No explanation was offered Saturday morning when I was kicked out of the Liberal Party convention for the report into the party's finances.
The move came as a surprise; only 12 hours earlier I had been told the session would be open to the media.
I'm still awaiting an explanation from party officials, but the party made a decision and then reversed it within hours. I’ll leave it to the reader to decide why.
Due to the party's reversal in position, inaccurate information appeared in Saturday's paper, so in an effort to correct that, I'm going to try to lay out the timeline of events here.
Going into the weekend's convention, there were three core elements of interest to me as a reporter:
a) The party's much-publicized “renewal committee” would be delivering its final report to the convention, laying out recommendations for how to revitalize the party.
b) The party would be making decisions on constitutional amendments which will shape the leadership selection process for the next year.
c) The party would give an update on its financial situation; the party has been several hundred thousand dollars in debt for years, and it's been a major drag on their ability to organize.
In the lead-up to the convention, I was told two out of those three elements would be closed to the media. The constitutional debate would be open, but both the party finances and renewal committee results would be reported behind closed doors.
It is fairly standard for parties to hold some closed sessions at their annual general meetings. I wasn't surprised that the party wanted to keep their finances private, although I didn't understand why the renewal committee session was closed. The renewal committee was repeatedly publicized over the past six months. The process was launched with a flashy news conference at the Delta Hotel in St John's; I've written half a dozen stories about it. It didn't make a ton of sense to me to close that session, but the Liberal Party executive is entitled to make whatever decisions it wants.
I mentioned to a few people that despite the closed sessions, I still planned on talking to as many people who were in the sessions as possible, and I still planned on doing my best to write about it.
On Friday afternoon, I mentioned in passing to somebody that I had written a general story about the Liberal convention for Saturday's paper, and in that story, I said that the treasurer's report and renewal committee report sessions were closed.
It is worth noting that both the PC Party and the NDP made their financial statements available to the media during their respective conventions in the past month.
A few hours after arriving in Gander for the convention, I was told there had been a meeting of the party's executive in which they decided to open up both the session on party finances and the session on the renewal committee report. It was late in the afternoon, so I had to scramble a little bit to remove a few sentences for my Saturday story. The modified story was written in such a way that it left the impression that the sessions were open.
Privately, I was told by a senior party member in passing that the decision to open up the session was made in part in response to the government's Bill 29 amendments to the access to information legislation. I was told the party didn't want to be accused of being secretive after it spent all spring railing against the government for being secretive and restricting access to information.
Saturday morning, without any warning, I was kicked out of the room at the beginning of the treaurer's report. It was a bit confusing, since 12 hour earlier, I was told the party had specifically decided to allow the media in. I was informed that hours after that decision had been made, at around 11 p.m., the party held another board meeting to close the session again. Even if the board had informed me of their decision immediately, the change was made after the Saturday story went to press.
I have not yet received an explanation for why the party board changed its mind and then hours later changed it back. If I get an explanation from party officials, I'll post it here. I'll still be doing my best to get to the bottom of the party's financial situation, and the report of the party's renewal committee for Monday's paper.
I did a lengthy interview with Liberal Party president Judy Morrow on this whole situation. She characterized it as a “miscommunication.” It seems like there was a Liberal executive board meeting Friday afternoon, where they were pressed for time, and made a rushed decision, which was quickly passed along to me.
“There was a miscommunication, yes. It was communicated too soon and there was a miscommunication, or a misunderstanding or what have you,” Morrow said.
Later in the evening, people had some more time to think about it, and decided that maybe they'd made a mistake so they all got together again, along with the convention co-chairs, and they reversed the decision.
Morrow said, “I'm not going to say there was a mix-up. What I'm going to say is we had debated at the board level, and there were varying views, as there should be in an open and democratic party, as to which which sessions should be open and which sessions should be closed. (Friday) night upon reflection, we pulled together the board meeting and met with our co-chairs and it was determined that the three sessions that were closed would remain closed.”
It also seems there was an element to this that the “renewal committee” pushed to have their presentation closed to the media.
“The renewal group felt strongly there was an election readiness component to the report and recommendations. So what's going to happen now is they are going to table that and we're going to do a full-blown meeting with the board and caucus and they are going to give a far more detailed report and recommendation than they gave this morning in the one our, and we're going to turn that into action items, and the board is going to decide then if we're going to put it on our website or issue a release or make the report public and go from there.”
Anyway, that's about all there is to it. Just as a teaser for Monday's paper, I had an exclusive interview with Liberal Party treasurer John Hogan, who gave me an update on the state of the party's finances, and the plan to deal with the party's debt. These days, they currently owe a little bit less than $800,000, but there'll be a lot more detail than that in Monday's paper.