6 hot topics at the Liberal convention

It's extreme makeover time for the Liberal Party of Canada at its biennial policy convention in Ottawa. Here's a half-dozen things to look for this weekend.

Party members debating who's in charge and what they stand for at biennial meeting

Interim Liberal Leader Bob Rae leaves the microphone after holding a media availability at the party's biennial convention in Ottawa Thursday. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

It's extreme makeover time for the Liberal Party of Canada at its biennial policy convention in Ottawa this weekend.

Here's a half-dozen hot topics the 2,600 delegates will debate or decide:

1) Who's running this show? Part one: Bob Rae

He's the interim leader for now, but after Wednesday's barnburner of a speech to his Parliamentary caucus, those inclined to think he also wants to be the permanent leader had fresh fuel for their burning suspicions. Will more signs emerge over the convention weekend? Will other potential candidates for the permanent leadership stand up and say something about their own ambitions?

2) Who's running this show? Part two: the party president

Will it be Mister President (Mike Crawley) or Madame President (Sheila Copps)? Or do the media pundits have it wrong and delegates are prepared to elect one of the other three contenders? Will the party elect someone with radical ideas for reform or someone more comfortable with the party's established path? The presidency vote could become a proxy for the bigger tug of war touching nearly every aspect of the convention — how ready is the party to embrace change?

3) Who's running this show? Part three: the contest for national policy chair

Five party activists are in the running to helm the party's quest to redefine its policy platform before the next election, including one (20-year old Zach Paikin) who can't personally remember not just Liberal glory days in the seventies, but any of the party's history prior to Jean Chrétien's leadership. What coherent vision will emerge from the race for the chair and from policy resolutions delegates will debate on the floor?

4) Monarchy, marijuana ... oh my!

Speaking of youth and policy debates ... a range of ideas are up for discussion at this convention, including some more radical ideas originating with the youth wing of the party, such as dropping the Queen as Canada's head of state in favour of a Canadian-born figurehead and the legalization and regulation of marijuana. If the delegates go for some of the more exotic policy ideas, will that capture some excitement in the eyes of the voting public?

5) Quebec (isn't it always?)

Was the defection of Quebec MP Lise St-Denis from the NDP a one-off, or the start of a trend? If Quebec is up-for-grabs as pollsters suggest, what strategy do the Liberals have to capitalize on that opportunity and try for a return to the party's glory days of dominating the province's politics? Can their brand be saved in Quebec?

6) Reform, rebuild, renew...

One of the props greeting Liberal delegates at the party's convention in Ottawa. (CBC)
If it starts with "re-" it's probably a theme at this convention ... which might explain the giant letters displayed at the entrance to the convention centre. If the party wants a rebirth, it has to reform in order to rebuild. To do that, it may need to recycle some past hits, but the party's regeneration will require fresh ideas, too. To avoid re-igniting past tensions, Liberals will need to avoid repeating their past mistakes. Job one is restoring the party in the minds of voters as the best alternative to the governing Conservatives. And that means renewal.