Internal dispute erupts over Liberal party’s leadership voting rules

by Joan Bryden

OTTAWA – Federal Liberal brass are being accused of subverting a leadership process that was supposed to transform the party from an elitist club into the country’s most open political vehicle.

That’s the claim of two leadership hopefuls in the first real dust-up of the contest.

Party officials are under fire for allowing candidates to treat their lists of supporters as private property.

The new “supporter” category was supposed to give anyone willing to affirm support for Liberal principles — not just dues-paying, card-carrying members — an equal say in choosing the next Liberal leader.

Grassroots Liberals adopted creation of the supporter category at a convention a year ago to throw open the party’s doors and engage and empower average folks in the leadership contest.

But now two candidates — Vancouver MP Joyce Murray and Toronto lawyer Deborah Coyne — maintain the party has effectively turned thousands of new supporters into the unwitting private property of individual leadership contenders.

At issue is the party’s interpretation of the rules regarding supporters.

Officials have decided that leadership camps can keep to themselves the names and contact information of supporters who sign up through their websites — at least until the March 3 deadline for signing up new supporters and members, after which a list of all eligible voters will be made available to all candidates.

A supporter who signs up through, for instance, front-runner Justin Trudeau’s website will be known only to the Trudeau camp and will be contacted only by that camp until the final month of the contest.

The party’s stance appears to most benefit the front-running contenders — such as Trudeau — who are best equipped to sign up large numbers of supporters.

“I think that would be a logical interpretation,” agreed Jeff Jedras, Coyne’s campaign manager.

Sources say both the Trudeau camp and that of Marc Garneau, widely considered his most serious challenger, opposed any relaxation of the party’s interpretation of the rules.

While the names and even the number of candidate-recruited supporters are being kept under wraps, all candidates have access to the identities of some 55,000 supporters who signed up before the contest officially started on Nov. 14 or who have signed up thus far during the contest through the party’s neutral website.

Murray’s camp formally objected last month to the party’s interpretation of the rules, arguing that it creates different classes of supporters and is antithetical to the openness, transparency and equal treatment grassroots Liberals intended when they voted a year ago to create the supporter category.

In a written argument, obtained by The Canadian Press, Murray’s campaign chair Jamie Carroll, a former national director of the party, said most supporters expect to be “wooed” by all the candidates and are likely unaware that won’t happen if they sign up through a candidate’s website.

He argued that an individual who signs up through a candidate’s website may want simply to get involved in the leadership process, without having decided whom to support.

And since supporters and members will be casting preferential ballots in April, in which they must number their first-through-ninth choices for leader, he maintained they need to hear equally from all contenders.

The Coyne camp backed the Murray camp’s objection.

Regardless of what mechanism people use to sign up as supporters, Jedras said in an interview: “They’re signing up as a supporter of the Liberal Party of Canada, first and foremost. No campaign owns these people.”

However, the Murray camp’s arguments were rejected this week in an interpretation bulletin issued by the party’s national membership secretary, Matt Certosimo.

Certosimo pointed out that each contender had to accept the rules, including those regarding contestants’ “proprietary” rights to information about candidate-recruited supporters, members and donors, before the party would authorize their candidacy.

He indicated that party officials decided on a “staged approach” to access to such information in a bid to “avoid a last-minute ‘drop’ into the system of candidate-recruited supporters.”

In an interview, Carroll said the Murray camp is exploring its options and “intends to pursue this further.”

Canadians who are disengaged from politics will be “immensely turned off by this sort of behaviour, by the folks who treat politics as a sort of personal fiefdom or exclusive club,” he said.

“It shouldn’t be. It should be a very public forum, a transparent forum and a place where anyone who wants to participate can participate.”

Jedras said the dispute reflects “a conflict between the new philosophy (behind creation of the supporter category) and the more old-school style of campaigning in politics where you build your list, you guard your list, the access to (membership) forms is controlled and you would gather all your forms and drop them at the last minute to secure your data.”

“It does run up against what the party members in large numbers voted to do a year ago now, which was to open up the party and make it much easier to get involved.”




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Internal dispute erupts over Liberal party’s leadership voting rules

  1. There is nothing worse for an organization to employ a ‘ gimmick ‘ to help transform itself. It never works and any manager or anyone who has been a leader will tell you this. Make no mistake about it – this supporter category – was a classic gimmmick and extremely dishonest with those who think they are part of soemthing serious and new! The real reason for this is to accumulate a database to milk money and volunteers from – the Liberals are very jealous of the Tories ability to motivate it’s grassroots and keep it’s database current, growing and effective. It also had the side benefit of appearing ‘ revolutionary ‘ and almost Obama like :) – and anything that smacks of copying Obama instantly becomes the darling of the left. The gimmick is going to backfire in ways few have foreseen. Most polls show that almost everyone thinks Trudeau willl win the leadership and then become the next PM (hahaha!) however most polls 2 years out from an election don’t show actual political movement because no one has any cards on the table there is nothing at stake anyone can answer a poll any way they want now – come closer to the actual going to the polls and the real trends invariably show themselves to rather different than the previous ones! There are quite a few Tories like myself that are suppprters for the Liberal Party and willl be voting for Trudeau – gotta love it folks can’t wait – Harper on one side – Trudeau – Mulcair on the other = slice and dice time :)

    • Since you guys have rolled up the per vote option i don’t think you have any right to question anything, gimmicky or not, that the other parties opt to try. And supporters are signing up willingly so what’s the problem?

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