This week, we examine some of the political parties in Canada. We start with the governing party, the Liberal Party of Canada, and its new internal constitution. Check back each day as we feature the Rhino Party, the NDP, the Libertarian Party, and the Conservative Party.
Coincidentally, as we recognize the 150th anniversary of Canada’s first constitution, the BNA Act, the leader of the Liberal Party is the son of the Prime Minister who patriated Canada’s new constitution in 1982. A constitution provides structure and guidance to lawmakers; it is their ultimate rulebook when drafting new laws and managing existing ones. Similarly, each political party also has a constitution to set out the parameters of its internal governance along with bylaw documents, similar to bylaws that corporate entities establish.
In 2016, the Liberal Party of Canada revamped their constitution, voted it in on May 28th, and put it into effect on January 1st, 2017. The goal was to make membership in the party more accessible to a larger number of people and to create a permanent political campaign. Among the changes are waiving the $10 member registration fee, increased participation in the policy development process, and allowing any registered Liberal member to attend conventions. This marks the first time that a major federal political party has offered free membership.
The new 17-page constitution with its 10 bylaws replaces the previous 81-page document. It streamlines the party’s bureaucracy, allowing readers to understand the party’s organization and increasing flexibility for individuals to participate in the political process. The constitution’s preamble states that the Liberal Party “strives to provide a flexible and democratic structure whereby all Canadians can obtain [information and participate in] action both electoral and non-electoral.” The goal is to reach and include more individuals who will support the party in future elections.
The constitution was met with strong opposition. Despite its commitment to transparency and increased democracy, critics warned that the grassroots accessibility was not as promising as had been advertised. Some local party officials and regional members criticized the lack of openness, transparency, and consultation. They alleged that the executive was trying to “strong-arm” it into effect. The party leader and top executives appeared to have expanded their concentrated power over campaigns and policy. Critics argued this was a:
potentially controversial change that would discontinue the historic tradition of developing party policy positions for election campaigns through national convention debate and votes on resolutions from grassroots party members across the country.
To alleviate these concerns the executive amended the constitution just hours before the vote and Trudeau addressed directly and publicly the allegations of increased centralized power. The amendments and Trudeau’s speech to increase support were successful. Ultimately, the convention delegates voted strongly in favour: 1,988 to 66.
Although there was much opposition to this new constitution, members clearly saw the need for a complete overhaul. Criticism has been subdued but it is possible that it might arise again as the party moves forward under the new constitution. Having suffered election setbacks in the last few elections, the new governing structure might aid the Liberal Party in future elections.
 Liberal Party of Canada, “Towards a More Open Liberal Party” (2017), online: Federal Liberal Agency of Canada <https://www.liberal.ca/1party/towards-a-more-open-liberal-party/>.
 Lee Berthiaume, “A Leaner Liberal Machine: Trudeau Convinces Party Members to Sign off on New Constitution,” National Post (28 May 2016), online: Canada.com <news.nationalpost.com/news/canada/canadian-politics/trudeau-ready-to-take-the-stage-at-liberal-convention-where-members-have-concerns-about-new-constitution>.
 Ken Hanly, “Canadian Federal Liberal Party Adopts New Constitution,” Digital Journal (29 May 2016), online: digitaljournal.com <www.digitaljournal.com/news/politics/canadian-federal-liberal-party-adopts-new-constitution/article/466581>.
 Tim Naumetz, “Justin Trudeau, Party Brass Set to Gain More Power over Campaigns, Policy Under New Proposed Liberal Constitution,” Hill Times (15 April 2016), online: Hill Times Publishing <https://www.hilltimes.com/2016/04/15/justin-trudeau-party-brass-set-to-gain-more-power-over-campaigns-policy-under-new-proposed-liberal-constitution/58608#>.
 Hanly, supra note 3.
 Naumetz, supra note 4.
 Berthiaume, supra note 2.