Reading Time: 3 minutes

Michael TaubeHey, folks! Have I got a deal for you.

Want to join one of Canada’s oldest political parties . . . for free?

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced at a national board meeting in Halifax recently his intentions to modify the Liberal Party constitution. If it’s passed during the national convention in May, you’ll be able to join and not have to pay one (Liberal) red cent.

According to an April 3 piece by the Canadian Press’s Joan Bryden, “There would no longer be any party members. Instead, anyone willing to register with the party – for free – would be eligible to participate in policy development, nomination of candidates, party conventions and the selection of future leaders.”

This constitutional amendment would be “aimed at transforming the federal party from an exclusive club,” wrote Bryden, “into a wide-open political movement.”

Well, then. In light of such fanfare for this spirited move, what could possibly go wrong?

Oh, that’s right. Just about everything.

Removing membership fees would ultimately create a hornet’s nest that no political party should ever want to willingly dive into.

Political parties have historically used annual membership fees and/or dues as a means of establishing baselines of support and loyalty. This type of registration creates a commitment to a party on a short-term basis.

It doesn’t always succeed.

The fees are infinitesimal. The vast majority of people let their party memberships lapse after a year or two. There have also been cases of some political candidates improperly purchasing party cards – before or during nomination meetings – for individuals who hadn’t expressed an interest in joining.

Even with low fees, there’s a significant difference between paying a few bucks for a party membership card – and paying absolutely nothing.

The important concept of party loyalty would be thrown out the window. Yes, it’s great to get average people involved in the democratic process, and enable them to help set a course for certain issues and ideas. At the same time, the members deciding a party’s fate should be loyal to the core, rather than potentially rotten at the centre. By paying a token amount of money for membership, the chances are more likely the former than the latter.

If the Liberals open the floodgates to potentially include every single Canadian for free membership, it would be the equivalent of political pandemonium. You could potentially have enormous warring factions of pro- and anti-free traders, public healthcare and private healthcare supporters, climate change activists and climate change skeptics, and so on. Is this really what Trudeau and his senior advisers want to deal with now?

As well, there could be increased levels of mischief within the party ranks. For instance, there would be absolutely nothing to prevent loyal Tory, New Democrat, Green and Bloc supporters from joining the Liberals en masse to help shift policies in a particular direction that ultimately aids their parties. The sky’s the limit for damage they could potentially do to future leadership races.

If the PM believes that a no-fee Liberal Party is the best way to go, and increases the amount of democracy, reform and transparency in Canadian politics, it’s his choice. If his supporters back this proposal, it’s their decision. If this monumental shift in the party’s constitution causes massive short-term and long-term problems, as it likely will, it could be the government’s funeral.

Hence, Trudeau’s proposal for Canadians to join the Liberal Party for free doesn’t benefit his own party. It would benefit the other political parties – and they’re all privately hoping it passes.

Michael Taube, a Troy Media syndicated columnist and political commentator, was a speechwriter for former Prime Minister Stephen Harper. He holds a master’s degree in comparative politics from the London School of Economics.

© Troy Media

liberal party membership

The views, opinions and positions expressed by columnists and contributors are the author’s alone. They do not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of our publication.