There is a panel at the Globe and Mail website on Rebuilding the Liberal Party, with small essays on the subject from Navdeep Bains, Martha Hall Findlay and Bob Rae.
All three mention conducting Leadership races with one-member, one-vote as part of the rebuilding process. Below I’ve republished a cleaned up and slightly fleshed out version of the comment I hurriedly wrote in response. The net net is that while I’m not opposed to reform, a pure one-member, one-vote would be a bad for the party, especially in all the places it needs to grow, namely everywhere outside of Ontario.
One aside – I owe Navdeep an apology. His proposal of one-member, one-vote that “provides equal weight for the ridings” is entirely sensible and I inexcusably lumped him in with those who are proposing a straight up one-member, one-vote system.
One-Member, One Vote?
There is a common thread in Liberal Party members – like the two of the three list above – who call for such a reform to how Liberals elect their leader. Rae, Findlay, (and in other fora, Stronarch) are people whose commitment to public service I deeply respect, but it is worth noting that they all hail from the GTA. One-member one vote, would certainly be a boon for leadership candidates, who like them, are based in the GTA. Indeed, is there a major Liberal from outside of the GTA calling for this reform? I have yet to hear of one.
This debate is precisely what is damaging Liberal prosprects, particularly in the regions. Already restricted to large urban centres – and specifically: Toronto. This proposal would further isolate the party.
The simple fact is any leader and prospective PM needs to enjoy support from across the country and in every riding. A one-member one-vote would create conditions where a single region, or even city, could ultimately decide who leads the party. A prospective candidate could dedicate 80% of their campaign to the GTA and might do quite well – even win. What message would this send to Liberals and Canadians elsewhere?
To win a Canadian election you must win across the country. Our democracy doesn’t function as a one-member, one vote on a national basis, but at the riding level. This was done to ensure that regions and communities would always have a voice at the table. The Liberal leadership process should reflect these values as well.
Should we reform how we select leaders? Absolutely. But one-member one vote is not the only alternative. Preferential voting methods, conducted at the riding level, would be one way to do away with delegates and enable people to vote directly for leaders and yet preserve regional balance and representation.
This is an important discussion – but in the rush to solve one problem it would be a mistake to create a system that would hinder the growth of the party in the very places it is most at risk.