Reading post-convention tea leaves will be the job of bureaucrats, lobbyists, opposition parties and policy makers. The aftermath of the weekend will focus on which parts of the policy platform will make the election cut. A national pharmacare plan, supported by the caucus, and the Ontario and British Columbia wings of the party, will likely lead the pack.
By SHEILA COPPS
First published on Monday, April 16, 2018 in The Hill Times.
OTTAWA—Thousands of Liberals from across the country will descend on Halifax this weekend to plan their path to a potential electoral victory.
It will be the final national meeting in advance of the next election and, in keeping with conventions of a party in government, will likely be non-controversial and inclusive.
Most raucous conventions, where party splits are on display for all to see, occur when a government is defeated and the party becomes the de facto vehicle for renewal.
Conventions can also be an expression of support for a political party.
Back in 2012, I ran unsuccessfully for president at the largest Liberal non-leadership convention in the history of the party.
The Ottawa-based meeting was the first get-together after the worst defeat ever suffered by the party. Many observers were predicting the demise of Liberalism. More than 3,000 people gathered to prove them wrong. The meeting became a confirmation that the deep and broad roots of the party had not been snuffed out by a single electoral defeat.
Under the leadership of Justin Trudeau, the party became the first in Canadian history to go from third to first place in a single election.
When a party is in government, convention organizers strive for excitement without division, and that is a tough assignment for any political organization.
The top executive position is uncontested, with outgoing president Montrealer Anna Gainey turning over the reins to Halifax native Suzanne Cowan.
Cowan, who works in Toronto, is the daughter of retired Senator and long-time party bagman Jim Cowan.
She describes her job as chief volunteer, and plugs the convention as the first step in the drive to a 2019 victory. Cowan says her focus will be on election readiness, organizing and fundraising.
Cowan is right. The volunteer network in politics is larger than that of any other charitable organization in the country.
And the desired outcome of every party’s national convention is to inspire the troops to get back to their ridings and begin election preparations.
Former U.S. Democratic presidential adviser David Axelrod is one convention speaker, who will reflect on his work as campaign manager for Barack Obama’s two successful presidential bids.
Former prime minister Paul Martin will be highlighted at the Aboriginal Commission fundraising breakfast while Labour Minister Patty Hadju is chief guest at the Judy LaMarsh Party, the Women’s Commission fundraiser designed to garner funds for future women candidates.
There are 30 party resolutions that have run the gauntlet of local and provincial conventions to be deemed priorities for discussion and voting. A youth resolution at a previous national meeting was the catalyst that lead to the Trudeau plan to legalize marijuana.
This time, most of the resolutions are non-controversial. Some are motherhood, but definitely costly.
The Newfoundland and Labrador Liberal Party is recommending a feasibility study for the construction of a fixed link from the Rock to the rest of Canada, citing the success of the federally-funded Confederation Bridge linking Prince Edward Island to New Brunswick two decades ago.
Decriminalization of consensual sex work and an end to taxation on menstrual products will probably dominate media headlines. Both of these resolutions have made it to the national floor as priorities.
Top resolutions target offshore tax havens. The National Women’s Liberal Commission is calling for a public registry of all offshore account holders, and a transparent, country-by-country reporting mechanism for all multinationals.
The commission is also seeking the creation of a new United Nations inter-governmental organization to craft a world anti-tax avoidance strategy.
The resolution claims that Canada is losing a potential revenue of $10- to $15-billion annually via international tax loopholes.
That debate will certainly garner the attention of the finance minister and the chief Liberal Party fundraiser, whose family business was reported to have used legal offshore mechanisms to minimize taxes.
It will also provide fodder for opposition parties seeking traction for their push to eliminate Canada’s tax loopholes for multinationals and family trusts.
The convention will also consider a proposal for an aboriginal ombudsman, national pharmacare, a renewable energy tax credit and support for pipeline construction.
Reading post-convention tea leaves will be the job of bureaucrats, lobbyists, opposition parties and policy makers.
The aftermath of the weekend will focus on which parts of the policy platform will make the election cut. A national pharmacare plan, supported by the caucus, and the Ontario and British Columbia wings of the party, will likely lead the pack.
The weekend is designed to rev Grits up for 2019.
Election win or bust.
Sheila Copps is a former Jean Chrétien-era cabinet minister and a former deputy prime minister. Follow her on Twitter at @Sheila_Copps.