Alberta Liberal Party board meetings have always been a scramble to organize. During my time on the board as VP, Communications (and briefly as President), there were never enough hours to organize agendas and packages. Board members were usually rushed to find transportation and make it to the meetings with busy personal lives and family time to juggle.

This is why I’m reluctant to come down too hard on the party for not sending out an agenda in advance or communicating with members about matters to be discussed at the meeting. Communication with members has and will always be a bigger job than the series of volunteer VP’s have been able to manage. I sympathize.

Obscuring the facts

But there is something suspicious about the recent board meeting held at the party’s office in Edmonton. I get the distinct impression there was a deliberate attempt to obscure the real agenda for the meeting and even now, almost a week later, absolutely no information has officially been communicated to members regarding the rescinding of a policy.

Members were mostly blindsided, finding out about the decision by reading a blog post by Dave Cournoyer (a former Liberal VP of Communications also). I had many questions about what transpired and attended the Calgary-Buffalo Annual General Meeting last night to question the Calgary-Buffalo board and others about the process. I think it’s worth noting that not a single person at the Buffalo meeting agreed with the way the policy was overturned, including those who were never fans of the cooperation policy (more news to come on that soon).

Stay calm–Not

I’ve also posted my questions on the party’s Facebook page (awaiting response, like my questions if you would also like to know) and have questioned board members who are friends on Facebook. (I will update this blog post if I receive an official answer to my questions).

The answers I’ve received so far have not calmed my concerns. Not one bit. In fact, if anything, I am more concerned than ever after talking with them.

Standing quietly by

Surprisingly, the party membership has been pretty quiet about what transpired last weekend. I’m not sure if it’s because the majority are unaware or if it’s because people are afraid to ask questions. If people are afraid to ask questions, then we have another major problem. Lively debate is the lifeblood of a healthy political party.

Perhaps the majority now support the rescinding of a policy that was highly controversial? It hasn’t enjoyed a lot of success since it was passed but that doesn’t mean that after a dismal showing in the last election, it wasn’t worth revisiting. But whether or not you support the policy is not the real issue here.

Draw your own conclusion

I believe what transpired over the weekend should be of grave concern to all party members. And I’m not talking about the surprise introduction of a new logo. My concerns go beyond a line drawing and a colour scheme. I’m more worried about the conclusions that will be drawn as a result of this weekend’s board meeting.

The party’s policy on cooperation was created by members, debated (vigorously) and passed by a majority at the party’s annual general meeting. For some reason, the board decided to overturn that policy, without any announcement or advance warning to the general membership.

Clause for concern

As it turns out, the board used a new clause that was passed by the membership but has never been used…that is, before last weekend. Upon reflection, the clause likely needs to be either reworked or removed because clearly, it was never intended to be carelessly used by a minority to overturn the wishes of the majority.

So, after these shenanigans, I’m left wondering, why would any party member bother to draft, present and argue policy at a policy meeting of the Alberta Liberal Party from this point forward? Does it not seem like an exercise in futility? Apparently, the board feels it is perfectly okay to–without warning or notice to members–overturn any policy for whatever reason they see fit? Even after they overturn the policy, they apparently feel no responsibility to even communicate to members they’ve done this.

So much for grassroots

What has happened is an extremely dangerous precedent and seriously undermines any credibility the party is hanging on to. The right thing for the party to do is to make every effort to connect with its members on policy-making. The exact wrong thing to do is to overturn grassroots policy on a whim and to add insult to injury, do so in secrecy.

Whether or not you agree with the cooperation policy of the party, the values of openness, transparency and democracy are unassailable. Or have these also been overturned by the board? Will party members stand by and allow these values to fall by the wayside? To fail to speak up is to give your consent.

Is openness and transparency important? Does policy come from members or are we advocating a top-down approach?

Our actions speak louder than our words.

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7 thoughts on “Sleepless in Calgary: Startling move by Alberta Liberal board leaves a bad taste

  1. Jody, your blog comments are greatly appreciated. All political parties rely on their best communicators to get messages out, and you are one of those. There are a few misconceptions that need to be cleared up, however.

    First, it is essential to understand that Policy #15 did not say what many people thought it said. It did NOT say that Alberta Liberals were to cooperate with other parties in the house (we can do that anyway). It did NOT say that we were to cooperate with other parties in the construction of a new party. And, it certainly did NOT say that we were to cooperate with other parties to wipe the Alberta Liberal Party from existence. A few people seemed to think otherwise. All Policy #15 said was that we were to cooperate with other parties “during an election”.

    This Policy was being abused by a few who were intent on eliminating the Liberal Party in Alberta. It was apparent that the existence of this policy was confusing to some (perhaps even yourself), and completely misleading to others. That being said, it was not our intention to deal with Policy #15 at the Board meeting last weekend. It was not on the agenda for the day. However, when the talk came of “merger”, a motion was made from the floor to remove the Policy as it was being quoted as the justifiication for such talk. The motion was debated, properly, and a vote was taken, all within the express mandate of the Board. The motion passed by a vast majority.

    It is also largely unknown that the Policy was set to expire of its own accord at the moment of the commencement of the next Annual General Meeting. Thus, the mis-read and perhaps misleading policy was set to die a natural death before the members could ever have voted on its development. Of course, we have said all along, and continue to say, that any motion properly brought before the AGM would be debated. That does not change.

    With respect to the new look, I think we have done what any respectable organization would do: we hired someone to advise us on what would best represent our values and our direction; our executive reviewed the work and commented; we brought the program before our Board for comment and received unanimous enorsement; now we will engage the party membership and all interested Albertans in helping to shape the future direction of the true centrist alternative. If tweeters and the press jumped ahead of us to complain of the lack of a more widespread consultation process, that is perhaps a good problem to have. What it says to me as party President is that Albertans remain hungry for a good alternative to the ruling regime. Whether or not they vote for Liberals, they respect the place this party has in Alberta, and what we do still matters. We are on the radar.

    We have a very active executive. We have an active and engaged leader. Our MLA’s are very strongly connected to their constituents and care deeply about how Albertans of all stripes are faring. This Party is not dead – far from it – but it has been sleeping for a while. If anyone thought that Liberals in Alberta were boring, they are in for a surprise.

    1. Thanks for your reply, Todd. Appreciate that you took the time to respond. However, you have not addressed the point of my blog post which was solely around the decision to “remove the policy” passed by the membership as a whole. The policy was created at a highly successful, well-attended policy convention. And apparently, it was then overturned without any advance notice or due consideration. Surely, the board must understand that overturning policy should not be done in the “heat of the moment.” This is pretty alarming. Did no one stop to think about the implications? Or what message they were sending to the members (it was, in fact, a bit of a slap in the face to members such as myself, who voted in favour of the motion).

      I’m having trouble understanding why the board felt so threatened by the policy. It was a straightforward policy that allowed a conversation to take place. That is all. It did not give carte blanche for anything. Anything beyond talking would need to go to the members for approval. And out of fear of this relatively innocuous policy, the board felt they were justified in jeopardizing an even bigger, more fundamental value–the value of a member-driven, grassroots party?

      I’d suggest the board reverse its decision to remove a member-driven policy from the books and apologize for making a hasty decision without due consultation. As you mentioned, the motion was not even on the agenda, the board members did not have time to consult their members in advance of the meeting. If the feeling is that the policy needs to be rescinded, why not bring the discussion as to why out in the open by putting it on the agenda at a future board meeting so that all members can have their say (via their board member representatives) and then another vote can be held in the “light of day.”

      As the party says, “stirring things up” is okay and we don’t want to be “boring.” A debate such as this again would certainly stir things up and wouldn’t be boring.

  2. Your point was very well represented at the meeting. It appears that, yes, the Board did feel that it could and should repeal the policy for the reasons mentioned above (and perhaps others I do not know). The Bylaws give the Board this power explicitly, so clearly such a situation was anticipated by the drafters.

    As for the policy itself, as mentioned it would have died a natural death next spring. Jody, if you or any other member would like to have another kick at this can, I would welcome its addition to the agenda for the 2013 AGM. My guess is that this will be the most engaging AGM for some time.

    1. Why would I bother, Todd? So the board can call another meeting immediately afterwards and without notice to members, then overturn it? As my blog points out–this decision throws the whole policy process into question. Any policy can be overturned on a whim or in the heat of a passionate board meeting. It renders member-driven policies totally ineffectual and not worth the significant effort. If you had been at that AGM and seen the hoops that had to be jumped through to even get the policy to a vote, you might understand why the last-minute decision to overturn it is so unfair and undemocratic. Many people worked very hard to follow all of the rules required to get the support of the majority of members. There was a passionate debate covering all of the questions you raised in your post–we’ve been through it all before in an open discussion. Your fears above were all brought up during the debate. This decision by the board is again, why people become disillusioned with political parties. The abuse of power and disregard for the grassroots members seems to be a running theme. I thought the Alberta Liberals were different, but this proves they’re not. I urge the board to reconsider and prove they ARE different.

  3. I attended the ALP AGM when a motion to cooperate with other progressives passed. The resulting policy was later dropped (no debate) and reason given that “the NDP would not cooperate as well.” Members like myself left the ANDP because it rejected cooperation while David Swann looked favourably upon the idea. MacPherson is correct that board members act undemocratically within the ALP.Why should we rejoin such a party?

  4. Todd has made the bulk of the points I would like to address Jody but I would like to add one other but before I do allow me to thank you for engaging I’m thrilled to see someone care so much about the policy formation process regardless of any disagreement we might have on this issue.

    The membership whose input you rightfully champion approved the by-laws that allowed The Board to repeal this Policy. They also elected the members of The Board that used this by-law. As such, to imply this is undemocratic strikes me as odd. The members knew what they were doing when they elected their officials. They knew what they were doing when they gave The Board the powers they did. To assert that the exercise of a democratically affirmed by-law at the discretion of democratically elected officials is undemocratic seems to me logically invalid. As such I have no issue with what transpired at the meeting, we were acting under the direction of the membership and part of their direction was to allow us to use our discretion in passing and repealing policy as a board. I see no reason to try and “protect” the membership from their own decision regarding the by-laws they put in place. Part of making democratic choices is deciding democratically how much discretionary power to impart to your leaders. If the membership changes their mind on this issue I’m happy to oblige with that as well.

    On that note if you or any other members feel The Board having this power is not the direction you would like to see for the party I encourage you to make your voice heard at our next AGM. In fact, The Board at my suggestion has placed the date for our next policy convention after our next AGM. The main reason I advocated for this was so we as a party could address any by-law issues the membership might have with the policy creation process. This is exactly the kind of example I had in mind.

    1. @Keegan – I can assure you that many party members care about policy-making. And, yes, it is correct that the members approved the clause that allowed this to happen. I suspect that many are now regretting that. Or at the very least, are thinking about how it needs to be clarified and improved. I also suspect that many people will be questioning why the board members did not feel that something as controversial as this policy was not worth some further discussion with their riding before a decision was made. When you are elected to a position, there is a responsibility for consultation.We expect our board members to use common sense–when a policy has been thoroughly debated at a policy convention and passed by the majority–they should think long and hard about overturning it. When is the next policy convention scheduled?

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