith more than 2,500 registrants a week out, the Liberal policy convention is shaping up to be a big one. Registrations were outpacing the previous year a week out from the event, with hundreds more expected to register the day-of and days before, said Liberal spokesman Braeden Caley.
For the first time on record the convention will consist of a majority of people who have never been to a poltical convention, added Mr. Caley, and as of Thursday 25 per cent of the convention attendees were age 25 and under.
That’s thanks to the party’s new approach to membership, said outgoing party president Anna Gainey, in reference changes adopted during the 2016 Winnipeg convention when the party took on a revamped constitution that did away with paid memberships to open the party up.
Throughout the day Friday, the party will hold policy workshops to debate the 30 resolutions on the floor, with voting on Saturday during the policy plenary expected to whittle down those policies to 20 priorities. That’s down from hundreds put forward at the riding level, where members debated and voted at regional meetings before 39 were posted online.
The party held an open online policy discussion forum last month where it logged more than 1,200 comments by registered Liberals, followed by a prioritization vote with nearly 6,000 registered members.
For the first time the convention will come to Nova Scotia, which Liberals see as a reward for Atlantic Canada’s support of the party over the years, and especially in 2015 when the party swept all 32 seats.
The region deserves credit for making up a large MP contingent even “in the dark days” when the party was decimated to third-party status.
“It kept the lights on,” said Sen. Mercer.
New blood to national board
The convention will also bring in new blood to the party’s national board, senior’s commission, the young Liberals, and the women’s and seniors commission.
Many of the posts aren’t contested, including that of national president. Halifax’s own Suzanne Cowan will be acclaimed to the post.
Ms. Cowan has deep connections to Team Trudeau and is credited as one of the architects of his successful Liberal leadership and 2015 election campaigns.
Ms. Gainey said her successor has the right experience and likely doesn’t need advice on how to hit the ground running. The whole board will likely be focused on election-readiness over the next 18 months as a “natural priority,” she said.