As everyone knows, the Liberal Convention is fast approaching. Everyone also knows that in lieu of an actual leadership race, policy and constitutional amendments are going to probably take a bigger focus then they normally might. Rocco Rossi, the recently appointed National Director of the Liberal Party, agreed to have a little question-and-answer session with me about his thoughts on the upcoming Liberal Convention. He also wasn’t afraid to express his views on the One Member, One Vote constitutional proposal that has garnered quite a bit of attention of late.
It’s not quite as visually exciting as the well done Liberal Minute videoblog sessions/interviews Jason Lamarche does over on his site, but nonetheless, I was pleased that Mr. Rossi took the time to answer these and on the record. I thank him for participating in the “interview” (or as I prefer to call it, the Q & A session).
Below is the transcript of questions I asked Mr. Rossi, and his answers:
Scott: We’ve heard you speak a lot about being a lot more open and a lot more responsive to the grassroots. How do you propose to do that? What do you define as the Liberal grassroots? How do we increase the grassroots influence?
Rocco: At the end of the day, the grassroots are the Liberal members and the main, day-to-day arena they play in, which is their Riding Associations, and which should be the centre of Liberal activity; not just at election time, but year in and year out. I don’t want the ability to afford to go to a Convention to be the price of participation in choosing a Leader or selecting policies. I think the $10 membership should allow everyone in the door because modern technology allows us to do that. We have lots to improve upon, but I was personally proud of the fact that members have been able to debate and vote on resolutions online well before the Convention online. That is one of the ways we can increase the influence of, and be more responsive to, the grassroots.
Scott: The Liberal Convention is coming up in a couple of weeks, and there have been concerns there won’t be much to discuss or debate. Do you agree with this perception? Are you at all concerned this will at all detract from a successful Liberal Convention?
Rocco: Again, I am very proud of the fact that we have had more policy consultation with Party members leading up to the Convention than at any other time in our history. I am still not satisfied that it is enough, that we communicated and encouraged enough, but it is a step in the right direction. I think this Convention will important and successful on several fronts, but, perhaps the most important element is that it is the first convention in a long time when we will go into it united and come out of it united. Thanks to the grace of Bob Rae and Dominic LeBlanc, we have a unity convention to celebrate and I for one will be toasting it with a glass of heart-healthy red wine. In addition, we will be launching our new voter software which will help us close on and then leapfrog the Conservatives. Every delegate will get a first-hand view of the platform and be provided with a training session to begin the roll-out.
And, I believe that the debate over weighted One Member One Vote will be one of the most important constitutional debates we have ever had. The delegates will have the power to truly empower every member by voting for one member one vote. It will be an act of courage and and act of selflessness because they will be voting not for themselves and their own special interest, but for every member across the country who have a right to a voice in the running and leading of our Party. For all those reasons, this will be an historic Convention.
Scott: As you just mentioned, one of the issues that is being vigorously debated is the weighted One Member One Vote constitutional amendment proposal. You’ve been on the record quite publicly since you became National that you support OMOV. Its unusual for me to hear a member of the Liberal executive to come out and publicly support a policy proposal like this. Why are you coming out so prominently in support of this measure?
Rocco: I am a staff member who will work under whatever system the Party decides upon, but I have been a member since I was 11 years old and I was not always able to afford to go to conventions. I don’t want that to happen to any future member of the Party. I want this to be the last Convention that minimizes the power of the grassroots both for philosophical and practical reasons. The philosophical is about rights and being heard. The practical is that if we are truly going to be successful in fundraising under the new limits then we need to have an energized base. Successful fundraising is not about asking people for money–it is about providing people with an opportunity to participate in something bigger than themselves, to be part of a politics that matters. OMOV is one of the most tangible and effective steps towards that future.
Scott: Some delegates are confused about how OMOV would work. Can you explain the differences between what is being voted on and the OMOV proposal that was voted down at the 2006 Convention?
Rocco: The key to the current proposal is that it is a “weighted” system. One of the big fears in the last go round was that urban ridings would overwhelm rural ones. That held ridings with sitting members would have a huge leg up on everyone else. The current proposal grants 100 points to every riding regardless of size and held status. Those 100 points will be apportioned exactly by the votes of the individual members in each of the 308 ridings.
Scott: There has been some controversy with the OMOV amendment and the Young Liberals of Canada proposing a 25% quota of delegates reserved for them in any OMOV voting setup. What is your opinion on the YLC proposed sub-amendment?
Rocco: We need equal rights for all and special privileges for none on this issue. If the YLC members want a 25% voice, or even a 50% voice then all they have to do is work for it and recruit more members into the Party. An expanded and re-energized membership base is what we need in any case and to create one we must make membership count for something. And to make membership count, we must count every member!
Scott: What would your personal reaction be if a specific group within the Liberal Party helped to derail the OMOV amendment?
Rocco: I would be disappointed and I think it will make fundraising and victory much more difficult, but, as I said above, I would work under whatever system the Party provides. But I am confident that we are a Party of inclusion and courage and that we will do the right thing for the vast majority of members who are currently marginalized and for the many, many more members who will be attracted by a party where every member counts because every member is counted.
UPDATE – April 22, 2009 @ 2:30 pm: Rocco has clarified in comments his explanation of weighted OMOV as pertains to 2006, as some commenters were stating that 2006 and 2008’s OMOV proposals were both weighted:
Sorry for the confusion with respect to 2006. You are right, of course, that 2006’s proposed amendment was also weighted, but as I have been talking to members across the country, they really don’t realize that was and is the case. There is a fear in rural and unheld ridings that they will simply be marginalized and it makes some of them a bit anxious about OMOV. I simply wanted to stress the fact that it is a weighted system proposal that gives every riding 100 points.