As delegates assemble here at the new Vancouver Convention Centre for the Liberal biennial convention, chatter in the hallways suggests to me that five points (itemized after the break) are worth watching over the next three days.
1. Will Michael Ignatieff use this convention to begin proposing a real platform, or will he rely on his considerable star-quality (burnished by favourable recent polls) to merely try pumping up the troops? Obviously, no much can be expected from his brief welcoming remarks at noon today (Vancouver time). The big test will come on Saturday afteroon, when he’s slated to give a major speech.
2. How significant is the party’s purchase of a new software system—the same one used by the U.S. Democrats in the Barack Obama campaign triumph—designed to keep track of potential voters? The so-called Voter Activation Network system will be taught to Liberal activists attending the convention during something they’re calling “Liberalist Training.” Typically, this sort of geeky stuff is just boring. But in this case, the technology is supposed to carry with it a bit of that ol’ Obama magic, so Liberals are buzzing about it.
3. How fast can Liberals hope to close the fundraising gap that so massively benefits the Conservatives? This afternoon Rocco Rossi, the new Liberal national director, among others, will lead a fundraising workshop. In 2008, the Tories raised $21 million to the Liberals’ $6 million. So there’s a lot of work to do. Rossi needs to inculcate a whole new fundraising culture, which is a goal that can’t be accomplished unless the new supporter-tracking software from the previous point does its job. It’ll be interesting to hear what he has to say.
4. What is the state of the party’s thinking about policy? Surely Ignatieff, touted as the brainiest guy to lead a Canadian party in decades, will begin to look like a big disappointment if Liberals can’t soon come up with some good ideas to toss around. There are a couple of hours of “policy think tanks” today and again tomorrow. Subjects: “Canada and the World,” “Our Changing Economy,” “Rural Canada Matters,” and “Platitudes and Bromides I Have Known.” OK, I made up that last one.
5. Will the party finally vote to dump the old delegated convention way of selecting its future leaders in favour of one member, one vote? This big change to the party’s constitution will be voted on Saturday morning. Delegates rejected the idea at their 2006 Montreal convention, the one that made Stéphane Dion leader. This time the betting is the party insiders will succeed in this modernization. It’s designed to make party membership more meaningful, and so is closely related to Points 2 and 3.