You may have noticed this in news coverage earlier this year. It’s worth thinking about now, as the race for the next leader of the Liberal Party of Canada gets underway.
On May 2nd, on the anniversary of the famous, and some would say, infamous federal election where the Liberal Party was shunted to the regrettable position of third party in the House of Commons, on this not-so-special anniversary for the Liberals, they turned around and did something quite interesting – even quite special: they launched the Liberal Supporter category, a new type of membership in the party — except it’s not a membership. It’s a new way to engage with the Liberal Party, and even a new way to engage with politics in this country.
What is a Supporter and how is it different from being a Member of the Liberal Party? The Supporter category is open to anyone who isn’t already a member of another political party and it’s free to join. Unlike a membership, there’s no annual fee. Importantly, Supporters get to vote for the next leader of the party on April 14th, 2013 (advanced voting rules are upcoming).
The Supporter concept is also refreshingly “big-picture” in its thinking: You don’t have to buy into every detail in terms of policy and procedure; instead, you just have to believe in some core Liberal values.
We often get intimidated when asked to commit ourselves too deeply to something. For many of us, we’re afraid we’ll be shown up or embarrassed if we don’t grasp all the concepts right away. So we back away and turn to something safer.
The new Liberal Supporter category eschews this elite approach entirely, recognizing that you or me, or our neighbour, might want to contribute to important discussions about policy and vision that could help chart the course for the party as it rebuilds.
The Liberals are banking on the Liberal Supporter category appealing to younger Canadians, which would be a good thing, since many of them do not vote. Perhaps it will help convince many in the younger part of the electorate that politics can be about making the world a better place; about not just having your voice heard, but about really being listened to. That it can be about having an impact.
In his speech to the Economic Club of Canada in Ottawa on May 3rd (shown below), Liberal Party of Canada President Mike Crawley, described the creation of the Liberal Supporter category as “kicking open the doors of the Liberal Party.”
At a time when Canadians are likely to refer to political parties as “untrustworthy,” “incompetent,” and “useless” according to a Nanos Research poll published in the Globe and Mail at the end of April, our elected officials need all the help they can get. The launch of the Liberal Supporter category makes the Liberal Party the most open party in Canadian political history.
This matters now – and matters profoundly – because it represents an opening of democratic choice for Canadians at a time when the current Conservative government would seek to shut that choice down.
Will the Liberal Supporter category and the people it draws to the party, help the Liberals build a real and effective alternative to the Conservatives and win the next federal general election in 2015?
Only time will tell.
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