- The national executive's authority could easily be challenged
should it decide to bring in rules and regulations for the next
leadership convention that appear to favour one leadership contender
over another, says a top Liberal running for the presidency of the
Akaash Maharaj, a member of the Grit executive
and the party's policy chair, said that as the executive prepares
to set an early leadership convention for the fall of 2003, it could
be setting itself up for criticism because its mandate has been
extended beyond its constitutionally-mandated two-year term.
The move by the 60-member body, which is dominated
by supporters of Paul Martin, is expected to boost the former finance
minister's chances of becoming the next leader given his large organizational
advantage and the fact he is no longer in Cabinet and free to campaign
Mr. Martin is not under the same constraints
as the other contenders who are in Cabinet -- Industry Minister
Allan Rock (Etobicoke Centre, Ont.), Deputy Prime Minister John
Manley (Ottawa South, Ont.), and Heritage Minister Sheila Copps
(Hamilton East, Ont.) -- who are not allowed to raise money for
their leadership campaigns. Prime Minister Jean Chrétien
(Saint Maurice, Que.) has indicated he will give his ministers the
green light in the new year.
Mr. Maharaj said unsuccessful leadership camps
may take issue with the legitimacy of the executive if they don't
like the way it is handling the transition of the party's leadership.
"Different decisions will be perceived
rightly or wrongly as favouring different candidates," he said.
"For that reason it is crucial that if we expect people to
accept the legitimacy of those decisions, that it is vital that
the national executive be perceived as being legitimate. My fear
is that by doubling our terms in office we might call that legitimacy
The party's executive was last elected in March
of 2000 at a policy convention held in Ottawa. It was supposed to
face an election in February 2003, after Mr. Martin's and Prime
Minister Jean Chrétien's camps agreed to delay by one year
the proceedings which include a review of the party's leadership.
But that convention has been rendered moot given Mr. Chrétien's
recent announcement that he will step down in February 2004.
Now, party members face the prospects of waiting
yet another year to debate policy issues and elect a new executive
because the current executive, headed by outgoing president Stephen
LeDrew, is expected to roll the policy convention into a leadership
convention slated for the fall of 2003.
The executive will meet in mid-October in Montreal
to set the date which will likely be between Nov. 4, 2003 and Dec.
"My concern is that the party's constitution
lays down terms of two years for all members of the national executive
and by canceling the [February 2003] biennial convention the terms
in office of the executive members will have been effectively doubled
from two to four years," added Mr. Maharaj.
"We [the executive] will be governing the
party through a leadership race. We will be called upon to make
some fundamental decisions of our leadership rules, timing of conventions,
cutoff dates and the like. These decisions are not merely fundamental,
they will inevitably be controversial"…
Mr. Maharaj said he will accept whatever decision
the executive takes, adding that should the leadership convention
be set for the fall of 2003 he would support canceling next February's
policy convention given the costs and impracticality of holding
two conventions within a year.
Should this scenario materialize, he said will
seek approval from the executive to hold interim policy meetings
next year across the country so that members can discuss "ideas
and ideals" ranging from Parliamentary reform to health care
to Canada-U.S. relations.
"What I have in mind right now is a series
of regional policy meetings, held over the early winter and spring
of 2003," he said, adding he is confident the executive will
agree to release funds for the meetings.
"My sense from my colleagues on the
executive is that they understand the need for the party to discuss
ideas, why we seek power."