Wow what a terrible waste of my time and money. I paid $450.00 to attend the Ontario Liberal Party's Annual General Meeting this past weekend to help change it. I had hoped that activists in the party would understand that the best way for a nearly extinct party to survive is to open itself up to tens of thousands of new members, members who do more than receive fundraising emails and thankless calls to knock on doors, but also get a full say in who becomes the party's leader.
That's how movements are supposed to work. Engage, inspire and earn the trust of followers.
But after this weekend, it's clear the Ontario Liberal Party is no movement. It's more like a corrupt corporation that sees membership as a transaction and revenue generator.
But first the good things from this weekend. It was great fun to see so many old friends I haven't seen in quite a while and catch up. Those lovely conversations will be the highlight from the weekend for me.
Unfortunately, those good moments have been overpowered in my mind by the bad.
The party had a chance to modernize and open up its final leadership choice to all members. The constitutional amendment would've created an equally weighted One Member One Vote system that would've given all ridings an equal say in the final result.
The change had majority support among convention delegates, garnering 58% support. But as with all constitutional issues, a higher threshold of 66.67% was in force that prevented the change from happening.
I am pleased with the fact that a majority of party activists who spent considerable money and time to attend this past weekend showed a preference for a more open and democratic party. But alas, it's the 42% who ruined it for the rest of the folks for reasons which were simply invalid, in my opinion.
One woman sitting near me who voted against change claimed the party wouldn't have enough time or resources to organize a new open system for leadership. Yet, she ignored the fact that instead holding a big convention staffed by hundreds would be just as cumbersome on the party. "I support the concept, just not now for this leadership," was a refrain I heard.
"I like doing the right thing. But let's delay doing it and instead keep on doing the wrong thing because it's more convenient."
That would be the sentiment that underlies the amoral core at the heart of too many Ontario Liberals, and Liberals in general.
"You don't want to give the chance for the crazies to take over," was another sentiment I sensed from opponents of change. It's better to let 2,000 insiders who can be easily controlled and corralled toward a "consensus" candidate (a consensus no doubt cooked up by the elite insiders around each losing candidate in the backrooms) at a leadership convention decide the direction of the party.
When someone who ought to know better looked at me in horror yesterday when he saw me wearing a One Member One Vote t-shirt, it reinforced for me why he could've been so pleased with remaining a Liberal party staffer even in the dying days of the Wynne government, when any pretense of principle or moral authority had long gone out the window.
This weekend I even caught a glimpse of a 2003 war room insider who I later learned went on to form his own clean energy company, which lo and behold, got a high-paid contract from the Liberal government a few years later under its Clean Energy policy. This weekend, he too was of course bad-mouthing the democratic modernization of the leadership process to keep it controlled by insiders like him.
Power, being insiders, attaching oneself to the establishment elite, occasionally rubbing shoulders with them at conventions for which they paid huge amounts of money to attend without blinking an eye, perhaps even getting some corrupt contract out of it that lines your pockets, that's what being a Liberal is all about, at least for the 42% who ruined it this weekend for the majority.
Every single motion to modernize the party in any meaningful way was defeated this weekend.
I do admire the lovely activists, particularly those who worked so hard to promote the OMOV option. Most will continue to stay active and hope for change another year or decade from now.
But I've always been an all-or-nothing guy. If corruption rules the day in your organization, I can't just tolerate your organization for the bits of good it does. The corruption disturbs me too much. It's why I left the Catholic Church, for example. This whole weekend triggered some old anxieties of mine which were responsible for my original decision to mostly leave partisan politics last decade.
I'm not sure I want to be active in a party where 42% of people could see no major value even now in opening up the party into a movement that engages and empowers its members to decide the leader.
"Justice later, not now," is not a credo I can respect or live by. The fact that this is the last party in Canada that can't even understand that enough to change its rules speaks volumes.
The Ontario Liberal Party did some good in government, but also a lot of atrocious, deeply incompetent things. They deserved the massive defeat they received in 2018. Now they're the third party without status in the legislature.
After what I saw this weekend, perhaps they need to stay there. My assumption after the NDP's inability to stop Doug Ford's PCs in 2018 was that resuscitating the Ontario Liberals would be the best way to get the Conservatives out of office one day.
Not so sure now. After this weekend, I don't think the Ontario Liberals are even capable of change. Like their federal cousins who got rescued by Justin Trudeau and restored to power despite doing nothing to truly change, we're seeing the downsides of just putting the Liberals back in there to beat the Conservatives.
On the leadership front, things are even bleaker for the Ontario Liberal Party.
Stephen Del Duca would be a disaster as a leader. The man is anti-charismatic and robotic in appearance. He looks like the kind of sleazy, backroom, amoral Liberal of your worst nightmares. He's talking about bringing the Liberals back to the center-right.
Presumably that means cozying up again with powerful interests like
developers in the 905 sort of like Doug Ford is doing right now.
The fact that Del Duca's now considered the "presumed frontrunner" means the Ontario Liberal Party has no future.
Sadly, the other major candidate in the race so far, Michael Coteau, isn't much better. Yes, he's a mildly charismatic man who managed, unlike Del Duca, to keep his seat in 2018. But his speaking style is as flat and uninspiring as a seal. Plus he flip flopped this weekend on the One Member One Vote issue, first openly opposing it and then voting for it yesterday morning. (At least the more cunning Del Duca, who was largely invisible this weekend, had the sense to lie and not let his disgust with democracy actually be communicated to the masses.)
****UPDATE #2 - Someone from Coteau's campaign claimed shortly after publishing this post that he never took a public position on OMOV prior to the AGM. I have since re-located the CBC story here in which Coteau in fact did say he favoured sticking with a "delegated convention (that) allows for people who become supporters of the party at no cost to vote in delegate selection meetings." The same CBC story says Coteau claims the "delegated convention protects against what he calls "special interests" taking over the leadership vote."
So clearly Coteau did flip flop on this very important issue, no doubt reading the room correctly before it voted 58% in favour of change. It's not a great sign for people who want more integrity and genuine progressive credentials in the next leader after our last one did so much of her own flip flopping.
I also wanted to see a side of Coteau this weekend that would show me that he's got some nice grassroots and interpersonal skills. If he can make some magic one-on-one, maybe there's hope. But sadly, when I attended his hospitality suite on Friday night, I saw a guy not ready for prime time. I shook his hand, but he otherwise totally ignored me, despite multiple opportunities to engage with me. If you can't even have a friendly 30 second conversation with a stranger wearing a delegate badge who's shown up in your own hospitality suite, your political skills are wanting.
Because of his flip flop on OMOV, as well as his lack of political/social skills, my hopes that Coteau will ever have much ability to lead the Ontario Liberals back into contention faded this weekend.
There is of course one more minor candidate, the energetic Alvin Tedjo, a defeated 2018 candidate from Oakville-Burlington North. He's likeable and telegenic, but his resume is as thin as mine. His background is in communications so perhaps he plans a major message that might inspire. He did at least consistently support OMOV publicly so that appeals to me.
As Del Duca and Coteau are so lousy, it does leave an opening for Tedjo. Or anyone else with a bit of talent and ambition to work hard and bring this party back.
Because this party desperately needs it.
Those Ontarians looking for a progressive alternative to the Ford government might have to re-focus on the NDP and the Greens as more serious options for now until the Ontario Liberal Party learns how to fix itself.