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. Recommend this Post