Barbara Yaffe's column today, "The dirty little undemocratic secret of political parties," makes some good points. The power of party leaders like Stephane Dion to appoint good candidates in local ridings, or to simply manipulate the process to produce the kinds of winners leaders seek, is now common practise.
At the heart of the issue is our flawed process for nominating candidates: the only voters who get to decide who runs locally for a political party are local party members. Theoretically, any one, no matter how extreme or inexperienced, can run for a nomination, sign up thousands of friends or instant party members, get them to a nominating meeting and win a local party nomination. This is not democracy by any stretch of the imagination, it is the perverting of democracy, the manipulation of the local voting pool in favour of one candidate or candidates. That's why all this talk coming out of Saskatchewan of late is so annoying, like the signing up of hundreds of instant Liberals is democratic. Sure, it's more democratic than appointing someone, but the power to appoint was put in place to counteract the irresponsible abilities of bad local candidates from taking over a riding association and hoisting themselves on the nation and party.
We need a new way of nominating local candidates, one that mimics the American process. Instead of only paid-up party members voting in nominating races, why not expand the party electorate to include all voters who publicly identify as "Liberal" voters, or "Conservative" voters, or "NDP" voters, etc? The pool of voters to nominate a local candidate would be all voters in the riding who identify with that party. Throw in "independent" voters who choose not to identify with any party, hold a big, riding-wide vote with several polling locations just like a by-election, all voters who chose to take part could take part. Soon thereafter, the local nominating process wouldn't be so easily manipulatable. And more than likely, the best candidate would win.
It would be fair, it would be open and it would be far more democratic than our pathetic, instant-party-member process long since discredited. And it would avoid the kind of controversy we're seeing in northern Saskatchewan today.