For a long time, policy was seen as a thing for an elite club that you were not allowed in, couldn’t contact and wasn’t interested in hearing what you had to say.
Thankfully, democracy within the Liberal Party has strengthened over time. Our party can seem difficult to navigate at first and thus, it is important we outline what role you can play. For our part of the journey, I will keep it focused to our process.
Beyond the OYL, you should contact the relevant officials in the provincial and federal parties. At the federal level, consult the Liberal Party of Canada (Ontario) VP Policy, Reva Seth. Provincially, get in touch with the Ontario Liberal Party’s Operational Vice-President (Policy), Sumi Shanmuganathan.
In the Ontario Young Liberals, we work on an annual basis, unlike the other biennial processes, to the envy of some and to the lament of others. It is a more regular engagement in the policy process that we demand of ourselves to really influence the debate on a continuous basis.
Often, starting from an example idea makes the process make more sense. Ergo, we will begin with Idea X. Idea X is the greatest idea ever in your opinion. Idea X is a change in your society you want to see in your lifetime and you want to wear that it was your idea. Idea X has, for our sake, been written down on a notepad so you do not forget it. Good thinking.
Write A Resolution
Idea X exists and you don’t know where to go with it. Well, the party can debate no idea not written in the form of a “resolution.”
The document is called the “Mechanics of a Policy Resolution.”
This document outlines turning an idea into a resolution. For chronology’s sake, please note near the end of the document, the pre-work that goes into making good policy.
Focus on first identifying your issue or problem, then examine the current debate over it or lack thereof, followed by choosing how you would change it or modify it using a policy instrument, look for missed angles and then consult with others before finally developing your policy. Sound policy is one where holes are very difficult to poke in it, particularly, for our OYL process.
Now, you should have your policy written in resolution form. Congratulations. It is now called “Resolution X.” What do you do now?
Regional Policy Parliament
Every year the OYL Policy Director will jointly announce with the OYL regional coordinators, usually from the period of May to July, the various Regional Policy Parliaments (RPPs) and their respective dates.
The regional coordinators will provide a venue and collect the policies from the interested bodies with a set deadline. Provincial riding clubs are able to submit two provincial policies. Federal riding clubs are able to submit two federal policies. Student clubs can submit two of each. These policies are to be noted as being “club policies” noted as authored by the title of the club. E.g. Author: Windsor-Tecumseh Federal Young Liberals.
The process by which the club approves or disapproves of a policy to be prioritized as a club policy, as compared to another policy, is up to the Policy Director of the respective club as to what process they choose, representative and democratic or otherwise.
Beyond that, individuals are able to submit policies outside the bounds of a formed club. It is recommended that they submit no more than two policies total as to create a broad-based and inclusive debate. Depending on the ruling of the OYL Policy Director and the Regional Coordinator, this is flexible to the needs of the RPP in having a robust debate.
Individuals are not able to take policies from one region after failing to be prioritized and migrate over, by that same individual, to propose them in another region’s RPP.
The rules will be set annually for the RPPs by the OYL Policy Director and chaired by either the respective Regional Coordinator, the OYL Policy Director or an appointed chair by the joint decision of the OYL Policy Director and the Regional Coordinator.
At the time of the RPP, you will have had your Idea X submitted in resolution form to the OYL Policy Director and respective Regional Coordinator. It will have been distributed in some fashion to the membership of the region for prior consideration.
Once you have been informed of how the debate will be laid out, attend your RPP and be prepared to present your policy from anywhere between 2-4 minutes, be asked questions of any nature on your policy for 2-4 minutes and to debate your policy.
Questions will usually be on cost, unclear language, feasibility, its relation to current laws and norms, associated matters related to the policy, time-frame or any number of concerns the person might have. Have a friend question your policy point-by-point to ensure you are prepared for such an open-ended grilling.
The debate period is subject to change every year. It can either be a series of back-and-forths between questions and rebuttals, or it can be a debate by the attendees over your policy seeking to see both sides of the debate through the Chair asking for alternating “for” and “against” statements. This period is moderated and governed by the chair. It can last anywhere up to five minutes usually, with room for extensions if necessary.
The debate period is when attendees should present friendly, or otherwise, amendments to the policy. Amendments require 50% support to be passed and all attendees should be given a fair chance to be clear on the amendments being made.
Finally, expect to give a closing sales pitch or statement about your policy that refutes any criticism, affirms your overall objective and leaves the audience with a desire to see the policy come to reality as much as you want it to. Don’t reserve passion at this point. Keep it short though and keep it punchy.
There will be a vote on your policy at this point. If Resolution X passes by 50% hands-up vote at this point, it moves onto the final ballot. It should be noted to encourage the audience to be urged not to vote against a policy based on whether they would prioritize it at this point, but rather if they support the policy, as it is read, enough to pass it or whether it deserves to be unsupported by the Liberal Party in its current formation and direction.
If your policy passes by 50%, congratulations! If your policy did not pass, do not despair and instead reform it with more consultation, perhaps with those who opposed it, coming out to a compromise resolution ready for the subsequent RPP.
At the RPP level, if your policy reaches the final ballot, there will be a paper vote where you will be asked to pick two provincial and two federal policies to move onto OYL Summer Fling. If Resolution X passes from your RPP, congratulations! Be prepared to debate it at Summer Fling.
If your policy is similar to other policies passed at other RPPs, leave it up to OYL Policy Director to contact you, make you aware and address next steps in this regard.
As an author, you have liberty over your policy to make grammatical changes at any point and the OYL Policy Director is the only one to argue if your submitted changes alter the thrust of the original policy and can then be refused. However, be aware changes are subject to the criticism of those who democratically voted for it at RPP who can in turn recognize those changes at Summer Fling to help question it there.
This interim period of the RPP-to-Summer Fling is a good time to seek endorsements for your policy or promote your policy to Young Liberals using a variety of promotion tools. Marketing is a key part of policy.
OYL Summer Fling
First, register yourself and then a hundred or so of your closest friends.
At Summer Fling, 24 policy resolutions will emerge from the six regions as priority resolutions and be debated. It is up to a coin toss whether federal or provincial policies will be debated first. Further, which of the policies go first at that point is up to the Chair of the policy sessions at Summer Fling, which happens also to be the OYL Policy Director.
The procedure for Summer Fling will be announced priorly to all successful policy authors presenting at Summer Fling and will likely resemble the one used at RPPs.
Your policy will face the same vote tests as an RPP to have 50% support from the floor to pass to the final ballot.
If your policy should be so blessed as to make it to being a priority resolution after the ballot at OYL Summer Fling, congratulations! If not, fear not, the policy process respects regionally passed policies as being representative of their region and a significant segment of the OYL population worthy of further discussion.
If Resolution X is now passed at Summer Fling as a priority resolution, it is now declared an OYL Policy until it is usurped by a directly contrary policy, an amended version of the policy or a policy going further passed at a later date. Policy is a fluid thing and being contemporary is crucial.
It is now up to the OYL Policy Director to inform you on how you can play a role going forward. It is important to make sure your policy goes somewhere as too many good ideas get lost in the jumble and end up on the shelf.
This process is a several month process that brings about results that represent a significant constituency of our party. It’s worth it. Please participate.
Further, we are lucky enough to contribute to the national and provincial debate by collecting almost fifty ideas a year and bringing them down to a manageable number to press as a collective organization.
Our capacity to bring new ideas to the forefront is greater than any other arm of the party seemingly. Our Summer Fling is the premier policy conference for the Young Liberals anywhere in the country. Our ability to come to a consensus is truly remarkable.
We can surpass what came before us, create better lives for ourselves and for our children than the one we have had thus far, better than what our parents saw, and break the limits our predecessors had in their wildest imagination.
If you have further questions, feel free to contact the OYL Policy Director and discuss how you would better the process.