The Liberal Party of Canada, which has been out of power for more than three years, opened its biennial convention in British Columbia this afternoon with remarks by a former Prime Minister who knows what it’s like to lead Canada’s longest-running political party through the electoral wilderness.
“This party will not be rebuilt from the top down,” the Hon. John Turner told a pre-convention gathering of party insiders at the newly opened Vancouver Convention Centre. “This party has to be rebuilt from the bottom up.”
Turner, who represented Vancouver-Quadra for a decade, led the national Liberal Party for more than six years but served as Prime Minister for less than three months.
“I believe riding-by-riding is how this party should be reconstructed, how this country should be run,” Turner counseled the Liberal faithful.
Turning to interim party leader Michael Ignatieff, he added, “Not to have a candidate, Mr. Leader, appointed from the top down but elected from the bottom up.”
The crowd of riding association presidents erupted in applause.
“I don’t want to see any leader-appointed candidates across the country,” Turner said.
“Take the whip off the Member of Parliament,” he added. With the exceptions of the Throne Speech and the budget, he said, “Let the member vote a free vote for every major bill.”
Turner’s comments were a shot across the bow in a three-day meeting that Ignatieff and party leaders are billing as a “renewal convention” that will “rebuild the grassroots,” but to which some local delegates arrived still grumbling about the party's historic top-down management style.
“They don’t really want to hear from us – except when they need money,” complained a credentialed delegate from a prairie town. He asked that his name not be used, and added that he would listen “with an open mind” to what the Ignatieff team has to say during the next three days.
Ignatieff responded to Turner’s comments during sunny press scrum convened on a terrace atop the new convention centre, with the North Shore Mountains as a scenic backdrop.
“I said to John that I didn’t agree with every single word he said,” Ignatieff said.
“I want open nominations in every riding… but I cannot abandon the prerogative of a leader to make those appointments that I deem necessary,” he continued.
“I want to make it clear, I want to use the power of appointment as rarely as I possibly can,” Ignatieff added. “I respect the grassroots of this party and I know I can’t rebuild the party unless it is from the bottom up."
Monte Paulsen reports for The Tyee.ca