Monday, May 9, 2011

The LPC's Constitutional Squabbles

There's been something of a storm a'brewing lately over some hints that the National Board of Directors - or simply the LPC Executive - may postpone a leadership race that is supposed to be called within five months of the appointment of the Party's Interim Leader, for up to two years. This has some people floating around accusations of an executive that is out-of-touch and ignoring the party's membership who are apparently demanding a leadership vote within sixth months, though I will say this right now, I doubt the majority of them even understand what the rules surrounding this exactly are, and probably aren't concerned one way or another.

So, what exactly are the rules? According to this handy online copy of the Liberal Party's constitution:
"In the circumstances set out in Subsection 54(1), if the Leader publicly announces an intention to resign or if the Leader delivers to the National President a written resignation or a written request to call a Leadership Vote, the National President must call a meeting of the National Board of Directors to be held within 27 days, and at that meeting the National Board of Directors must:
(a) in the circumstances set out in Subsection 54(1) or if the Leader so requests, in consultation with the Caucus, appoint an “Interim Leader”;
(b) set a date for a Leadership Vote to be held within five months;"
... and the rest is stuff about deposits and organization. Clearly, the Constitution is saying one thing, and one thing only.

However, there is a matter of the fact that this Constitution can be amended before all of this kicks into place - simply by the fact that we're now due for a biennial convention, and the Constitution is allowed to be amended with no regard to grandfather clauses. The simple fact is, if the executive does decide to move ahead with an amendment that gives them the power to push back the leadership date in extraordinary circumstances at a biennial convention held before a leadership race. However, this would be extremely unlikely to happen, and requires some pretty liberal interpretation (our executive is known for it) - so, more or less, the executive is stuck with what the Constitution says.

This means that, though personally I think we should avoid holding a leadership race that soon, we do need to abide by the Constitution. This, simply, is it. There's no arguing with this fact. Ignatieff resigned, a leadership race must be held by October of this year. Ipso facto.

In the Interim....

Another issue surrounding some constitutional interpretation is the question of whether or not an interim leader may be allowed to run for permanent leader of a party. Here's the fact: there is nothing in the Constitution prohibiting it from happening.

However, as Rob Silver points out, there is a major conflict of interest that should preclude an Interim Leader's running in a leadership race. It stems from the fact that the Leader, Interim or otherwise, is a fully-fledged voting member of the National Board of Directors, meaning he has a vote and influence on every aspect of the decisions surrounding the creation of the committees and organizations that set up the leadership races. This by itself should preclude the interim leader from running, except in cases such as Michael Ignatieff's, where a) extraordinary circumstances arise and b) you have no opponents, therefore nothing to exactly influence against. It doesn't seem like this will be the case coming up to our next leadership race.

It's politics, stupid

Getting back to the real issue at hand, from what I've so far noticed, it's usually Rae supporters, or those who are seemingly on the left of the Liberal Party, going against the Executive on both matters, preferring to have the race ASAP and let Rae, if chosen as interim leader, run for the permanent leadership; while non-Rae supporters, such as myself, are usually for a longer time period before the next leadership race, and prefer that the interim leader does not run for permanent leadership.

This is just offhand observation of course, and I could be entirely wrong, and some could be all on a united front. However, one has to admit to themselves that already Liberals are dividing themselves into camps, even if there are not necessarily reasons to do so; for example, there's been murmur of anti-merger activists rallying behind Dominic LeBlanc, who has so far completely ruled out the idea, and the pro-merger guys backing Bob Rae, who while he has been just a smidgen more open to the possibility, everyone assumes is Peter MacKay.

This is a natural division, of course, and is expected anywhere and everywhere, especially after such a stunning defeat whereby people want to grab the influence they can to remake the Party in their image. However, it's not healthy to start bringing the Constitution into it, and there's a clear statement here saying what needs to be done and what can't happen by virtue of the conflict-of-interest.

So let's get over ourselves and our "side" and abide by what the thing says - until amended otherwise - and get this thing underway. There's no fooling around this time, even if I would prefer it.


  1. I keep saying some of those upper echelons have to go, the ones that were there when Martin was ,there, when Chrietein was there and they should be gone.... to start anew

  2. Section 76 of the Constitution requires amendment by "members" of the party at a convention, and the convention can be held through the public website of the party, upon 20 days notice.

    So members only can amend it, not any Directors or MPs. And if members amend it in accordance with the Constution, good and well - that's how things are supposed to be done.

  3. As for the "conflict of interest" that having an Interim Leader also run for permanent leadership, this risk is substantially lessened by the fact that the Interim Leader will be Interim leader for just over 4 months before the permanent leader is elected in 5 months time. So Silver's concern is misplaced and really a red herring, if our Constitution is applied as written.

  4. A Eliz,

    I agree, to an extent. We need the old guard for their experience. If we simply throw all of them out, we'll end up like the NDP's Quebec caucus.

    Curiosity Cat,

    That's what I meant by amending the Constitution - they can do that. However, I would see it as highly unlikely and, again, requires a somewhat liberal interpretation of the rules.

    However, I highly disagree on the conflict of interest point. No matter what time has passed, their is an inherent conflict of interest. So long as the Leader has a vote on the Board of Directors, it's a conflict of interest - time does on change this fact, both in legal and practical terms. Silver's concern is valid, as far as I'm concerned. Not to mention that there are questions of unfair advantage. If you want to avoid another Ignatieff coronation, putting forward another interim-to-permanent leader situation is not the way to do it.

  5. I stand corrected - they are proposing a constitutional amendment. Well, there you go.

  6. Why not have some sort of convention now, virtual or otherwise to CHANGE the constitution. It was designed when us Liberals thought we were not arrogant. It must be changed - NOW - I'm sick of our party unwilling to change itself, either we do or DIE. FIX IT IN 20 DAYS!

  7. Shawn,

    I don't know about 20 days, but I get the feeling they're planning on holding such a "virtual convention," or at least something to change the constitution, fairly soon, if they go ahead with these plans.