August 26th, 2023
By Dominic Cardy
First, thanks to all those who wrote in with comments and suggestions on the draft policy framework Centre Ice shared last week. The feedback was overwhelmingly positive.
As we move towards our September 20 decision day on whether to start a new, evidence-based, and forward-looking political party, the next step is defining how that party would manage itself.
That means a discussion that’s sure to get hearts racing: party constitutions and bylaws!
Just like the policy framework, this project can’t be finished before the decision has been made about whether to launch a party. And, as you’d expect, there will be a clear process for making changes to the constitution, just as there will be for changing policies.
I used to advise political parties around the world on how to make them more democratic and accountable to members and, more important, to voters. That included developing party structures, and as I gained more experience working with over 60 parties, I realized two things:
Party constitutions only matter if party members decide they matter. I’ve seen beautifully written constitutions ignored by party leaders. Worse, party members tolerate it. Just like other institutions, it’s the hundreds of small, day-to-day decisions that matter. Party democracy is built by leaders defending institutions and members insisting leaders do their jobs. You can’t write that into a document, it’s a decision everyone involved in a party must make every day.
Keep your constitution as simple as possible. Just like national constitutions, party constitutions should be clear and simple. They should define broad principles, not specific policies. Structure, not detail.
If we go ahead, our constitution will be different from other parties in important ways.
Here are some of those areas. What do you think?
Please send your feedback by Tuesday, September 5th so, that if the decision is made to start a new party, we will have a draft constitution ready for approval at the party’s first meeting.
Vision and values
The vision and values statement defines the party’s ideological borders. What should the government do? What is the role of a citizen? Those must be spelled out clearly, and they must be realistic. If everyone agrees with your value statement, it’s not offering much value.
Choosing a leader… and getting rid of them
We believe in choosing leaders through a delegated leadership convention, with each constituency having a maximum number of delegates chosen by local associations. Candidates need to show they can recruit members and strengthen the party.
Leaders can be removed by a 3/4 vote of the party’s governing body and a majority of the party’s caucus following any election where the party failed to win government. Only one leadership vote allowed between any two elections.
Just like choosing a leader, we want choosing a local candidate to reflect commitment to the party’s values. We would be asking people to apply for a job, as Member of Parliament, that will decide the future of our country. We want candidates to show how their judgment will make Canada better: that means a vigorous vetting process and then gaining the support of local party members.
Too many party policy conventions are public relations exercises. Members are offered the illusion of engagement, and poorly defined policies often end up being embarrassing. Policies need to be well developed (along the lines of our existing policy process) and enjoy support from different regions of the country.
A Council, with a representative from each province and territory, would manage the party in between Conventions and would meet at least three times per year.
Conventions would happen every two years and include elections for the party Steering Committee.
The Steering Committee, which is made up of the party president, vice-president, treasurer, secretary, and leader, would be elected by delegates to the Convention and manage the day-to-day operations of the party in between meetings of the Council.
The party’s Director would be hired by the Steering Committee, confirmed by the Council, and be responsible for managing any party staff.
Getting things going
Obviously, if we make the decision to start a new party, there will be a transition period to approve a constitution at the party’s first convention, etc. That process and timeline will be laid out in September.
Next, we need by-laws to cover details of leadership elections, candidate selections, disciplinary proceedings, and so on. Those can be passed and repealed as needed by the Steering Committee, Council, or Convention.
There, wasn’t that exciting?! Again, please send any feedback by September 5th – As much as I’m joking about this part of politics not being that exciting, we are talking about building a new structure. We need to get it right; no one wants to live in a house where the structure isn’t squared away.
Thank you again for being part of this effort to build something new. If this project goes ahead, it will be an uphill struggle. But you know what? I prefer a hard climb up over an easy slide down.
Thank you for caring about our country and for being ready to turn that care into action.
Dominic Cardy, MLA
Fredericton West-Hanwell, New Brunswick
Chair, Centre Ice Canadians Advisory Board
PS. If you’d like to help with our policy development process, please follow this link, and you can fill in the template we use to make sure policy ideas are necessary, costed, and justified.
Dominic Cardy is the Member of the Legislative Assembly of New Brunswick for the riding of Fredericton West-Hanwell. He’s co-founder and director of Centre Ice Canadians in addition to serving as the Chair of the Centre Ice Advisory Board.