May 30, 2015


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Capital Chronicles

Conventions no longer conventional

The Liberals are gathered in Vancouver this weekend to celebrate their Liberal-ness, anoint Michael Ignatieff their king, and no doubt, spend countless hours remembering and laughing at the gaffes of their opponents.

According to David Johnson, the executive director of the Liberal Party of Canada’s Manitoba wing, about 100 of the delegates are from Manitoba.

On the surface that seems kind of pathetic.

Manitoba has 14 ridings and each can send 22 delegates. There are also those party members who don’t have to be elected as a riding delegate to go, those like Sen. Sharon Carstairs or former Liberal cabinet ministers Reg Alcock and Lloyd Axworthy.

So Manitoba could have more than 300 delegates at the event.

Taking into account during the hotly contested 2006 leadership race, only 200 Manitoba delegates made the trip, 100 may not be so bad for this convention.

Plus, only 1,500 to 2,000 are expected in total, so Manitoba’s 100 delegates more than cover the province’s share of the population.

But all of it makes one wonder what the purpose really is of such gatherings.

The show of listening to the grassroots party members has in many ways become a farce – parties are no more obligated to act on any policy resolutions passed there than they are obligated to live up to an election commitment.

I would also be willing to bet the grassroots of any party have more influence by showing up at one of the number of small events party leaders speak at or by talking to their own MP.

And this convention, which was going to be a huge leadership clash between Ignatieff and Bob Rae, the results of which would have shaped the party’s future, is falling flat.

So much so that a lot of people are giving it a pass. Even Carstairs, the one time Liberal leader in the Senate, is missing it. She is choosing to give a speech in Kingston, Ont., instead.

University of Winnipeg professor Shannon Sampert points out that isn’t a big deal. Conventions, says Sampert, are more a chance for party youth to get together and bond, and party policy wonks to get together and pontificate.

But she says society has evolved, fewer people are willing to join themselves at the hip with any one political party, and in this economy a four-day trip to Vancouver to sit in a conference hall and listen to like-minded thinkers prattle on about whatever their particular beef is, isn’t a priority for a lot of people.

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