Wednesday, October 22, 2008

A Thousand Times No

There are many out there right now who think that the real problem with the Liberal Party is the method by which we choose our leader. The argument goes that it was the backroom deals on the convention floor that gave our party Stephane Dion and therefore if we eliminate convention floor, all will be right with the world. What most of these people advocate for is a one-member-one vote system. While this may sound lovely, it is in fact a recipe for disaster. The problem with one-member-one-vote systems is that they allow the candidate who can sign up a bunch of instant members the chance to win without any support from the people in the party who actually do the heavy lifting and know something about running a political party. This is, in large measure, how John Tory became the leader of the Progressive Conservatives in Ontario. You think we've got leadership issues. The system by which we elect a leader is transparent and effective. Members vote for the leadership candidate of their choice and then for the delegate candidates that they feel are most qualified to represent them at the convention. These delegates are bound to vote as they had promised on the first ballot. After that, they are free to make a decision as to who they should support. The rest of the delegates are all the candidates from the last election plus all the presidents of the local riding associations plus a few other party higher ups (senators, former cabinet ministers, premiers, executive members etc.). These people, the people who will be doing a large share (although there are plenty of hardworking Liberals who don't go to conventions) of the heavy lifting come election time, choose who will become leader of the Liberal Party of Canada. We don't just hand the crown to the person who signs up a ton of members in one riding. The system ensures that our party will elect a leader that the entire party from coast to coast to coast is comfortable with and that has the support of real Liberals not just instant Liberals.

This system is similar to the system employed in the United States (which was praised by many Canadian pundits for generating excitement about politics just a few months ago) except that our system eliminates the stupid "first in the nation primary" BS by having all of the delegate selection meetings over one weekend. We also do the entire selection process over one weekend unike most states which vote based on candidate choice and then have a state-wide convention to pick the delegates.

Side Note: Anyone thought about who the ex-officio candidate delegate for Central Nova will be? Will they be short a delegate relative to the rest of the country? Will they go back to the 2006 candidate? Or will we give the spot to the person who Liberals in Central Nova were told to vote for in the last election, Elizabeth May? Just asking.


Scott Tribe said...

It's very simple to stop vote-rigging, Aaron. You simply have a cut-off date whereby no new members signed up after a certain date (say, the last federal election prior to the current Leadership Convention) can vote for the leader.

That way, only the most current LPC members can vote for the leadership candidates, and you wont have a bunch or a binge of "insta-Liberals" joining for the express purposes of voting for one particular candidate.

Lycan Stark said...

Yes, Liberal Party. Continue exactly as you have been when selecting leaders. There is absolutley no need to change. :)

Aaron Ginsberg said...

Scott, while I object to instant Liberals choosing a party leader I also object to having the leadership process be completely closed. There are people in this riding, and I'm sure ridings across the country, that volunteered for the Liberals in the last election and are not card-carrying Liberals. Leadership or no leadership, my intent was to get these people signed up. I don't think they should be excluded just because they didn't sign up before the election finished. The last election is also a poor standard for better times. For instance, it would have made little sense in 2003 to have the membership cut-off as Election Day 2000. You could choose the announcement of the formal leadership race but I really think that there is an opportunity when choosing a new leader, to bring fresh blood into the party. That's why I do think that signing up new members should be part of the process. It's just a matter of making sure that it isn't the entire process.

Lycan, if the leadership selection process was the biggest problem that the LPC had, I'd be a lot more optimistic about the future. This process is similar to the one that's been used for decades. It has selected both successful and unsuccessful leaders. It is the process, with the exceptions noted in my post, that selected both Barack Obama and John McCain. So it will select the winner down south. Given the political climate in this country in the freakishly warm winter of 2006/07, Stephane Dion looked like a good pick. Remember that the carbon tax idea was Ignatieff's not Dion's at that point. Ironically, there were few in the party or in the media who questioned M. Dion's ability to communicate effectively in English. The process didn't fail. Gerard Kennedy didn't push us off a cliff. Over 50% of the delegates voted for Dion, including most of Bob Rae's third ballot delegates. We, as a party, made a mistake. People make mistakes. The mistake was in our reading of the national mood and the abilities of M. Dion to persuade the Canadian people of his abilities. That has nothing to do with the method by which we selected him.

Anonymous said...

"The problem with one-member-one-vote systems is that they allow the candidate who can sign up a bunch of instant members the chance to win without any support from the people in the party who actually do the heavy lifting and know something about running a political party."

Who do you think will organize the signing up of all these new members? The candidate?

John Tory only had Ontario. We will have all of Canada to draw votes from. And to do that you'll need thousands upon thousands of liberals to organize for the candidates.

One-member-one vote will bring far more people into the party then the delegate system. Also I know first hand this delegate system was severely abused in the last race of which I will expose shortly.


Anonymous said...

"This is, in large measure, how John Tory became the leader of the Progressive Conservatives in Ontario."

And the delegate system is how the (former) Progressive Conservative Party of Canada picked Joe Clark as a leader. TWICE.

MississaugaPeter said...

"The argument goes that it was the backroom deals on the convention floor that gave our party Stephane Dion and therefore if we eliminate convention floor, all will be right with the world."

These same morons who use this argument for why their man (Iggy or Rae) lost, are at it again.

Rae-backing Yappa Ding Ding states:

"Even worse, the Dion/Kennedy camps used the strategy of demonizing insiders to discredit the more experienced camps supporting Rae and Ignatieff."

They just don't get it. The reason that Iggy and Rae did not win is because the majority of delegates did not want either one of them. If they keep up these comments, they will again alienate grassroots Liberals, and find again, that their man is not leader.

Anonymous said...

Very well said Missisauga Peter!

Aиthoиy said...

I hope this doesn’t seem disorganized; I’d just like to respond to you, Aaron, point by point.

The primary argument is not about getting rid of the backroom deals; it’s more of a pragmatic argument—give the party members a stake in the party and they will contribute more money. This is a new era of party financing regulations and the Liberals have refused to adapt. The money can’t come from the banks and other corporations anymore; it has to come from the grassroots members of the party.

The problem of the instant members: How is this any different than a general election? The candidate who can get the most people to the polls wins. People who show up to vote don’t always know what they’re doing but we don’t (a) demand that they show they’re politically educated Canadians nor do we (b) consequently, delegate the task of electing our MPs to the “heavy lifters”. Also keep in mind that the candidate who is able to sign up the most members will have shown that he/she is able to do something which is invaluable to a political party: show that he/she has the organizational capacity and/or the appeal to get people to mark an X beside his/her name. It sounds sad, but winning is ultimately what’s important, pragmatically speaking. The system is terribly imperfect. We call it democracy.

And what about the delegates? Who are these delegates? For the most part we don’t know who they are even if we play close attention to Canadian and local politics. Even if we do know them—and I have know some of them—I scarcely see why their opinion about who the leader should be is any more valuable than mine (or any member’s). Also keep in mind that these delegates are individuals who are able to bear the cost of attending a convention. If you can’t afford the time or money to become a delegate, you’re not going to be one. This seems to be an absurd qualification for having the privilege to elect the leader.

And what about the “super delegates”? Why do these individuals need these powers? It’s not their party. The party belongs to the members. Without the members there’s no party and no election can ever be won. But again, back to my original point, giving these individuals these powers just reinforces the elitism of the party. A party which is seen to be elite-driven cannot succeed in this new era of party finance laws.

Ultimately, we have to look at this through a pragmatic lens. Give the members of the party control of the party or they won’t feel compelled to fund it. This was Liberal legislation after all. The Conservatives have adopted and have raised more than double the money the Liberals have since 2004. It’s time for the Liberals to catch up. Allowing the membership of the party to choose the next leader seems like an obvious first move.

Aaron Ginsberg said...

Thank you for your comment Anthony. I still respectfully disagree. One of my principal objections to one-member-one-vote is that it turns the process an exercise in talking to people in ridings that have already voted for you. It's going to be a lot easier to find new Liberals to sign up in Toronto than it will be in Alberta. However, if this party want to get elected, having a membership list 3,000 names long in Toronto-Centre or St. Laurent-Cartierville doesn't do us any good. The current system, which guarantees equal voice to every riding regardless of Liberal support, makes it more likely that the leader who emerges from the process will have a message which will work not only in held ridings, but in unheld ridings. CG has an excellent post today on rebuilding the party, and he notes the ridiculously large number of ridings we are simply uncompetitive in.

It also remains important to have a check on popular vote for a leadership race. A delegated convention makes it harder for an individual with malicious intent to have influence. If a Conservative or Dipper wanted to influence our leadership race, it would be a lot easier for them to do so under a one-member-one-vote system. I do agree that delegate fees should be lowered and more accommodation should be given to Liberals who are elected delegates but simply do not have the finances to attend the convention.

Scott, as I explained above, if I were running in a one-member-one-vote leadership race I would focus all my efforts in the GTA and the island of Montreal. Without spending copious amounts money on travel, I could sign up thousands of new Liberals and win. The candidate who spent his time signing up 10 members in Crowfoot and 7 in Medicine Hat would lose and lose badly. At the end of the day, my efforts would be a lot less useful to actually forming a Liberal government than the guy who went out and talked to people who didn't vote for us last time out.

Were there abuses at the last leadership convention? Probably. No matter what the system is, it will be abused. If you know of loopholes that were abused, we should be doing our best to close those loopholes. Unless you can demonstrate to me that the abuses were a systemic flaw, they don't require a systemic change.

Aиthoиy said...

That is a potential problem Aaron, you're right. The solution is simple: in fact, it's already being used--by the Conservatives! Simply weight each riding equally (100 points). If a candidate wants to focus solely on signing up members in Toronto and Montreal, he may win those ridings, but they would only be worth 100 points each (regardless of how many people were signed up). Crowfoot would also be worth 100 points, so there would certainly be an incentive to sign up new members in weak ridings.

The only problem with this method is that the value of votes is not perfectly proportionate--a member in Crowfoot has more sway than a member in Toronto-Centre. However, that's the system we have now anyway, the only difference being that with this new system, each vote counts (and cannot be overridden/ignored by a delegate's decision).

As for voters with malicious intent swaying the results, it's extremely unlikely. There have actually been studies done on this (in the US and possibly in Canada as well) and they've found that people simply don't bother doing this, at least not in significant enough numbers to fix the outcome (I'd have to look for the reference, as I don't know it offhand). Besides, it's not permissible to belong to more than one federal party at once. (You might argue that this won't stop people, but by that logic, what's to really stop people from voting multiple times in an election?--it can certainly be done, though it's illegal).

I'm not claiming that there have been "abuses" at the last convention. The system is just arbitrary, elitist, and undemocratic...that's all. Delegates act within the rules. The rules are what's at issue.

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