Party policy, politics on the Liberal agenda this weekend

As card-carrying Liberals converge in Montreal for what will likely be the party's last policy convention before the next election, here's a quick rundown on what to watch for throughout the weekend confab.
Justin Trudeau brought his newly minted Liberal leadership campaign to Mississauga Thursday, October 4, 2012, making a brief stop in a place where Conservatives made huge gains in the last election. (Nathan Denette/Canadian Press)

Card-carrying Liberals have converged in Montreal for what will likely be the party's last policy convention before the next election.

Over the next two days, delegates will get the chance to debate the pros and cons of 122 policy proposals — or, at least, as many as can be squeezed into the seven hour-long workshop sessions that are scheduled to take place between now and Sunday.

As was the case at the Conservative convention in Calgary, each session will have a specific theme, including health care, governance, First Nations relations and natural resources, as well as separate sections on "building a competitive economy," "strengthening the middle class" and "a fair and compassionate society."

Unlike the Conservative convention, the ensuing discussions will be open to the media, although the campaign training and parliamentary strategy sessions will take place behind firmly closed doors.

In any case, at the conclusion of each session, the participants will pick one proposal to add to the list of "priority resolutions" slated for debate — and a final vote — at the closing plenary on Sunday morning.  

Interestingly, according to the program, there is no parallel pre-approval (or rejection) process for proposed changes to the party constitution — including, notably, one that would test the mood of the convention on the recent expulsion of senators from the national caucus.

Instead, those resolutions will automatically go to the floor on Sunday.  . 

In the meantime, however, here are a few resolutions to watch this weekend: 

Assisted suicide

As far as social issues go, the most potentially divisive policy resolutions bound for the convention floor this weekend would seem to be the two similar proposals on medically/physician-assisted death.

Although neither goes so far as to call for outright legalization of the practice, both make reference to the recent steps in that direction taken by the Quebec government, which has introduced a bill that would allow it under certain circumstances.

It's noteworthy that, of the two motions, #90, which was put forward by the National Women's Commission, and calls for "voluntary euthanasia ... to be permitted under the Criminal Code of Canada after a public consultation process" seems to go considerably further than #143, submitted by the Young Liberals, which would commit the party only to "working with the Canadian Medical Association" and other "relevant stakeholders to establish professional protocols in relation to adopting a stance in favour of legalizing physician-assisted end to life." 

At the moment, only the first — and arguably more strongly worded — resolution has been promoted to the plenary priority list. There's still the possibility that the two proposals could be cobbled together to create a compromise proposal between now and the plenary, which would at least spare delegates from having to vote twice on the issue. 

Democratic reform

Then again, perhaps those same delegates would welcome an additional opportunity to exercise their franchise, if the seven separate resolutions on democratic reform are any indication of where the party's collective interest currently lies.

Among the proposals up for debate in Montreal:

  • Democratic Reform of the House (#13), which would "eliminate ... omnibus legislation except in exceptional circumstances" while boosting the power of the Speaker and ensuring committees meet in public whenever possible.
  • Restoring Trust in Canada's Democracy (#31) with "open, democratic nomination of candidates, fewer 'whipped' votes" and "stronger parliamentary control over public finances," as well as a pledge to set up an all-party committee to study electoral reform — including proportional representation — upon forming government.
  • Empowering Elections Canada (#46) with "effective and proper mechanisms for timely investigations," including "the power to compel testimony."
  • Canada's Parliamentary and Electoral System (#63), which would "commit to meaningful study and consultation on ...mandatory audits, disclosure of expenses [and] the restoration of previous Prime Minister's Office accountability regulations."
  • Renewing Canadian Democracy (#127) by "supporting the leader's proposal to include renewing Canadian democracy as a focus of the next election campaign."
  • Improving the Method of Selecting Senators (#141) by setting up a "non-partisan Senate appointments advisory panel" that would "conduct thorough consultations within the relevant province, specifically the members of provincial legislative assemblies and civil society organizations, and advise Cabinet on prospective appointees."
  • Access to Information (#157) would pledge a future Liberal government to at least "evaluating the possibility" of extending the access to information laws to parliamentarians.

An eighth motion (#92) calls on a future Liberal government to "work together with the provinces and territories, and learning from the experience of the Nordic countries and others that have achieved much fairer gender representation, address Canada’s democratic deficit as a top priority."

Of the above resolutions, only one — #31 — is guaranteed a full vote during Sunday's plenary, although it's entirely possible that delegates will choose to promote a second to "priority" status. 

(Party) constitutional change

Speaking of democratic reform, party officials confirm that duly accredited delegates will be consulted, albeit retroactively, on Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau's decision to eject all current Liberal senators from his caucus, via the following "sense of convention" resolution, which will be put forward by the national board:

3) in the interim, direct our National Board of Directors to interpret the LPC Constitution in such a manner as to be consistent with the new composition of the Liberal Caucus

According to party president Mike Crawley, under the party constitution, "the highest authority in the Liberal Party of Canada is a Convention of the Party," and as such, a resolution seeking the "sense of the convention" is, "a powerful expression of the grassroots," and one that "will be taken extremely seriously by the National Board.”

What, exactly, would happen if the "sense of the convention" comes down against the move, is unknown, although it's worth noting that a half-dozen or so formerly Liberal senators are expected to be in Montreal, which will be the last convention at which they will be accorded automatic delegate privileges as caucus members.

With the exception of the above resolution, however, the most contentious constitutional proposal up for consideration this year would seem to be the proposal to lower the age at which a member is automatically inducted into the party seniors' commission from 65 to 60.

A sampling of other ideas on the agenda this weekend:

  • The "Bees and Farming" Resolution(#2), which would call on the Pest Management Regulatory Agency (PMRA) to "suspend immediately its registration of all neonicotinoid-based compounds, resulting in an immediate moratorium on the sale and use of this class of technology in Canada."
  • Prevention of Muzzling and Political Interference of Federal Scientists (#18) "ensure the protection of evidence based science and policy decisions from political interference."
  • Denounce Spying on Indigenous Peoples/Organizations (#28) by supporting "an immediate end to discriminatory surveillance practices."
  • A National Energy Strategy (#30) "to transition our energy system to a low-carbon system in line with our international commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions while enhancing our economic success," as well as "support construction and effective maintenance of pipeline and railway networks across Canada with effective regulation and inspection."
  • Canada Pension Plan (CPP) enhancements (#71) "to provide a retirement income for seniors who should be able to retire with dignity and not have to worry about falling below the poverty line in their most vulnerable years." 
  • Fewer guns, less violence (#151) would commit a future Liberal government to make "reducing the number of firearms in Canada through initiatives inspired by the Australian model" the "primary objective" of its firearms policy.