Steelcitygrit [in exile]

Ruminating on all things Canadian and political.


Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Convention 2006 - LET IT BE THE LAST

This is a mostly recycled post about the shortcomings of the delegate convention. I think it merits reposting for two reasons:

- I have considerable bitterness welling up inside of me as it becomes increasingly clear that I won't be attending. Witness my first foray into electoral politics:
a) In the contest I had the best chance to win, I appeared on the ballot as a female. This effectively disqualified me, as far as I can reason. b) Approximately everybody I signed up to support me couldn't vote. I submitted their forms in a block (indirectly) but none of those forms were ever filed. Why not? Where did those people's cash membership fees end up? A mystery for the ages.

- It has been suggested that in one riding in rural Quebec, Bob Rae elected 14 delegates on the power of 2 votes. This is new evidence of just how absurd the delegate convention system is, and how easily it can be manipulated.

So here goes.

We all seem resigned to a leadership convention, and I'm not entirely sure why (other than that the Liberal party has a rep for hanging behind the curve). It's a hell of a fun weekend (or so I've been told *sniff - I haven't been for reasons soon to be discussed). But it is an imperfect institution for a number of reasons.The federal parties have persisted with this restricted-access model for the most part, but the tide is beginning to change.

How is it restrictive?

- priced out of the range of many (including students, retirees on fixed incomes, and others that form that voluntary backbone of the party). Entry fees, accomodation, travel - we're talking 2+ months of Steelcitygrit's rent.

- A single geographic location (or two, or three) is obviously limiting. Extra travelling onus falls on those that already feel removed from the process (Northerners, Maritimers possibly, Westerners possibly). The last thing Canada needs is its federal parties exaggerating regional cleavages.- need to be elected as a delegate

- not the expression of representative democracy it purports to be. It would work, if delegate candidates received support on the basis of who they supported. But we find that this is often not the case. According to Carty et al in Rebuilding Canadian Party Politics: "Data from most recent leadership contests in the federal Liberal and Conservative parties indicate that a substantial majority of convention delegates are chosen for reasons other than their preferred leadership campaign." The most common admitted reason for electing a delegate? "how active a delegate candidate has been in party affairs" (Read: how long have I known him.)

What is the result of all this? An unrepresentative and slanted few deciding for all. This isn't just theory. Carty et al find that "delecates have typically been disproportionately male, well educated, financially well-off, and young."

The process is quietly anti-democratic. This stands alone as reason to re-evaluate conventions.But it isn't the only reason, in this Liberal case particularly. A new process would serve both to bolster flagging morale and heal over riffs. Firstly, it seems obvious to me that a more direct process is one of the best possible ways to revitalize the party membership. The on-the-ground types are given something to get excited about.

Secondly, the convention can skew results in such a way that sows ill will. Given the intense, face-to-face nature of the convention, delegates may be less willing to commit to an outside shot. The delegate is a legitimate personality, and thus has to pay a personal price for commiting herself to a losing candidate (or commiting himself against a winning candidate). While nominally a secret ballot, nothing is truly secret on the convention floor. As a result, one witnesses the Paul Martin leviathan at the last convention eviscerate all competition in a way that doesn't fully reflect the feelings of the absent rank and file. People leave feeling less than satisfied - and we've seen what that can become.

So what are our options? There are no shortage of models to draw from. A US style primary is problematic, but offers some inspiration. The provinces have forged a path such that we may comfortably break from history without risking catastrophe. Perhaps a primary to determine who appears on the convention ballot? Perhaps a pure exercise in direct democracy?This is a worthy debate, regardless of what emerges. As US political scientist (or something) Herbert Kitschelt reminds us, "the way parties conduct their internal life sends a message to voters about what kind of society its activists and leaders aspire to."

My addendum, after witnessing this current race unfold, is that a single first-past-the-post vote may not do. I can see why we don't want someone with 29% support to assume leadership without any consensus building. But why not two ballots, seperated by a couple of weeks? In France, this is how president's are elected. The first vote determines the top two candidates, the second determines the leader. This would allow for two streams of support to coalesce. It's worth a look.


Blogger Zac said...

Mike, I have more bad news for you. At Hamilton-Centre you were listed as "undeclared" on the ballot and were not on the list to vote but were on the list to vote in ADFW. Although, the campaign did manage to get your gender correct on the Hamilton-Centre ballot....

Anyways, I'm probably going as a volunteer. At least I'll be there. You should consider the same.

9:09 AM  
Blogger James Curran said...

Unfortunately, there is a hundred stories like yours. Hopefully, our saviour Belinda comes through with a plan to end all this bull (so she said was her goal on Strombo's show last night).

I agree. You should volunteer.

The What Do I Know Grit

10:18 AM  
Blogger SteelCityGrit said...

Undeclared! That's amazing. So the weight of my personality alone couldn't swing me enough votes. That really hurts.

I'd love to volunteer, but I've also been told that most volunteers are to be alternates. I can't afford that fee. If that's not true then I will go as a volunteer.

10:24 AM  
Blogger Altavistagoogle said...

I agree with much of your post. Being the Devil's advocate, the only arguments in favour of leadershp conventions I can think of is they are potentially cheaper for the candidates.

Although they are certainly more expensive for the delegates (a thousand bucks just to get in!).

10:25 AM  
Blogger Steve said...

Undeclared?! Oh man, ha ha well it's as bad as could go eh?
We should get to the convention.
Sholdice-if you are out there-did you have any success, that is if you ran?

9:00 PM  
Blogger Sholdice said...

I'm going to be there in Montreal as a Kennedy delegate from Queen's.

8:52 AM  
Blogger SteelCityGrit said...

Congrats dice. You were wise to ally yourself with a candidate. I think that was my crucial mistake.

9:19 AM  
Blogger Sholdice said...

I think the convention would be way more exciting if everyone was undeclared.

But you need to be in Montreal no matter what. It will be Hunter S. Thompson-esque.

12:09 PM  
Blogger Steve said...

Yeah, congrats Sholdice. Nice. And Mike that's just your independent spirit burning deep.

1:05 PM  

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