By arthur Weinreb
Wednesday, December 6, 2006
Lost amidst the hoopla of the Liberal Convention in Montreal that saw St�phane Dion come quietly up the middle to win the top job, were the resolutions that were debated and voted upon by the party faithful. One of these resolutions proposed that party leadership conventions be done away with in favour of a one-member, one-vote system of selecting a leader. The resolution was defeated by a narrow vote of 318-299.
There were several arguments against continuing with the present system; holding conventions are expensive and, using the language of the day, are not "inclusive” enough. Since technology is available to allow each member of the Liberal Party to easily cast a vote, the party should allow each and every member the opportunity to vote for the leader. Nonetheless, the reasons for keeping the present system far outweigh its abolition.
To begin with, the issue of money is almost laughable. Since when do political parties care about money? Their entire reason for being is to get into government and spend money like drunken sailors (apologies to all the inebriated sailors out there who at least spend their own money getting drunk). Saving money is perhaps the weakest argument for getting rid of leadership conventions.
The argument to go to direct voting because it is more inclusive is just as spurious. allowing anyone with the $10 to buy a party membership to vote can be too inclusive. It's bad enough when people are brought in to stack nomination meetings; instant Liberals actually having the same power as dedicated party members do in deciding who will next lead the party, is even worse. and the one-person, one-vote system is an invitation for supporters of other political parties to take out a membership and vote for the leader that they think will be the easiest to defeat in the next election. That can be done now but it takes a lot more time and money to do it.
Political conventions such as the one that just transpired are a good way to generate interest at a time when so many Canadians are apathetic about our political system. although most leadership conventions lack the drama of this past one or the Liberal's 1968 convention, nevertheless there was enough excitement generated to attract the interest of some people who would otherwise ignore the voting were it done electronically by party members.
Being elected a delegate and attending a leadership convention is a good reward for the party faithful and it allows them to play an active role in the arm-twisting and negotiations that take place behind the scenes. and that's what politics is all about. It's not much fun to be a loyal party member when the prize is to get to click a mouse in the same way that all instant members do.
Leadership conventions are a good way to highlight not only those who have a realistic chance of being elected but of showcasing those not-yet-ready-for-prime-time players like Gerard Kennedy and Martha Hall Findley who may some day have an opportunity to take the top job. all of this will be lost if the Liberal Party moves to direct voting.
If those that champion the one-member, one-vote system are really sincere about "inclusiveness” and allowing every party member to cast a vote, they should be advocating the abolition of Members of Parliament. What do we need a parliament for anyway? The parties can simply elect a leader and the party leaders run against each other during an election. The winner becomes prime minister and he or she can appoint a cabinet to run the country. They can propose changes and then all Canadian citizens can vote on various motions and legislative changes. after all we keep hearing that we have the technology to allow that. and if Canadians in Nunavut or a fishing village in Newfoundland have a problem at the constituency level they can always send an email to Ottawa. The technology is there folks.
Perhaps the best reason for keeping the convention system of electing leaders is that the one-member, one-vote system is championed by no less than the great political thinker, Belinda Stronach. Stronach has said that she has been in favour of the direct election of leaders for her entire political career that one pundit has pointed out has been since 2004.
Now that's really something to think about.