Part 1: Ensight’s Roadmap to the Liberal National Convention in April 

The 2018 Liberal National Convention is scheduled for April 19 – 21, but why should your business be paying attention?  Follow along with Ensight’s 4 Part Series as we take a peek behind how conventions run, what they debate and what it means for your business and the 2019 federal election.

Part 1 – Political Conventions a.k.a. Grown-up Pep Rallies

By: Laura D’Angelo

Conventions are where hyper partisan political junkies put on team colours to yell and scream about the ‘other guys’. A pep rally for grown-up nerds.

What is a Canadian political convention really?

It’s easy to imagine that most Canadians truly do believe that political conventions are simply hyper partisan events designed to rally the troops. And yet, they are so much more.

True, conventions are partisan. And, true again, they are designed to be positive rallying cries for Canadians who actively engage in the political process by donating, volunteering and maybe even running as a candidate. But they are also the democratic way that political parties govern themselves in Canada. 

There are two main types of conventions in Canada:

  1. Leadership conventions like we saw for the Conservatives and the NDP in 2017. This is where party members come together to elect a new Leader for their party. These conventions happen as needed and are solely focused on elections.
  2. Biennial policy conventions like we are about to see over the coming months for the Liberals and Conservatives. Both of these conventions will be held in Halifax, NS and both will be considered kick-offs to the campaign (but more on that later). As the name suggests, these happen every two years and largely focus on policy and the party itself (both literally and figuratively).

Since the Liberal Convention is only weeks away (April 19-21), let’s focus on the policy convention, what to expect, what it means and why you should care.

Policy Process

Conventions are where party members come together to debate and vote on policy priorities that they feel their party should adopt, campaign on and, hopefully, implement. At their core, political parties are democratic organizations that rely on the collective voice of their membership to guide them. There are many pieces to a policy process (submitting resolutions, initial voting, policy debates, and voting on the floor) and each party does it just a little differently based on their constitutions (yes, each party has a constitution, just like Canada). The policies that are selected, in theory, will be used as the basis for each party’s platform.

Speakers

This is likely the part of a convention that you are more familiar with, as it is the most similar to the massive US political conventions that you see on CNN. Speakers, seemingly unrelated to politics talking to a partisan crowd about why they are voting democrat or republican.

In Canada, it’s a little different. Parties bring in speakers that are seemingly unrelated, but that share policy or political views to give speeches. These speakers are campaigners and politcos from other countries for the membership to learn from (the Liberals are bringing in David Axelrod this year), academics and policy experts to about policies that the membership are interested in, and top candidates, MPs and ministers. The speakers are there to do what any speaker at any conference does: expand delegates’ minds and get them excited about their work.

Convening and Gathering

Of course, this is what so many members and delegates attend conventions for: the chance to see their friends, colleagues and fellow political junkies from across the country. There are tons of social events, chances to chat in hallways and meals to share at convention. Sometimes it’s the only chance that volunteers to have to see each other as they live on opposite sides of the country. It’s the chance to seal the bond of members and solidify the team.

Board or National Council Elections

Political parties are all governed by a board or national council. These are elected bodies chosen by party members to lead the organizations, hopefully, to victory in federal elections. These roles are essential to the parties and, frankly, to the political process in Canada. These bodies guide the parties that are ultimately vying for the chance to govern our country.

The elections that go along with these board/national council roles are highly contested and taken just as seriously as federal elections. Candidates have campaign managers and teams, they fly across the country on tours, they phone bank and door knock, they meet with party insiders and key players, and it all comes to a head at convention where the elections happen.

The final event of most conventions is the election results announcement and parties can be divided depending on the result. Something that can be disastrous for them in the long run.

Planning, Training, Campaigning

Conventions are also where political parties begin to lay the groundwork for their volunteers and candidates. They talk strategy and hold training sessions, there are discussions about how to win elections and what needs to happen next, and they begin recruiting the key top volunteers for election roles.

Convention is also where nominations contestants (those who want to be candidates) begin gathering supporters and building their nomination teams. Delegates at these conventions are some of the most committed political volunteers in the country and it’s the perfect opportunity to recruit top talent to a campaign.

So, what does this all mean and why should you care?

The political convention before a campaign (like those is 2018) are where we begin to see key indicators of which direction a party is headed before the election year kicks off. We learn the policy priorities and begin to see the shape that a platform may take, we start to see star candidates emerging and we can begin to sense the tone that the party will take in the lead up to the election based on speakers, tone of material and what the leader says during their speech.

Political conventions are essential to our democratic process in this country and I encourage you to attend one if you’re interested in shaping how this country is governed from beginning to end.

Or, just attend to watch a bunch of grown-up nerds at a pep rally for the ultimate race….the federal 2019 election.