Tag Archives: party elections

Democracy vs. Gender: The Liberal Solution

Dion’s most notable promise of the leadership race was guaranteeing that at least 33% of Liberal Party candidates will be women. This is a laudable goal. Moreover, I suspect the press will follow it closely. If the Liberals fail to reach it Dion’s credibility could be seriously undermined. It is would not be unreasonable to ask: if Dion can’t implement change within a party he controls, how does he intend to affect change if in government?

Some people are – justly – worried about how the goal will be met. Obviously there is a tension between allowing open and democratic nomination contests and ensuring that at least 33% of candidates are women. The easiest option would be to appoint female candidates. This however, carries with it some significant costs. In addition to being bad for morale, disenfranchised riding associations may not donate their time, energy and money to an appointed candidate (male or female) thereby diminishing their chances of winning the actual election.

However, what I have seen in British Columbia (so far) has been an interesting and compelling solution to this quandry. Rather than rig nomination processes (or eliminate them altogether) the party is making two smart plays. First, it is aggresively seeking out highly qualified women in an effort to create a rich pool of candidates. Second, (and this is most compelling part) it is making a direct appeal to members. It is, in effect, saying: when selecting who to support we understand that each of you has a criteria by which you evaluate candidates, we would greatly appreciate it if you made gender a stronger component in this criteria. Interestingly, this appeal could be doubly effective because membership lists may remain closed. Consequently, those campaigning for nomination will probably not be able to sign up new members and with thus have to appeal to the current pool of members (who are more likely to take this messaging to heart).

Best of all, I like what this messaging says about the party. Rather than adopt some centralized top-down way to shape and control the outcome this approach is compelling, appropriate and democratic because it does the exact opposite, it respects and appeals to the intelligence and integrity of party members. Very clever, and very liberal, indeed.

[tags]politics, canadian politics, liberal party of canada [/tags]

Third Party Monitoring of internal Elections (cont.)

Okay, so not to talk about my pet peeve again but I can’t help it after running into an old friend at one of the party’s this evening (and yes he was crashing it). He mentioned in passing how he’d been to a conservative party convention as a volunteer with one of the big four audit firms (I believe it was Deloitte). His job with the Deloitte team? To help monitor and facilitate the party’s internal elections and voting process! Better yet, apparently he and the whole Deloitte team had been operating as volunteers. Some of you will recall from a previous post how LPC President Michael Eizenga’s main concern with my question about having third parties monitor internal elections was that the cost would be prohibitive… good to know we can strike down that obstacle.

More on this in the future.

Transparency around organizational elections

Went to the Liberal Party homepage today to join the online dialogue on Liberal Party Reform with Liberal Party President Michael Eizenga and National Director Steven MacKinnon. The good news: this was a great example of how the party can reach out to members to discuss basic issues, like reforming the constitution. The bad news: the party still doesn’t understand the internet. Nowhere on the dialogue webpage, or on the press release announcing it, was there a link to the proposed constitution or the Red Ribbon report. After some brief searching I found the Red Ribbon Report but the proposed constitution remains elusive…

I seized on the dialogue to grind my favourite axe: internal party elections.

Me: “One issue that turns people off political parties is the selection process for party officials and candidates. Anytime an organization elects officials it risk creating a conflict of interest (real or perceived) that those currently elected will use their influence to ensure they, or their allies, are (re)elected. One need only look at the BC executive elections (which seem to be held in obscure locations and at awkward times) or the Vancouver-Kingsway nomination process (which has damaged the party’s reputation in that riding and across the city) to see how this issue has negatively impacted the party.

Why not have third party outsiders, such as a Deloitte or Elections Canada, monitor our internal elections. Numerous organizations – Mountain Equipment Co-op, the Canadian Wheat Board, and many large companies – do just this. Why not the Liberal Party?”

Eizenga: It is often true that some of the toughest election battles can occur within any organization – but especially a political body. Supporters on all sides bring all their campaign experience to bear, and give it their best volunteer effort. Importantly, most will always look to bringing people together after an internal election and ensuring that we are together to fight other political parties come a general election or by-election.

Although there have been problems, these really are exceptions and in most cases, I can say that our party officials conduct themselves in a neutral and highly competent fashion. For the current leadership process as well as the election readiness process, for example, we have required all party officials to sign declarations of neutrality.

I would be concerned about the cost of outsiders running our processes (keeping in mind that increasingly Elections Canada is involved by virtue of its rules now applying to certain aspects of nomination races) and would hope that the party itself could address any abuses.

I do know that we have some very good volunteers who are always there to assist in our internal election processes. We need only to look to Sukh Dhaliwal’s nomination in Newton North Delta, where over 6,000 people voted on the day, to know we have capacity to do the job ourselves.

I’m still digesting this response. I recognize the costs may be prohibitive, particularly if it were run by elections Canada. However, I’m not advocating that we involve third parties in every internal election, it might be ideal to limit it to Provincial Executive and Party Leadership elections. Nor does the fact that the problem is the exception and not the rule minimize its importance – it only takes one or two bad experiences to turn members, not to mention the public, off of a party. Food for thought nonetheless. Any volunteer driven entity, be it an open-source community, charity or political party, needs to constantly renew the trust of its members, otherwise they will leave. I’m increasingly certain that complete transparency is the most important prerequisite to maintaining that trust. I’m open to the possibility that third party elections are not the way forward, but any alternative must achieve this bar of greater transparency. If not, people will walk.

Liberal Leadership

Over the last two weeks I’ve had a chance to see a number of the candidates in action and thought I share this analysis on the leadership race. I was also prompted by this fun link Rikia S sent me which outlines the current betting odds on the candidates. Of course, before beginning, my standard disclaimer on the Leadership race applies: Anything can happen and predicting this thing, even remotely, is an impossibility. But isn’t that what makes it fun to observer and participate in?

First let’s look at Kennedy, with whom I’ve come to like more and more. I first ran into Kennedy at the Public Policy Forum Banquet in Toronto back on April 6th and he seemed almost shy (to be fair it was a big night for Bob Rae). However, I recently saw him speak, along with Martha Hall Findlay, at the Progressive North Forum and was struck by his (and Martha’s) passion for party renewal. He was also receptive towards the current bee in my bonnet: getting the party to solicit neutral outsiders such as Deloitte or Elections Canada to run internal elections (more on this in the future). Obviously, Kennedy’s key challenge is his inability to communicate with sufficient effectiveness in French. A lot of Liberals are worried about our prospects in Quebec so I imagine that for many delegates, no matter how attractive Kennedy is, this issue is a dealbreaker. That makes Kennedy a long shot.

Of the remaining viable candidates, I confess knowing the least about Dion. However, if there is going to be a dark horse, it is going to be Dion (something confirmed in my mind by today’s EKOS poll cited in the Toronto Star). If he can deliver a rousing speech at the conference then Dion may capture delegates nervous about Rae and Ignatieff. The problem for Dion is that he’s got to capture A LOT of delegates. Still more problematically, delegates don’t follow leaders the way they used to, so even if Kennedy threw his support behind Rae, he still has a big hill to climb.

(For full disclosure I’ve done some policy work on the Ignatieff campaign). Ignatieff delegates number puts him in a strong position. But he has taken a serious pounding in the press of late. The good part of this is that, based on some of the speeches he’s given, he appears to have learned a lot from the process – exactly what a leadership race should do. Prospective Iggy delegates are going to ask themselves two questions: has he learned enough that he is ready to lead, and do I like enough of what he says (on the environment, foreign policy, rural-urban divide, nation in a nation) to counterbalance that which I don’t like (foreign policy, nation in a nation). The bad news for Ignatieff is that he may have to work harder then some of the other candidates to grow. The good news is that he comes into the convention with a lead and so needs to grow less. As Paul Wells pointed out quite some time ago, Ignatieff only has to siphon off 1 in 4 delegates from other candidates to win. That may be harder for him to accomplish today then when Well’s wrote it, but it is not impossible. This is still a race between Ignatieff and Rae.

At that same conference I mentioned above I also shared a panel with Bob Rae. I’ve seen Rae give speeches before but this was first time I’ve observed and engaged him in conversation. The man is clearly the most polished politician among the contenders. His capacity to absorb, dissect and pick apart an argument is everything it is cracked up to be. Regardless of the outcome I’m glad he’s onboard, minds like his can only make the party stronger. Indeed, hanging out with Andrew M. yesterday reminded me of how much crow I’m having to eat about Rae. Given Rae’s history I thought he would be a tough sell in Ontario (he still has a lot of work to do) and that members would be more likely to opt for someone else. It looks like I could not have been more wrong. Rae has avoided the pounding in the press Ignatieff’s received (indeed the G&M’s critical Editorial of him was basically laudatory) but has not been ignored (like Kennedy or Dion). Consequently, for the other candidate, Rae may now be the man to beat – his baggage does not (so far) seem to be weighing him down, he’s fluently bilingual, he’s the most polished and he’s working from a good base.

All this means that the convention will be a rip roaring good time… and that the speeches between ballots will be hyper-important. You will have throngs of delegates looking to be inspired and persuaded – the candidate able to capture that energy is going to have a decisive advantage.

[tags]canadian politics, liberal leadership[/tags]