New Grit constitution passes
Strong support from members
JUSTIN Trudeau wasn’t going to take any chances his vision for turning the Liberal Party of Canada into a more open and accessible “movement” would lose steam at this weekend’s biennial convention in Winnipeg.
Trudeau made the need to pass a new constitution the crux of his speech to delegates Saturday afternoon.
Then, when the motion came to the convention floor a few hours later, he was standing at microphone No. 2 to formally move it, referring to himself as a delegate from the Quebec riding of Papineau.
As it turned out, the new constitution — which makes party membership free and allows any registrant to vote in nominations, leadership contests and policy conventions — passed easily, with the yeas outnumbering the nays 1,988 to 66.
The prime minister’s address and the constitutional vote were the highlights of the three-day convention — the first national Liberal party meeting in Winnipeg in 36 years and the biggest event so far at the newly expanded RBC Convention Centre.
Liberals were in a celebratory mood as they gathered nationally for the first time since their election win last October.
However, the three-day meeting, which concluded Saturday evening, didn’t really get into high gear until the arrival of the prime minister, who landed in Winnipeg late Friday after representing Canada at the G7 summit in Japan.
After the constitutional vote, Trudeau walked to the stage, shook hands with the session chair, turned to the huge crowd and mouthed the word “thanks” while touching his heart with his right hand.
In his speech, Trudeau spoke passionately about the need to change the party’s rules to keep building what he called “a confident, mature, open movement.”
He reminded delegates the party’s third-place finish in the 2011 election was nearly its death knell.
“It was almost the end of us,” the PM said.
Hitting rock bottom was “liberating,” Trudeau said. The party had to think hard about what it had to do and work hard to get it done, he said.
“Our colleagues in the other parties have not yet learned these lessons, but they could. And we need to stay two steps ahead of them. With this new constitution, we will,” he said.
Trudeau said the new rules will reflect what the party has aspired to be under his leadership, an organization that is open to all Canadians.
“We have grown into a confident, mature, open movement, united and focused on what matters to Canadians and to our future,” he said earlier in the day before the vote on the new constitution took place.
“The party constitution we have today is a product of the era that we worked so hard together to put behind us — the era of factional battles, of hyphenated Liberals, of regional chieftains and behindthe-scenes power brokers.”
The number of delegates opposed to the new constitution seemed to be higher at the outset of the convention. Members sporting ‘No’ buttons could be seen throughout the sprawling convention centre.
Several delegates who spoke against the new rules complained they were foisted upon the convention without sufficient consultation.
“I felt manipulated. I felt that there wasn’t an open or transparent process. As a riding president, I didn’t even know about a new constitution until I was already a delegate and I was coming to this convention,” a Toronto delegate said during the debate. “So there was a huge lack of information.”
However, some last-minute “friendly amendments” were made that mollified a number of opponents.
In his speech, Trudeau also soothed many contrarians when he praised them while addressing their concerns.
“It takes courage to speak out against something your party leadership believes in. And I want you to know that I admire you and thank you for doing it,” he said. “But I also want to say this: if I thought for a second that the new constitution was about taking power from the grassroots, I would be right there with you shoulder to shoulder, speaking out against it. But it isn’t, and it doesn’t.”
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau shakes hands as he makes his way to the podium to give the keynote address at the Liberal convention in Winnipeg Saturday.
Trudeau, party president Anna Gainey (left) and Liberal youth president Mira Ahmad vote for the new party constitution.