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.