04.03.2016 08:33 AM

When membership becomes a mailing list


The proposal, adopted Saturday by the party’s national board during a three-hour meeting with the prime minister in Halifax, would do away entirely with the long-held principle that only dues-paying, card-carrying members are entitled to take part in party activities. 

Indeed, there would no longer be any party members. Instead, anyone willing to register with the party — for free — would be eligible to participate in policy development, nomination of candidates, party conventions and the selection of future leaders.

That’s not a membership – that’s a mailing list. Sorry. 

The biggest concern, I think, would be that a political party would become much more susceptible to special interest takeovers. We saw that happen in the 1990 Liberal leadership race, when thousands of pro-life types propelled Tom Wappel to third place in delegate totals (Sheila Copps only achieved nominal third place on the single ballot in Calgary when worried Jean Chretien delegates rushed to support her to deny Wappel the bronze). 

That sort of special interest takeover didn’t happen in 2013, I suspect, because very few expected the Liberals to vault from a distant third place in the Commons to first. That likely won’t be the case when Trudeau departs: power attracts, like a bright light attracts bugs. 

When single-minded outsiders want to take over a political party – and when they’re given the means to do so, as here – they will mobilize. And the consequences can be serious. 

If you don’t believe that, I encourage you to cast your eyes South, to what will soon be referred to as “Donald Trump’s Republican Party.”


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    Steve T says:

    I just don’t understand why JT did this. You won the election under the current structure; you’ve got plenty of election promises to keep; plenty of work to be done. Why pull this stunt out of thin air? I’ve got to think he must truly believe it has merit (rather than a political ploy), which is admirable, but as WK points out, seriously misguided.

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      Michael Bluth says:

      Good post Steve.

      I think they pulled a lot of things out of thin air. Their win was a reaction to the Harper era and a swing to the left of the political pendulum.

      This move seems like doubling down that the pendulum is going to keep heading to the left over the next 3 1/2 years. If it does, the gamble pays off. If not…

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    davie says:

    I am uncomfortable with the possibility that a few very wealthy people, with their inside access, might take over a political party.

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      Kev says:

      How could they do that?

      If anything, this makes it HARDER for special interest and single-issue takeovers to occur. The instant there is any evidence of an attempt to do so, the counter-attempt begins.

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    Ronald O'Dowd says:


    We’re Liberals. At present, we are either members or supporters. We are not a one-issue party. I applaud this move because all Liberals have a collective responsibility to set the future direction of our party.

    Single issue candidates and their supporters can only succeed when the rest of us get complacent, lazy or disinterested. If that happens going forward, we will richly deserve what we get. Our job is to make sure that never, ever, happens again.

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    billybud says:

    You get what you pay for.A22

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    The Doctor says:

    Not a perfect analogy by any means, but it reminds me a bit of the tension you get in condo strata councils between owner-residents and tenants. Owner residents have committed to the place by making an investment, whereas tenants have no such commitment. Long-time committed Liberal partisans will view the casual newcomers as tourists, and understandably so. But I can see JT and Company’s rationale — these days getting a bit fat deep list of names does have value.

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    bluegreenblogger says:

    ROFL, the minute I read the headline on Sunday I thought, ‘Kinsella will have something to say’ and you did not disappoint. I happen to believe that the Liberal Party is well on their way to locking onto power for the first half of the twenty-first century with this policy. The supporter category was not just a flash in the pan, it provided the bulk of the resources needed to contest and win the election. This logical last step can actually revive a broadly based party, and cement it as the model for the next few elections. The writing has been on the wall for a decade. I thought the Tories were going to take the prize, with a ‘mass movement’, but they could not bring themselves to let go the reins for even a second. Just see what kind of resources flow from a large and committed policy debate. There will be many of them now, and they will be happening within a Liberal Tent. As for the fear of ‘outsiders’ influencing the Party, I have a serious question for you. When an ‘outsider’ joins a discussion with many thousands of people, and influences the discussion, and agrees with the final policy prescription, how long do they remain an ‘outsider’ ? I don’t have much fear of trolls or Conbots stealing the treausres. And if they do, roll up your sleeves and fight back. They just won’t have enough numbers to influence much of anything on a Liberal platform, unless the Liberals drop the ball, and fail to register a few million Canadians.

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      The Doctor says:

      I agree with you that this approach has been a smashing success, particularly in terms of enabling the Liberals to have their casual supporters transformed into social media assets. For example, it’s clear the the LPC has done a very conscious and successful job of pushing out content to its supporters to be re-posted on facebook, re-tweeted etc. They have kicked the Tories’ and Dippers’ asses on that front. The propaganda value is significant.

      One caution about what you say of the danger of a takeover — I have some hands-on personal experience with dealing with this problem — while I agree that the danger may be overstated at the national level, many people would be surprised at how easy it can be to take over individual riding associations under certain conditions. Also, don’t forget that it was “one person, one vote, anyone can join” that resulted in David Orchard and his disciples coming close to taking over the federal PC Party in the 1990s.

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        bluegreenblogger says:

        If it started out weakly with small numbers of supporters then there could be some danger at the riding level. But that risk is much higher when there are gatekeepers for membership drives. When anybody who is interested and self identifies has a say, then it is going to be pretty hard to summon the numbers of people to drown out the actual supporters. Put it this way. If you are able to effect a takeover of an EDA with open memberships, then selling a few hundred memberships and taking it over under the old ways would be a snap. One person one vote is manipulable when the numbers of votes and persons is small. But get into big membership numbers in the thousands, or tens of thousands, and only an openly contested challenge can realistically succeed. It will make leadership contests a truly national contest, with candidates needing real campaigns reaching out to the whole electorate, earned and paid media, policy prescriptions. Riding associations will pull thousands of votes for candidates. Very very powreful stuff. I have worked a few leadership campaigns, and this would change everything, and almost entirely in a beneficial way. Except if you cannot raise money. Bad fundraisers will never have a chance at power.

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    Jeff Paul says:

    As someone who walked the convention floor in Calgary and spoke to more than a few Tom Wappel supporters while wearing my Chr├ętien duds I’ve got a pretty good idea what you’re worried about. But I believe that there is a technical name for them…….


    I have met hundreds of people over the years who have gotten involved in a party because they were passionate about one issue. That should be encouraged. If people generally like a party but believe it has one major flaw, what is the problem with signing up dozens or hundreds or thousands to fix that flaw? Does it matter if that flaw’s name is abortion or John Turner?

    I believe you call those people engaged citizens.

    And then there are those who would lead engaged citizens in the name of a passionately held belief that may challenge the fundamental values of the establishment. Tom Wappel was certainly one of those – and someone with whom I passionately disagreed. Still do. But there are others who have picked up the fight and used the democratic system (formal or informal) to push a single issue, leading a group of dozens or hundreds or thousands. Meanwhile others lead groups to debate the uprising.

    They call that democracy.

    Oh and other single issue leaders…… Well happy belated April 4th.

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    Political Proctologist says:

    I agree with your opinion here. As a long time liberal and organizer the recent fait accompli attitude is concerning. NO document has been released and we have only seen a press release. Does that sound like a grass roots approach? Apparently the only opinion that matters is that of the leader, the president and Ottawa.

    In my opinion this is a bigger push to setup primary’s like in the USA, which I’m uneasy about. Do Canadians want primary’s? That is the question we should be asking.

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