|Former Liberal Leader Dalton McGuinty|
Ontario Liberals meet this weekend in Hamilton for their 2023 Annual General Meeting to again consider whether to open up and reform their party's leadership process to end archaic delegated conventions and bring in a Weighted One Member One Vote system for electing the leader.
The Ontario Liberals currently use delegated conventions to
finalize their leadership races. Most party members vote only at local
election meetings where they elect 16 delegates per riding to those
conventions, who promise to support certain leadership candidates at the
convention on the first ballot. (They are free to vote how they wish after that.) The leadership candidate who wins over 50%
support on a ballot at the convention wins the leadership.
In practise, these conventions tend to be intense pressure cookers where secret backroom deals made between losing candidates and those still in the race along with their senior advisors tend to determine the outcome. Losing candidates often cross the floor in dramatic fashion to endorse another candidate who may have secretly offered them a future senior cabinet position. Delegates tend to follow their leaders like sheep until one winner emerges. It's a little sleazy, elitist and outdated.
What is Weighted One Member One Vote?
One Member One Vote, or Direct Vote, would give all party members a
preferential ballot which would allow them to directly elect the leader
rather than leave it up to a group of party delegates at a convention.
Each riding would receive 100 points, which would be divided up based
on the percentage of the votes won by each leadership candidate from
members in those ridings. Provincial counts of members' ballot
preferences would be counted until one leadership candidate receives
over 50% of the points and wins the leadership.
I view this change as crucial for the party's reform and re-engagement with the grassroots. Delegated conventions are only typically attended by about 5% of party members. The other 95% of members are forced to watch from the sidelines as the biggest decision the party can make - who leads it - is left up to an elite group of delegates as well as ex-officio party operators who don't even have to declare how they're voting.
Some proponents of the status quo have been arguing lately one reason to keep delegated conventions is they believe Dalton McGuinty, the esteemed former Liberal leader who won a delegated convention in 1996 and eventually became premier and led a progressive government from 2003 to 2012, would never have been able to win a Weighted One Member One Vote leadership election.
Nonsense, I say! First, these folks must've seen the recent movie hit Everything Everywhere All At Once a few too many times as they're now claiming they can jump back and forth through time, into alternate realities and make claims they know what would've happened had history been different.
No one can know how the 1996 leadership race would've turned out had it been fought with a Weighted One Member One Vote system.
But I'd like to suggest in fact it's very possible that Dalton McGuinty would've won that race too, had it been fought under the system that Ontario Liberals are considering this weekend.
Let's go back to 1996 and review our history:
Going into that delegated convention, Gerard Kennedy led with about 28% of the vote, but he was considered a flawed frontrunner with limited growth potential. Dalton McGuinty, Joe Cordiano, and Dwight Duncan were all clumped very close to each other in second place. Further back, John Gerretsen and Annamarie Castrilli trailed with about 10% each. Greg Kells had about 1% support.
Leadership candidates change their behaviour based on the rules and how the race is played.
In 1996, Gerretsen and Castrilli made the decisions to endorse McGuinty after the second ballot, which was crucial for McGuinty's momentum to move up and eventually win.
But with a preferential ballot system, as we've seen in other jurisdictions where they already exist, candidates can announce their second preferences, or their campaigns can encourage their supporters to give their second choice to particular candidates before the vote is finished. Considering that Gerretsen and Castrilli did both endorse McGuinty, it's possible they or their campaigns might've told their supporters to mark Dalton McGuinty as their second choices on their preferential ballots.
Since McGuinty was very much in the second place tier of candidates, those second preferences would've pushed him up considerably over subsequent counts. And considering Kennedy's weak growth, I suggest that McGuinty could've easily been able to beat him.
Of course, like I said, this is conjecture. No one can know what would've happened in 1996 with a Weighted One Member One Vote system.
But considering the facts I've outlined above, I do believe it's very likely Dalton would've pulled off a similar victory with the overall membership too under Weighted One Member One Vote.
For some Liberals, that point may be important to note, as many consider the progressive reforms McGuinty brought in like phasing out coal, instituting the Greenbelt and many other policies as deeply important. I'd like to tell those Liberals that I do believe McGuinty would've won the leadership under either system.