Thursday, April 3, 2008

Memo to Chief Head: Party nomination processes are rarely "democratic"

I enjoyed reading Chief Marcel Head's column in today's National Post. I'm also very glad someone of his stature has decided to stay very involved and work to rebuild the Liberal Party in Desnethe-Missinippi-Churchill River, Saskatchewan, especially after our recent by-election loss there.

But the Chief writes as if his riding was the first to see its nomination process manipulated by party central. As we know, the power of party leaders like Stéphane Dion to appoint good candidates in local ridings, or to simply manipulate the process to produce the kinds of winners leaders seek, has long been common practise across the country.

Why? Because under the traditional nominating process the Chief describes, the only voters who got to decide who ran locally for a political party were local party members, not citizens at large. As a result, anybody, no matter how extreme or inexperienced, could 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 perversion of democracy, the manipulation of the local voting pool in favour of one candidate or candidates.

It would be like holding a by-election in Desnethe-Missinippi-Churchill River and then flooding the riding with 50,000 new White residents, who would then be able to determine the outcome.

It's clear that the appointment of Joan Beatty in his riding wasn't handled well at all. It led to the Liberal defeat in the riding. These things have to be handled delicately and time must be taken to ensure the powers-that-be in the riding support the move. Unfortunately, that wasn't done here and it cost the Liberals greatly. The appointment of Martha Hall Findlay in Willowdale, on the other hand, is a textbook case on how to do it right.

I don't like candidate appointments, but I don't like the old-fashioned nomination processes either. I wrote about this issue earlier this year, saying the answer could be to open up the local nomination process completely to all self-identified party supporters and perhaps even independents in a riding, not just paid-up party members. In essence, we could hold primaries to nominate local candidates. I'm not sure this proposal would actually be feasible in the context of our Canadian election processes as such primaries would be expensive to hold and would be difficult to manage in the event of a sudden government defeat in Parliament. However, with the arrival of fixed election dates in this country, this practise could eventually become possible and preferable to the status quo.


James Curran said...

Um. You're right. Your proposal is not feasible. It would require registered voter identification. The key word here is democracy. Fixing nominations is never a good thing - and yes, there have been abuses in the process in the past. However, David Orchard and John Dorion sold memberships. Neither asked to be appointed. Both were prepared to go to a nomination meeting and abide by a decision of the people. Signing people up and getting them to come out for a vote - any vote - is a good thing. It's what we lack most in Canada these days - engaging the voter. And, if by chance, you can get a couple thousand people to be engaged in the process, life is good again.

DMCR was a fiasco form the beginning of this process and our party really let us down in that riding. I'm not going to name names again, but suffice to say this was a clash of opinion and personality that caused the mess in the first place.

Marcel Head is a true leader of his people. I fully respect his opinion and the opinion of the other leaders of communities in that riding that have come forward to express their disbelief in the process.

If we are fortunate enought to have David Orchard and John Dorion put their names forward again, I would love to see the outcome and be more than willing to help on that nomination.

Matt Guerin said...

I agree with much of what you say. The party leadership let us down with how they handled this riding and they lost us a seat, starting with the failure to keep Merasty in Ottawa.

However, I think Orchard has burned his bridges with how he attacked the party publicly after the appointment. It's one thing to be upset with what the party does, it's another to go to the media and do as much damage as possible, seemingly simply out of revenge over his hurt ego. Orchard has been described as a one-man show and he proved it with how he chose to react. A lot of party people often feel screwed over by the leadership - they don't all run to the press about it. I'm completely unimpressed by him.

James Curran said...

With all due respect Matt. David sat in silence for over 2 weeks. The media hounded him. He didn't hound tthe media. His hundreds of supporters from accross the country were wending letters to me, the leader, the press and just about anyone else they could think of. All of these supporters were asking the leader to reconsider his decision.

Anyone that is a card-carrying member of this party and has a database of over 25,000 names and addresses that he can tap into is a friend of mine and more than welcome to be called a Liberal. If he was so self-serving as you say, he wouldn't have backed down in favour of Peter McKay. And you my friend should be more than impressed by him. I know I am. And, I know Stephane was during leadership, but caved to Ralphie's ego this time out.

Matt Guerin said...

David could've told his supporters to lay off. But no. I understand him feeling slighted, but he wasn't the first party type to feel such ways. Personally I'm hoping David runs for Joan Beatty's old seat in the Sask legislature as a Liberal, wins it and uses it as a springboard to seek the vacant provincial Liberal leadership. I don't think federal politics are in the cards for him anymore.