Hunter: The Ontario Liberal Party's delegated convention system is stuck in the past

Hunter: The Ontario Liberal Party’s delegated convention system is stuck in the past

Let me state the obvious: The Ontario Liberal Party has some work to do. Maybe that’s an understatement. We have seven elected members, don’t hold official party status and are carrying significant debt.

So how do we move forward? And how do we put the party back on solid footing, not just for the next election but for the long term?

On Monday I publicly called for the Ontario Liberal Party to embrace the one-member-one-vote leadership selection system. I called for this reform in the spirit of openness and as an invitation to all Liberals to not only support our party, but also to raise their voices and rebuild Liberal as a movement in Ontario based on our values of economic prosperity, environmental stewardship, justice and social inclusion.

To be clear, this system would be modelled after that of the federal Liberal party, with each riding receiving 100 points. This ensures regional balance as each riding’s points would be divided according to the will of its members. Every member would have a direct say in choosing the next leader of the party. I also stated that the selection of the new leader should wait until after the federal election scheduled for next fall.

How the Ontario Liberal Party chooses a leader is important because above all else it’s a reflection of our values.

The current system of delegated conventions is one stuck in the past. In that system, roughly 30 per cent of the delegates are automatic delegates with the remaining 70 per cent elected by riding associations and other groups. To put it another way: 30 per cent of the delegates will not be accountable to anyone but themselves.

In this system, the automatic delegates get two votes: they get to vote for a delegate to represent them and they get their own automatic super delegate status at the convention. The delegates that are elected are free to do whatever they want after the first ballot. They have no obligation to respect the wishes of the riding association that sent them, and yet they would have been elected to represent all members in the riding.

There is a reason the Ontario Liberal Party is the only major party in Canada to use this old system.

Our team has been travelling the province and everywhere I go, riding association members have been telling me a familiar refrain: we want our voices heard. They are often called upon by the party to volunteer and donate, and they are happy to do the work, but also want to be part of the discourse on how we move forward. I agree. Our members are the lifeblood of our party.

Some people have even suggested that only the Liberal caucus should choose the new leader. In this scenario the seven of us would sit in a room and sort it all out. This might be what they do elsewhere, but it is not acceptable to me.

Nor is it acceptable to me if we had all the riding presidents sit in a room somewhere to choose a new leader or whatever other proposal of this kind was being put forward.

I understand that some people are uncomfortable with allowing the members of the Ontario Liberal Party to have a direct say in choosing the new leader, but I am not. I trust our membership.

The delegated system as it stands will allow the membership some say, but that could be truncated by the party’s 30 per cent who would be able to block anyone they didn’t like. That’s not democratic or in keeping with our Liberal values.

We are not afraid to have hard conversations. We do not fear the future. In fact, it is this type of critical thought and open discourse that underscore who we are.

Liberals believe in equality.

Respecting our membership does not begin and end with giving them the power to choose the next leader. Members must be able to meaningfully contribute to the next platform and must be able to have a say in choosing their local riding candidate.

The solution to our problems is more democracy not less. Let’s give Ontarians the chance to join us and renew our ridings. One member, one vote is a step in the right direction.

This guest column is by Mitzie Hunter, a Liberal MPP and a former minister of education and former minister of advanced education and skills development.

Mitzie Hunter

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