Friday, May 27, 2005

Of nomination battles, religion, ethnicity and the structure of political parties

Today's Globe and Mail bears an article boldly claiming Christian activists capturing Tory races. This has prompted me to muse somewhat about our current process for determining who runs in an election.

Let's get one thing clear first. I stopped using "Tory" to describe the Conservative Party when they dropped the Progressive from their name, and I think this is part of the current image problem. They're seen as Reformers/C-CRAPers, and with good cause. Using "Tory" because it is four letters long and fits better in a headline is a bad idea.

With that little aside out of the way, it seems to me that Canadian politics is rapidly approaching a turning point in terms of how political parties are conceived of (and all of what follows may become irrelevant if we move to proportional representation, which may just sort out these issues on its own). For some reason, both the Conservative Party and the current incarnation of the Liberal party are loathe to place any restrictions on a) who can become a member, and b) who their leader will sign the nomination papers for. Last election saw a number of sitting MPS bumped from the party nomination by well-orchestrated membership drives in their riding, usually among a select interest group (as the allegations go, Indo-Canadians in Surrey North - for which Harper must have been unhappy last week, and Martin supporters in Hamilton East, among other Liberal ridings).

There does not appear to be any enforceable membership criteria for joining an existing political party, which theoretically means that if they wanted to, the entire membership of the Liberal party could temporarilly give up their existing party memberhips, take out NDP memberships, take over the party, and shut it down or force it to adopt an extremist party platform. I'm surprised that parties allow such an open door membership policy. I suppose it permits the party to adopt the image of being open to change, but it also means that they cannot exclude those who hurt the image, progressive or otherwise, they want to put forth (I'm looking at you, Dan McTeague, Tom Wappel, Roger Gallaway...)

I think at some point in the near future, political parties are going to have to start exercising some real control over their membership, and certainly over the nomination process for who will run under their banner in an election. Some vetting of prospective members, to see if they actually agree with a party's ideals, is needed (although some claim that neither the Liberals nor Conservatives firmly stand for anything, which is another post altogether). It is not as if a new political party could not be formed from like minded citizens who did not agree with the current policies of an existing party - that's how we got the Reform Party. A move to proportional representation would, as I mentioned above, facilitate this process.

I am, however, ambivalent about the rise of single-interest candidates. For now, they seem limited to the Conservative party, and each anti-abortion, anti-same-sex-marriage candidate they allow to run makes it that much easier for the Liberals and NDP to paint them as extremist. This is a good thing in my books. But this could just as easilly spill over into the other parties, and more seriously, actually start a trend of Canadians voting for a candidate on the basis of a single pet issue, which is bound to fragment the country further.

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At 10:03 am, Blogger Idealistic Pragmatist said...

I suspect that there are also quite a number of single-issue candidates running for the Green Party. (Not to mention the Marijuana Party. :-)

At 3:47 pm, Anonymous koby said...

Former Conservative MP Ted White addressed the issue in Late 2001.

"As one of the very early members of the Reform Party I was anxious, as were a lot of those other early members, to find a way to address this problem. We tried to formulate a solution in policies designed to make MPs directly accountable to their constituents through citizens' initiatives, referendums, and recall.

In practical terms though, as we later discovered, controlling the power of the Leader is essential if MPs are going to be free to accurately represent their constituencies in a truly democratic fashion.

The Reform Party did adopt a very important, but little known, restriction on the power of the Leader, and it has worked well in terms of encouraging free votes by Reform, and now C.A., MPs. This control of the Leader did not, however, come without an internal struggle.

That struggle occurred back in 1988, when a very controversial and colourful columnist, the late Doug Collins, was chosen by the West Vancouver Reform Party Association to be their candidate for the 1988 election.

The Constitution of the Reform Party gave the sole right to choose a candidate to the members of the local association. This rule had been included in the Constitution in order to prevent the Leader, or the Party administration, from parachuting in candidates or from directing the Association whom to choose.

The Leader of the Party at the time though, Preston Manning, was unhappy with the choice and announced that he would not sign the candidate nomination papers unless Doug agreed to a set of conditions in writing related to his controversial views. Doug refused, so his papers were never signed, and a new candidate had to be chosen.

The local Riding Association was furious with Preston and made sure that Party members across the country recognized the Collins incident as highlighting a problem in the Party structure which we had not foreseen.

I should make note at this time that under the provisions of the Canada Elections Act the Leader IS required to sign a candidate's nomination papers, so in a traditional party structure the Leader has absolute control over who becomes a candidate.

In the Reform Party though, a resolution was put forward at the Party convention following the Collins nomination. That resolution was adopted and changed the Party Constitution so that the Leader could not refuse to sign the nomination papers of any candidate who had been endorsed by a majority of National Council, which is the elected body of party members who are responsible for the running of the Party.

I have to say that this part of the Constitution has turned out to be somewhat empowering for incumbent Reform and C.A. MPs."

Collins, by the way, is perhaps best remembered for a column entitled "Hollywood Propaganda". Having first admitted that he had not seen the film, Collins referred to Schindler’s List as "Swindler's List" and said of the film that it was an example of "hate literature in the form of [a] film…." According to Collins, the holocaust, and he puts the word in quotation marks, is “not only the longest lasting but also the most effective propaganda exercise ever.” To buttress this claim, Collins said this: “Only one critic has described Spielberg's effort as three hours of propaganda. He was with the Jewish-owned New York Times. Good for him. And them. The exception that proves the rule.”

Collins was called before the Human rights tribual and White testified on his for him.


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