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The New Brunswick Liberal Association Renewal


Commission

Discussion Paper on Party Renewal

May 2011

INTRODUCTION

In just the few short months since the formation of the Renewal Commission for the
NBLA, one thing is crystal clear. Liberals in New Brunswick are interested in renewal of
our party and working to make it more relevant and engaging. Since the committee began
its work, that is a message that has come through again and again from a wide range of
Liberal members.

The Renewal Commission was created with the mandate to consult with as many Liberals
and members of the general public as possible in New Brunswick in order to create a
more vibrant, responsive and relevant New Brunswick Liberal Association. Liberals were
encouraged to bring forward any and all ideas they believed would help the Commission
develop a set of recommendations designed to meet this goal.

A concerted effort was made by Table Officers to create a Commission of grassroots


Liberals that represented the demographic make up of the province, including gender,
geographical representation, linguistic balance, and a range of ages.
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The Renewal Commission members include chair Kim Rayworth and Samuel Saintonge
of Moncton, Cindy Miles, Brian McCain and Jane Fritz of Fredericton, Anne Soucie of
Edmundston, Lucille Auffrey of Shediac, Marie-Anne Ferron of Lameque, Anne Marie
McGrath and Jeff Burgess of Saint John and Courtney Keenan of Woodstock.

An initial call was sent out for the general membership to send in their thoughts on party
renewal via email or the party website. The Commission, in order to reach out to as many
Liberals as possible in a short period of time, split into four groups and held initial
meetings throughout the province in Inkerman, Petit Rocher, Edmundston, Jemseg,
Sussex, Saint John, St. Stephen, Moncton, Miramichi, Grand Barachois, Florenceville
and Fredericton. Hundreds of Liberals attended these meetings.

Also, Commission members have made a concerted effort to reach out to as many
Liberals as possible, through contact with individuals, attending riding meetings, or other
means.

This first round of discussions was designed to allow members to bring forward any
concerns they had and, more importantly ideas on how things might be done differently
moving forward to help meet the objectives of the Commission. Through meetings and
written submissions, hundreds of Liberals have stepped forward and several themes
emerged that will be addressed in more detail in this discussion paper.

For the purpose of this discussion paper the Commission has chosen to group the themes
in the following categories: Liberal Values, Accountability, Communications, Party
Structure, Membership and Member Engagement, Policy Development, and Leadership.

In the coming months through a variety of forums the Commission plans to consult
further with the broader Liberal family and members of the public on renewal and the
future of the Liberal Party in New Brunswick in order to compile a final report that will
contain specific recommendations for consideration by party members.
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THEMES FOR RENEWAL

Liberal Values

The issue of Liberal values was raised at each meeting during the preliminary round of
consultations. A few common themes emerged from these discussions.

There was considerable discussion about whether the party’s overarching philosophy,
essentially its brand, had become somewhat muddied. For instance, there were a number
of references made to the party’s “mixed message,” that has developed over the last
couple of decades. It was argued by some that the traditional Liberal commitment to
social justice had become increasingly crowded by a pro-business approach. A number of
party members pointed to the co-existence of the last government’s anti-poverty
initiatives and tax policies as an example of this.

While many of those heard from so far seemed to favour a return to a more robust social
agenda, the overwhelming take-away from these meetings was the need for the party to
engage in a broader discussion of its values and philosophy, in the hopes of achieving a
firmer definition of what are Liberal values today.

Many members would like to see a Liberal Party with a well-defined set of values that set
the basis for future policy decisions, and that members could feel pride and excitement
over. It was hoped that a defined set a values would help solidify and grow the party
membership.

Moving forward the Commission will attempt to more clearly define what it means to be
a Liberal in 2011 and beyond and explore how such a definition can be applied to assist
in setting the agenda for the party in the future.
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The Commission hopes to further define what it means to be a Liberal in future


consultations. It was felt it was important to develop a mission statement to define what
it means to be a Liberal today in New Brunswick.

There’s also the issue of keeping the definition of Liberal values updated. How often
should these questions be revisited? What’s the best means or forum to do this?

The general belief was that such a debate would help the party in numerous areas,
including the recruitment and engagement of youth, communications, policy
development, and overall political competitiveness.

Communications

Communications by the party - both internally with its membership, and externally via
the media to the general public – was identified by many members as an area of concern
where new approaches are needed to fully engage the membership.

Member feedback and input into policies and issues was an area singled out by many
members for improvement. It was felt that efforts to consult the broader membership on
issues or policy directions should be intensified moving forward. Opportunities and new
forums should be developed to allow members to have their voices heard.

A number of members felt that not enough information, especially relating to policy
issues, was distributed directly to members. Members represent a broad diversity of New
Brunswickers and would often be willing to discuss Liberal policies with family, friends
and community members if they were more aware of the issues and facts being discussed
in the legislature.
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Many also pointed out that communications efforts tended to ramp up at election time
but felt a significant lull exists between campaigns. Members felt that in order to
encourage greater and more consistent engagement that an ongoing communications
process is essential

There were numerous calls for the production of a regular newsletter, in both an
electronic and traditional format.

Many believe that social media can and should play a more prominent role but it was
noted that traditional forms of communication must be maintained as social and
electronic media is still not used by many party members in the province.

It was also noted by many that the traditional chain of communication, originating at the
NBLA and travelling through riding officials to the general membership, was working
with varying degrees of success in different areas of the province. Important messages
sometimes get stalled and do not always find their way to the general membership.

In terms of other issues, it was argued in several meetings that the previous government
failed to adequately prepare the terrain for major policy announcements. The general
public, many contended, were not properly informed of the problems that these policy
proposals were intended to fix. Members did not expect to be informed of announcements
prior to the general public but did feel the party could do a better job of explaining why
certain policy decisions were taken and how they promoted Liberal values.

It was stressed that it was important as a party to dedicate resources to communications,


both at the provincial and riding level. It was also noted that improvements could be
made when the party is in power to communicate directly with party members.

The line between government and party communications is not perhaps as well
understood as it might be, as some members indicated. Future efforts should explore
options on how, when in power, elected members can better communicate with the
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membership and the public at large both in terms of explaining policies and listening to
party members’ ideas.

Beyond the production of a regular newsletter, social media and the need to recognize
that web-based communications will not reach all party members, a number of other
suggestions were made related to communications.

For instance, elected party officials could work to increase their visibility on the ground
in their ridings and regions. Liberals in unheld ridings, in particular, would benefit from
such an outreach effort, it was noted. Ridings could also designate specific individuals to
act as a representative of the Liberal caucus in that riding, and to act as an intermediary
between members and MLAs.

In terms of the flow of communications to members, it was suggested that some form of
accountability mechanism was needed, not just for elected officials but also riding
officials and regional directors who share the responsibility of keeping members
informed. It was suggested that a best-practices documents be produced and shared with
riding officials and regional directors and covering topics ranging from effective mass
communications to the use of social media. It was also suggested that each riding
association dedicate an individual, or committee to work to improve communications at a
local level.

Finally, many argued for the need of better policy-discussion forums, including perhaps
an on-line version. This issue will be further discussed in the policy-development section
of this discussion paper.

In the next round of discussions the Commission will further explore these ideas on
improving communications. It will explore what are the most effective means of
communicating with members, how to balance emerging trends in social media with the
realities of those who rely on more traditional forms of media and identifying members
with skills in this area who can contribute to a better overall effort in communications.
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Structure

Despite in some cases having a long history with the party, a number of members pointed
to the complexity of the NBLA’s structure as a problem. There seemed to be a general
lack of awareness of the composition of table officers and the party’s executive, for
instance, as well as a lack of knowledge of NBLA representatives in the regions. As
many members also pointed out, the logic of the overall structure is not obvious.

Concerns were expressed related to the provincial distribution of regions, especially as it


relates to the workload of regional directors (some regional directors cover more ridings
than others). Many members did not know who their regional director was,
understandable considering some regional directors are responsible for up to nine ridings
on a volunteer basis.

The issue of accountability was also raised in relation to regional directors, riding
presidents, and elected federal and provincial officials. It was noted that these officials
should represent members to the party, not the party to members.

Likewise, the issue of NBLA committees and their roles and/or deliverables was raised. It
was pointed out that some committee chairs do not sit on the larger NBLA executive, that
some chair positions are currently vacant, that some committees are currently inactive
and that, generally, the expected outcomes of these committees were not clear under the
constitution or enforced. It was suggested that member-elected committee chairs might
make for greater accountability. Also, perhaps each existing committee should be
evaluated and new ones considered.

Similar concerns were expressed relating to riding associations across the province,
especially in areas where the party has not been electorally competitive in a number of
years. For a variety of reasons, some riding associations are more active than others. It
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was indicated by some that reforms to ensure active riding associations are critical to
ensuring the grassroots membership and potential new members or supporters are
engaged.

According to some members, there is also an inequality of representation on the NBLA


executive, with the disparity between youth, seniors, and women’s commission
representatives being an example provided to the Renewal Commission. In other points
related to representation, the question of the relevance of certain NBLA commissions was
raised. The role of commissions was discussed at many meetings, with some members
questioning the mandate and role of the commission and how that might be addressed
moving forward in order to make the various commissions more relevant and active.

Finally, on the point of representation, the following question surfaced on numerous


occasions; how can the NBLA ensure that its members’ voices are being adequately
heard by their various representatives?

Questions were also raised concerning the fact the NBLA represents both the Provincial
and Federal wings of the party. Questions were raised about the nature of this dual role,
as it relates to staffing, funding and fundraising, and how this can be improved upon
moving forward.

To summarize, a common thread ran through the majority of comments related to the
NBLA’s structure; its complexity, as well as its lack of clarity in terms of roles and
responsibilities. Some had the impression of a top-down structure, and it was felt changes
should be made to reverse that impression. Structural or operational changes could lead to
better empowerment and engagement of party members.

A number of potential solutions were discussed to address these issues.


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First and foremost, it was agreed that the NBLA’s constitution and processes were in
need of examination and updating, an exercise that should include some best-practices
research across the country and in other jurisdictions.

Areas for specific study included some of the following:

 An examination of regional boundaries.


 A better and quicker process or mechanism to replace ineffective, inactive
or vacant positions
 The feasibility of more staff to supplement the work of volunteers in the
regions
 The establishment of some kind of litmus test to determine the activity-
level of riding associations, along with a process to revive those ridings that are
less active than others

 Presenting various options to the membership based on other jurisdictions
for streamlining current organizational structures, along with an effort to educate
members as to the current structure, for purposes of stimulating discussion.
 Better definition of responsibilities and expectations for all bodies and
officials supplemented by operating process manuals.
 The possibility of replacing certain standing committees with issue-driven
task forces
 Elected Committee Chairs

Membership and Engagement

A number of issues related to the general membership were discussed at meetings, some
of which have been referenced already in this discussion paper. .

Perhaps the most pressing problem identified by members and party officials was the
state of the current provincial NBLA membership list. The current list needs updating
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and a mechanism for ongoing maintenance of the membership list needs to be formalized.
The state of the list creates several challenges, not the least of which is communication
with members. It is also critical to do this work if the membership chooses to change the
way in which it selects a leader. If some form of one-member, one-vote mechanism is
preferred for leadership selection, it is essential the membership list be fully up to date.

It was noted that there are a number of online tools that can be of great assistance in
making the membership list current. Also, there is currently no mechanism in place to
encourage members to stay in touch with the NBLA and notify it of any changes to
personal contact information. The current onus for the maintenance of membership lists
resides at the riding level, from a constitutional perspective. As previously noted in the
discussion concerning structure, some ridings are more active than others. In turn, some
riding associations have more current membership lists than others.

In terms of member recruitment and engagement, a few points were raised by many
members. For instance, there currently exists no standing committee on membership,
despite it being mandated by the NBLA’s constitution. There can also be difficulty in
attracting members to serve on committees where neither a clear mandate nor a set of
deliverable goals exists. In addition, it was felt that the association can do a better job of
engaging potential members and willing volunteers, in order to improve overall
recruitment.

Several suggestions were offered, including the development of a concerted effort and
process for providing more members with official responsibilities and tasks. It was noted
on numerous occasions that this work should include more than the typical phone calls
and sign-distribution that volunteers are asked to undertake, and that the work should
extend beyond merely the typical campaign seasons. A greater emphasis on policy
involvement for members was suggested by many, as was the development of an
orientation package and mentoring system for new members.
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Given drastic societal shifts since the peak years of partisan involvement, it was
recommended that the NBLA make an effort to reach potential members (especially
youth and young families) through different means. The time constraints on many young
families often prevent them from attending typical political meetings. It was felt that the
NBLA must attempt to reach these people in different places and through new methods,
including modernizing the structure of the typical political meeting. Others pointed to the
need for better riding-by-riding “intelligence,” allowing party officials to more easily
identify willing volunteers and their areas of expertise and interest.

In terms of the provincial membership list, it was felt that it could be improved by
streamlining the process through which members join and renew, followed by a review of
any new system on a regular schedule.

It was also suggested that the current historical membership list be permanently archived,
but that a grace period be created for lapsed memberships before they are removed from
the active list. This was particularly important in establishing eligibility to vote at
meetings.

Finally, a client-management software package, that also includes various electronic


communications tools, was considered a top priority.

It was felt by some that the NBLA’s central office should continue to share
responsibilities for the membership list with riding presidents or riding membership
registrars, with the NBLA being responsible for the input of data provided by the riding
presidents.

Finally, in terms of pure recruitment efforts, some argued that candidates be mandated to
sign up a certain number of new members in order to be officially sanctioned by the
party.
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There is such an urgency in addressing the membership list that the Commission feels it
should be dealt with sooner rather than later. Software can be obtained immediately to
help bring the membership list current. Given the universal desire among members to see
this happen the Commission sees no need to wait any further on this matter.

Going forward questions will focus more on how to keep the list current and what
measures can be taken to attract and recruit new members. The Commission will look at
what specific steps can be taken in these areas. It will also explore questions such as
membership renewal. Currently members are required to renew every year. The
Commission will ask members if that is necessary, or if mechanisms can be put in place
to ensure that all members be contacted on a regular basis to reaffirm their desire to
continue as a member and update personal contact information and areas in which they
could contribute to the party in the future.

It was also suggested an orientation package for new members be developed as well as a
possible mentor system for new members to encourage them to become involved.

Policy Development

Several issues related to policy-development consistently surfaced during the first round
of consultations.

Many members felt that there was no clear channel for policy input by members outside
of biennial conventions and special meetings. Even the biennials themselves, many
argued, provided a limited venue for meaningful involvement and contributions by
members into policy-creation.

In terms of policy it was suggested that a process be put in place requiring new policy
proposals to be checked against their compatibility with the party’s newly established set
of values, referenced earlier in this discussion paper. .
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There was recognition that members of caucus at both the provincial and federal levels
are elected to make decisions they believe benefit the province as a whole, and that it
would be impractical to vet every policy decision, particularly when in government, with
the party membership. However, it was felt that mechanisms and procedures could be
established for more dialogue with policy makers and the general membership to improve
engagement.

On the point of policy-input mechanisms for members, a number of suggestions were


made. These include the election of a single policy and platform point-person for the
NBLA, whose responsibility it would be to ensure members’ voices are heard on
emerging issues and platform development. This could be mirrored at the riding level in
turn getting more members engaged in discussions concerning policy. This would help
address the desire for people to be heard on issues, and reassure members that their
opinion matters, something that was heard on many occasions in the first round of
consultations.

There was also discussion as to how to make the process of policy development less
intimidating for members. The process of drafting specific policy proposals for biennials
was seen as daunting. People wanted more avenues to provide more input on the general
direction for future policies of the party.

Finally, in the interest of creating a more robust policy-development process, it was


recommended that an ongoing effort be established to build relationships with various
stakeholders and interest groups. Their unique perspectives and knowledge, it was
argued, could assist the party greatly as it attempts to develop meaningful policy
solutions for New Brunswickers.

It was felt that a process should be in place to ensure members receive responses to
policy input. While there will be different opinions on certain policies, it’s important that
a process be in place to shape policy.
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The questions moving forward for the Commission include: Should there be a policy and
platform official for the party to ensure members’ voices are heard by elected officials
and decision makers? What can be done at the riding level to spark more policy
discussion and development? What can be done to make the process of bringing forward
policy ideas less intimidating for all party members? What is the role of elected officials,
riding officials and regional directors in facilitating wider discussions on policy?

Leadership

While it was not specifically part of the Renewal Commission’s mandate, the
commission was asked to consider any topic brought up by members. A prominent topic
in the first round of discussions brought up repeatedly by members was the process and
timing of selecting a new leader for the Liberal Party. Much of the discussion surrounded
the method by which the party selects a new leader. But a clear message was sent to the
commission regarding timing of selecting a new provincial leader. A significant majority
of those who have stepped up to take part in the renewal process believe holding a
leadership convention in 2011 would be too soon. It was felt the necessary time should be
given to the renewal process to be completed before a leadership selection take place so
members can give proper consideration to any changes that might come as a result of the
final recommendations of the commission.

The issue of how a leader is selected generated a fair amount of discussion. A number of
members believed it was time for the provincial party to move beyond the current method
of selecting a leader.

Currently the selection process is a Delegate and Preferential System in which riding
delegates are selected to attend a Leadership Convention in order to choose a new leader.
Some members believe that while the first ballot of this type of system is fully reflective
of the members’ wishes, the likelihood of going to second and third ballots is not as fully
democratic as some version of One Member One Vote.
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There are different types of One Member One Vote systems. For example the PC Party of
New Brunswick and the PEI Liberal Party operate with a straight One Member One Vote.
The Liberal and Conservative Parties of Canada, and most recently the Liberal Party of
BC employed a weighted One Member One Vote in which every member ranks
candidates by preference. The first candidate to receive 50 per cent of the votes is
declared the winner in this system. (If 50 per cent is not achieved on the first ballot, the
candidate with the least amount of votes is dropped and the ballots recounted).

The Commission heard no clear consensus on the method to select a new leader. What it
did hear was a desire to educate and inform members on the various options for selecting
a new leader as any change would require a change in the constitution and required to be
voted on by the general membership.

Accountability

Whether it was a discussion about communications, membership, engagement, policy


development, leadership or anything else, accountability was a word that was mentioned
often by party members.

It was felt that if mechanisms are put in place to require more accountability the party as
a whole will be better off in the future. More dialogue between elected officials and their
constituents will benefit both parties. More robust and relevant riding associations would
assist in overall engagement. Commissions and committees can refresh their mandates to
ensure they are engaging their constituencies (seniors, women, youth, etc.) in areas such
as policy development, recruitment and engagement.

There was a desire amongst members to have a system of checks and balances to ensure
elected members and party officials fulfill their responsibilities in order to ensure a more
vibrant and engaging New Brunswick Liberal Association.
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The Commission will pose the question in the coming round of discussions, what are
these checks and balances that can help improve accountability within the party?

NEXT STEPS

While the initial round of public meetings with party members has been completed the
process of ongoing consultation continues. Later this spring, the commission plans to take
this discussion paper to another round of meetings with the membership and anyone
interested in the renewal of the Liberal Party in New Brunswick.

The Renewal Commission believed it was important in the initial round of discussions to
have open-ended discussions in order to bring all issues to the fore in order to best
address the terms of reference. Now that issues are emerging, the next round of
consultation will be designed to be solution oriented. Areas of concern have been
identified. What’s important to the next round of discussions is how members would like
these issues addressed and what can be done to help the Commission meet its mandate to
bring forward recommendations that will help create a more vibrant, responsive and
relevant New Brunswick Liberal Association.

In order to reach out to as many Liberals as possible the next round of meetings will be
well-advertised. This discussion paper will be made available on the party website for all
to see. We will renew our call for submissions via email, the interactive party website and
other, more traditional forms of communication.

When the Commission is satisfied it has reached out to as many people interested in the
renewal process as possible, it will begin compiling a final report with the intention of
submitting its final report by summer’s end.
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The final report will include a list of specific recommendations for renewal for
consideration by the party membership.

CONCLUSION

The results to date of the work done by the Renewal Commission have been extremely
encouraging. The members themselves have shown great interest in the process. There is
a general feeling that this is an important time for a party ripe for a renewal process of
this kind. The Commission has taken the approach that it is essential this renewal be a
grassroots exercise. It is important that Liberals who have given their time to participate
in this process know that their voice matters.
While it is still early in the process it is likely that the recommendations put forth by the
commission in the final report will, if adopted, require changes that need to be put
forward for consideration by the entire membership.
Commission members feel strongly that the final report and its recommendations be put
forward for discussion by the full membership of the party.
The grassroots members from every corner of this province are putting forward their
ideas for renewal of the party. The Commission believes the entire membership should
have a final say on recommendations for renewal when the report is complete, as opposed
to a delegated Biennial Convention.