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Heavyweights in town to try to rebuild Liberals

Nov 07 2011

As the federal Liberals continue to rebuild their shattered party, interim leader Bob Rae echoed his membership's desire for change when speaking at the party's B.C. convention in Victoria on Saturday.

The Liberals lost considerable political clout in the May election, dropping from 77 to 34 seats. They have been scrambling to regroup ever since, but on Saturday there was a renewed sense of hope among members, who said the days of party infighting are over.

"The key thing is for us to create a party that is resilient enough and strong enough in the ridings, as well as across the country, to fight a full-blooded campaign in the next election," Rae said.

"That's going to still take some change in terms of improving our fundraising, improving our organizational level of activities in the ridings, and making sure we have got an ability to do that."

Significant structural changes could come in the New Year. Liberal members will vote for a new president and executive at the party's biennial convention in Ottawa in January.

In the running for party president are Sheila Copps, Mike Crawley, Ron Hartling and Alexandra Mend├Ęs.

Former deputy prime minister Copps, in town for the convention, said she wants to simplify the party's 94-page constitution, introduce online voting for the 2013 party leadership race, and improve access to members.

"There's a huge appetite in the party to embrace change because they know the old methods aren't working," she said in an interview. "There's also an appetite to bury the knives because the party spent a lot of time internally fighting, and people have realized that it's been largely counterproductive.

"When we're shooting at ourselves, we're killing ourselves off and the others are beneficiaries."

She also talked about how the Liberal party has distanced itself from voters, saying it became a "private club" rather than a "movement."

Ideas to broaden the membership and increase interest in the party include hosting televised leadership debates and introducing online voting for the party.

Copps also pointed to the Conservative party's success at focusing on single issues that attracted a wide range of the electorate.

"It has to be fun to be a Liberal again," she said.

"You need to recruit young people. You have to find new ways of reaching out."

Whoever wins the presidency will have to inspire members to get over the long-standing party infighting, she said.

"People realize we're at a crossroads and, politically speaking, the Liberal party can come back or we can disappear," she said.

In his speech, Rae took a swing at critics who say the party won't bounce back.

"We face a world today where people say the Liberal party is done," he said.

"You seriously think Canadians want to be forced into a choice between the Occupier movement and the Tea Party? Is that really where we want to be?" dspalding@timescolonist.com

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