Saturday, May 14, 2011

On "Opening Up" The Liberal Leadership Process

Steve V has a nice post up on how the LPoC might "open up" its leadership selection process.  He's expanding on earlier columns by Silver and Ibbitson where such "radical" proposals as an open primary for the national leadership, or at least for choosing candidates at the riding level, are discussed.

All these authors argue, essentially: what does the LPoC have to lose?

Well, while all these people at least acknowledge the possibility of a "take-over" of the party by hostile ideological interests, nobody spends much time over it.  Therefore it might be worth noting that in 1998 the Progressive Conservative national  leadership race was indeed targeted by interlopers, who were able to exert a measurable effect upon the outcome. 

Two things happened that year.  Firstly, the PCs opened up their own leadership selection process: $10 and anyone could join the party and cast a ballot for leader.  Secondly, David Orchard decided that he was going  to become a Tory and run in that leadership race.

A couple months in advance of the October vote, emails started going around a number of leftish mailing lists suggesting that people prank the PCs by signing up and backing Orchard.  The point was to throw sand in the gears of the PC machine: if no candidate received 50 per cent plus one of the vote, the whole race would go to an expensive second round, to be held weeks later.  Its hard to tell with these things, but I suspect several hundreds of people joined up for just this purpose.  Several thousands promised to, and since the price to get involved was just two fivers and a walk to your local highschool (I don't think e-voting had been invented yet), I suspect many followed through.  I certainly did.

So here is the October 1998 vote result.  Joe Clark missed the victory mark (but read though the link--this is in points not absolute votes) by less than two percent.  Hey presto, an attempt to "open" a major Canadian political party had been successfully hijacked.

But was the attempt a failure

Hard to say, really.  Orchard himself was sincere enough.  He brought a new crowd into the party with him, and some of those stuck around at least up to its final dissolution.  Orchard himself fought for the PCs existence right to the last stand.  As for the pranksters?  Well, in my own case I continued to read the PC Lit that  I was sent quite dutifully. I might have voted for them one day, as I had voted for the Clark PCs in his first go-round as leader. 

Anyway, before going towards anything as unknown as an open primary, the LPoC might want to look at this old PC model.  Perhaps set the party membership price a little higher to scare off mischief-makers.  Also, the concept of counting "points" over raw votes might be useful.  As far as I can tell, it is meant to insure that ridings with very few party members can still influence the final decision, and so people in those areas have a reason to join up in the first place.  I remember someone (Jeff Jedras I think) telling me that if the LPoC went with a strictly 1 Member 1 vote system, none of the leadership candidates would bother to campaign outside of Toronto.


Unknown said...
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Jack Siegel said...

The existing Liberal leadership model (adopted at the last biennial in Vancouver) is, in fact, a point system. Equal points for each riding assigned on a % of the total direct vote of all members of the riding association.

Membership fees a currently $10.00, coincidentally enough.

bigcitylib said...

Jack, Are You Sure? The link below suggests that the actual leadership vote will be 1 man 1 vote, straight up:

Sir Francis said...

Orchard’s Tory bona fides were pretty sound, actually. He was socially and fiscally conservative and a passionate opponent of the long-gun registry. Those orientations, along with his anti-Bush stance and critical view of globalist free-trade orthodoxy, might have been attractive to quite a few blue Liberals and moderate Dippers.

If Orchard had won the leadership in 2003, he could very well have made the PCs competitive again and done to the Libs in 2004 what the NDP just did to them, whilst also marginalising the Alliance. An opportunity tragically lost, in my view.

Full disclosure: I was an Orchard delegate in ’03. I abstained on the final ballot, for obvious reasons.

Tof KW said...

Sir Francis,

It's sad isn't it, when someone who holds more traditional Disraeli/Churchill/MacDonald views of the Conservative party, is questioned whether to be considered a real Tory or not.

BCL wrote:
"David Orchard decided that he was going to become a Tory and run in that leadership race."

Incorrect, Orchard did not 'decide' to be a Tory. He is the dictionary definition of a Tory, provided it was a volume printed prior to the Mulroney administration.