The Path Forward — Why Conservatives Can’t Wait for a New Leader

Part one of a series on the upcoming Conservative leadership race

With the convention upcoming and a leadership vote just over a year away, many are debating the best path forward for the Conservative Party of Canada.

It has become increasingly clear to me that the best path forward involves a dramatic reversal of some of the recent changes made by National Council.

The decision to raise membership fees to $25/year is an astonishingly bad one. It’s a blatant attempt by the Party to try and suck every dollar they can out of their most hardcore supporters. Instead of selling, for example, 200,000 memberships during leadership for $15, they are hoping to sell 150,000 memberships for $25 at a net profit to the Party.

This might make us the first Party in Canadian history to actively discourage people from getting involved. It’s wrong, and it’s incredibly short sighted.

Even if we didn’t care that we are disenfranchising thousands of Canadians who can’t or won’t pay the new fee, and accept the fact that the Party needs all the help it can get as the Liberals crush our fundraising numbers, this is still a losing proposition.

During the Liberal leadership race, they built a list of 300,000 supporters — most of whom did not pay any sort of membership fee. But these supporters now form a large part of the Liberal donor base, worth roughly $6 million a quarter.

It’s no wonder the Liberals have proposed getting rid of membership fees — who cares about a $10 membership fee? When you have hundreds of thousands of people engaged and caring about your Party, you’re going to be able to raise a ton of money from small, repeat donors. That’s how our Party used to work, and we routinely out fundraised our opponents.

But when you’re transparently trying to suck every dime out of Party members — as the Conservatives are doing now — people don’t feel engaged. They are paying a fee to vote for the next leader. That’s it. And that’s not the way to rebuild a Party.

And yes, the Party fees are structured in a way that provides incentive to buy multi-year memberships. But the experience of the last few years has taught us that most of the time, all a Party membership buys you is the privilege of being telemarketed to repeatedly. If you want to convince people to buy multi-year memberships, it should be done by providing value, not by gouging your most dedicated supporters.

So today, I’m calling on National Council to reverse this decision and return to a $15 membership fee. And I’m hoping you will join me in supporting any person running for National Council who supports this change.

I’m also calling for a revision to the leadership rules which make it incredibly difficult to sell memberships. Section 2.3.6 of the leadership rules says “Membership payments must be accompanied by a prescribed membership form signed by each applicant, and a copy of the applicant’s cheque, money order or first and last 4 digits of the applicant’s credit card number used to purchase such membership.

There are so many problems with this. First, it seemingly makes it impossible to sell memberships online. You cannot collect signatures through a website, nor does any payment processing service provide the first 4 digits of a purchaser’s credit card number. Whether this was intentional, or made due to a lack of technical understanding over how online transactions work, this needs to be fixed. While I have chatted with executive director Dustin Van Vugt and he’s told me online membership sales would be allowed, this rule makes it basically impossible. It is completely backwards that a Party in the 21st century would take away this important avenue for reaching out to new members, and this rule needs to be amended to allow for online membership sales.

Secondly, the rule makes it incredibly difficult to sell memberships at events. Candidates will undoubtedly find themselves at hundreds of small events as they travel across the country campaigning. Are they going to have to warn people ahead of time that they need to bring their cheque book if they want to sign up to vote?

I understand the Party wants to prevent campaigns from committing fraud. Some campaigns in the past have been accused of buying memberships with cash for people who don’t even know what they are signing up for. But this rule is clearly and specifically targeted at ethnic communities in the GTA.  It also risks us being labelled, as our own MP Deepak Obhrai put it, as “elitist and whites-only.” If someone as loyal to the Party, and who has worked as hard and as tirelessly as he has, is willing to say it, so am I.

There are other ways to prevent fraud, and it’s not as if someone can sign up 10,000 members in Brampton and win the country — each riding is weighted. It won’t matter if 100 people vote or 100,000 people vote in a GTA riding, each riding’s vote total is worth the same. This rule makes it more difficult for all candidates to sell memberships, across Canada, and it means less people will be casting votes. It absolutely needs to be removed from the leadership rules.

There are other rules that seem egregious to me — for example, requiring every single donation to go through the Conservative Fund and then taking a “processing fee” of 10%. Or taking requiring $5 to process every membership sold after October 28, 2016. The Party seems to be nickel and diming Party members and leadership candidates — likely to compensate for poor fundraising since a disastrous election campaign.

But fundamentally, the biggest problem is the Party is closing itself off, rather than opening up — and that’s a big mistake. The leadership race is the best opportunity we’re going to have to engage our membership before the next election.

We can’t wait for a new leader. We have to reverse these changes now, and if the current National Council won’t do it, we need to elect one that will.

If you are a candidate for National Council, please contact me at tester.dean@gmail.com and let me know where you stand. I’m happy to provide an open forum here for any candidate who wants to weigh in, including those who disagree with me.