Thursday, May 08, 2008

Primary Systems

The At Issue panel on The National tonight was comparing the primary systems of Canada and the United States. The panel stressed how the system in the United States is very different from the one in Canada, which is true. However, the panel, which praised the American system, ignored the similarities between the system the Liberal Party of Canada has used in the last two leadership races and the American model. Hebert claimed the Tories were close, which is false as anyone who knows anything about the delegate selection method used in the United States knows, it is not one member one vote, it's well, delegated. Under the Tory system, states with small number of registered democrats like, say, Indiana, would have a disproportionately small say in the race. While the Republicans do reward Republican voting patterns it is not based on the number of registered Republicans.

Both Systems:
  • hold elections to elect delegates to a national convention
  • both select those delegates at regional meetings (state level in US; riding level for the grits)
  • assign delegates to different regions based on population (the Republicans modify this slightly by rewarding Republican states but the base-line remains rep by pop)
  • make it so that elected delegates are pledged to a certain candidate for the first round of voting at the convention
  • generate large fields in races with no clear front runner which narrow as the race progresses
There are three major differences. The first, is party membership. In the United States, party membership is cost-free and voters have the option to register with a certain party when they register to vote. In Canada, there is a small cost and party membership is not available through elections Canada. The American system is largely a product of, and perpetuater of a closed two party system where political parties (as organizations) have more power. This is largely beyond the control of Canada's political parties and is not something they can consider when setting their leadership rules. The second, which is also beyond the control of parties, is timing. The Democratic and Republican parties have no leader. Every four years they nominate a candidate for President. Voters and politicians understand that the primary process will happen at a certain time, and if both parties finish in a reasonable amount of time (*cough Hilary Clinton cough*), the primary process will have no impact upon the general election outside of deciding a candidate and possibly airing some dirty laundry. By contrast, a party without a leader in Canada is in a bind. A party cannot afford to not have a leader for the almost 18 months that the American race has lasted. The last Liberal leadership race was maligned by party insiders and the media alike for being excessively long at 10 months. Because of the fusion of powers in the Canadian system, a leader is much more important to the party than a presidential nominee. In fact, the government of the United States has functioned with almost no regard to the race. In Canada, a leaderless party, particularly if it is in government or the chief opposition changes the nature of parliament. Finally, the third major difference between the American system and the LPC system is that in the US the primaries and caucuses are staggered over months while the LPC does it over a weekend. Once again, time considerations come into play. However, I applaud the LPC for not making the leadership about pandering to local constituencies and hate the fact that ethanol and farm subsidies are major issues every four years because Iowans vote first.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I dont think primaries, if they had it in Canada, would be 18 months anyways. The US have 50 states, we do not even have half as many provinces. Of course Detriot and Florida were excluded for the Dems. but still, they still had voting there. Therefore, chances are that primaries in Canada would not take as long as primaries in the United States. That super weekend we have here might as well be a super tuesday because usually people are signed up just to vote anyways, gathered by some leadership candidate. Both systems have their downfall.

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