Thursday, April 16, 2009

OMOV and the Young Liberals: A Plea For Fairness and Compromise

I've had a number of people - including my husband - ask me why I'm spending a lot of money I can't really afford to go all the way to Vancouver to attend a convention that amounts to little more than a coronation.

My response is that I'm going to try to make sure this is the last coronation the Liberal Party ever has.

One of the ways that many of us are trying to make the leadership selection process more democratic is to institute a One Member, One Vote (OMOV) system, similar to what the other national parties use. Unlike the last convention, where OMOV was killed largely by ex-officio delegates, this proposal now has the support of Party brass and has an excellent chance of passing.

Except now it's hit a snag.

The current delegate system includes 'quotas' for the various Commissions, including 1/3 of delegate seats reserved for Young Liberals, who represent those between the ages of 14 and 25. Faced with the loss of this guaranteed position, the Young Liberals (YLC) have proposed an amendment to the OMOV proposal that would give them a minimum of 25% of the 'points' under the new system. Many have threatened to vote against OMOV if it doesn't include this amendment. Others have threatened to do the same if it DOES include the amendment.

Perhaps because of this, the National Management Committee has made a rather bizarre change to the rules of order so that, instead of voting on an amendment first and then voting on the amended proposal, we are now to vote on the main proposal first and then on the amendment only if it passes. This is completely contrary to Robert's Rules of Order, and has infuriated both the YLC (who are threatening to summarily vote against OMOV unless their amendment is dealt with first), and those who oppose the YLC amendment but still want this to be done fairly and democratically.

So. That's the situation.

Scott Tribe, Jeff Jedras, James Curran and others have all explained the reasons why they feel having any sort of quota for anyone defeats the purpose of OMOV, so I won't go over that same ground here. Suffice it to say, yes, I agree with them: the YLC amendment weakens OMOV, and quotas are ultimately counter-productive.


I am deeply concerned by the tone the discussion of these issues has taken, both in blog comments and in the Liberal En Famille forums. While most are trying to make reasonable arguments both for and against the YLC amendment, some are getting frustrated and are falling into the trap of issuing ultimatums and being dismissive of the other side's point of view. A few have even accused the Young Liberals of being 'selfish' and 'immature', which, I can tell you as a parent, is exactly the WRONG way to convince a young person of anything.

If the hardline OMOV supporters refuse to make any concessions to the YLC, and if the YLC refuses to support OMOV without their amendment intact, then we can probably kiss democratic reform in the Liberal Party goodbye for another two years. And by then I suspect most party members will be so disgusted that there won't be much of a party left.

We need to work this out. Now.

As I see it, there are at least three major points on which the YLC and those opposed to their amendment are agreed:

1) We all want grassroots Liberal Party members to have a stronger voice.
2) We all want a vibrant, active, and influential Youth wing, and
3) We all object (I think) to the arbitrary changes to the rules of order.

And really, that's a lot to work with.

One place to start might be to pressure the Executive to reverse the changes they made to the rules of order. I have already written to Ferguson and Rossi about this and have encouraged others to do the same. Failing that, it should be possible to make a motion from the floor to vote on the amendment first in this one instance, although it would require a 90% majority. The only way we could get that would be to arrange it ahead of time and work together.

As for the amendment itself, I don't know what can feasibly be done, but I would very much like to see some negotiation before the vote to see if some accommodation can be reached. For example, a large part of the resistance to the proposed 25% quota is due to it being so completely out of whack with both the actual numbers of Young Liberal party members (around 10%) and the percentage of 14-25 year olds in the population (about 15%). However, there is no doubt that youth are under-represented politically for a variety of reasons, and I can see why the YLC would find it unreasonable to be asked to suddenly go from a one-third representation to 10% or less.

Because of this, I have suggested either lowering the quota to 15%, or starting at 25% and gradually reducing it to nothing. A reduction in the quota would still guarantee weighting equivalent to the percentage of youth in the population, while a gradual reduction and eventual elimination of the quota would allow the YLC time to build their numbers through recruitment.

Those are just a few ideas, from someone with absolutely no experience with the YLC or with conventions. Surely others can come up with other areas where compromise is possible, and think of some way we can come together and reach a fair accommodation before this all comes to a vote. As a relatively neutral party and half-decent arbitrator, I would be happy to do whatever I can to help make it happen.

The alternative is for everyone to dig their heels in, hold firm to their principles and their positions - and squander what may be our last, best opportunity to make real, progressive, democratic change to our party.

Let's talk.


  1. On the topic of quotas though, the current resolution already has a quota worked in when it does the riding distribution. It's not true OMOV to begin with.

  2. That's true, and a lot of people weren't especially happy with that either. However, ridings are supposed to have approximately the same population, and so weighting them equally makes some sense, proportionally.

    The difference with the YLC quota - both the previous one and the proposed 25% one - is that instead of simply levelling the field by compensating for under-representation, it's completely disproportionate to the percentage of the population they represent. It would be like the Women's Commission demanding 75% of the vote.

  3. I believe the motion will be passed with or without the YLC supporting this.. because not all youth delegates will vote against.

    If the YLC really believes they have the support for the quota amendment, let them pass OMOV first to allow their quota sub-amendment to come up.

  4. Jennifer, this is a really great post.

    I get so frustrated by the way party politics (and I use that in the global sense) can work against democracy.