Part 2: Ensight’s Roadmap to the National Liberal Convention in April

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Liberal President Anna Gainey, left, and Liberal Youth President Mira Ahmad vote for the new party constitution at the 2016 Liberal Biennial Convention Winnipeg on Saturday. (Photo: John Woods/Canadian Press)

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 II – Then and Now: The Hopeful Promise of a Convention Policy

By: Shane Mackenzie

Conventions give a vehicle for ideas to get adopted and implemented – but how?

Why Go?

Why do thousands of political partisans from across Canada amass for conventions every two years in a rotating location?

Answer: it’s the promise that participation offers the possibility to drive change in one’s own party, particularly around policy.

Parties aim to embody democratic structures that can elevate ideas into action on behalf of their most ardent believers.

Canada’s political parties’ direction hinges on support from those same, loyal devotees during elections who work local campaigns, donate to permit the party to operate, and share their message.

Policy Process

Conventions play host to policy debates over ‘resolutions’, which the party’s grassroots contend should underpin the party’s next platform (or be implemented earlier).

Each party has its own policy process to get those resolutions from drafting to the floor of the convention. Political parties do their conventions differently – it’s a different exercise for the third party as opposed to the party in government.

In the context of the Liberal convention upcoming April 19–21 in Halifax, policies come from the various arms of the party – their youth, women’s, seniors and Indigenous commissions, their provincial and territorial wings, online submissions, and the Liberal caucus members.

In the 2018 National Liberal Convention’s case, they started by putting the proposed policies online and let the registered delegates reduce the 39 posted to 30 before delegates hit the convention floor.

At the event, policies are debated from the floor with microphones representing ‘for’ and ‘against.’ The Chair recognizes speakers and they have limited time to make their case. Delegates raise their voting cards, and unless it is particularly close and needs to go to a count, the Chair will announce whether the resolution passed or failed.

Once the 30 policies have been evaluated, there may be upward of 15 that get passed on principle. In that case, there is a process to decide the 15 top priorities among them.

What’s Next?

None of these resolutions passed are binding for the government or even an opposition political party to advance into a platform. It speaks to aspirations for the membership or registered attendees.

While none of these policies guarantee results and some polices find themselves on the backburner perpetually, the 15 priority resolutions are considered by the Party’s platform committee.

Different conventions have changed the method convention-to-convention for prioritizing the Top 15, but it is done through a democratic vote by paper ballot, hands raised, using an online app or site or a combination of these methods.

It is important to note that often the policies passed merely build on general public pressure from Canadians where the political party is offside with public opinion.

Pivot Points

Historically, some of the most significant policies passed at conventions that influenced the trajectory or positioning of the Liberals:

  • Cannabis legalization and regulation – passed at 2012 Biennial Convention
  • Preventing ballistic missile defence shield cooperation with the US – passed at 2005 convention
  • Ending the MSM blood ban – passed at 2016 Biennial Convention (note: there was also a resolution on reversing the MSM Organ Donation ban passed in 2009)
  • Pulling out of negotiations on the Multilateral Agreement on Investment – passed at 1998 Convention
  • Civil marriage recognition – landmark resolution passed in 2005 convention (although civil unions and same-sex benefits resolutions passed in the 90’s)
  • Death with Dignity – Medically assisted death – passed at 2014 Convention
  • Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls Inquiry – Passed at 2014 convention
  • Opening up leadership contests with a free ‘supporter’ class – passed at 2012 Biennial Convention

All of these marked changes that drove real changes in the Liberal apparatus or approach.

What makes the difference?

There are calls from those who follow convention-to-convention to see their party held to account, however, those calls are not necessarily heeded. Polices have a better chance of success if championed by a sitting MP in caucus, traditionally. If a sitting or past caucus members steps up to bat for your policy on the floor of a convention, it lends credibility and weight to it.

Some of the most savvy policies have been really retail politics-minded, feasible, and focused resolutions that can easily be accomplished so that the Party can turn back and point to how responsive they are to the desire of the grassroots to drive change.

Be on the lookout for attendees lobbying the Liberal MPs on policies that the past conventions have passed during this convention – notably basic minimum income, pharmacare, ending the Indian Act, democratic reform, and sex workers’ rights.

Shane’s Top 10 resolutions to watch for #Lib2018:

  • opioids response through decriminalization of hard drugs
  • decriminalization of the sex trade
  • tax exemption of menstrual products
  • national pharmacare
  • guaranteed minimum income
  • affordable housing
  • redressing tax avoidance
  • energy reforms
  • justice system reform
  • broadband access.

Pivotal moments in a convention hall for political party have impacted and shaped public policy in Canada for decades. Others have gone by the wayside.

In a year with all three major parties holding pre-election conventions, the propositions discussed here may just be the ballot question come October 2019.

The 2018 National Liberal Convention in Halifax will be Shane’s fourth federal Liberal convention on top of several provincial Liberal conventions and one Conservative convention after-party that he immediately felt out-of-place at. He also served as the Ontario Young Liberals Policy Director, and worked policies to make it from the youth commission to the Biennial. Shane is an Associate Consultant with Ensight.