The federal Tories — and to a lesser degree the Liberals — are having a little trouble with the idea of democracy.
I don’t blame them. No one has ever come up with the perfect democracy. Our first-past-the-post system is kind of a blunt instrument. It doesn’t matter if your candidate gets a pile of votes … unless they come first, they’re not elected.
There’s a growing movement for proportional representation, in which a certain percentage of the vote yields a number of elected candidates, which works fine unless the Wing Nut Party gets 20 per cent of the vote, and you end up with 20 MPs with red noses and big shoes.
Nowhere is democracy more scary and raw than at the constituency level. Want your candidate to get nominated? All you have to do is go around and sign up members, and if you can get enough of them to the nomination meeting, and they vote for your candidate, voila, your candidate is representing the Tories, the Liberals, the NDP, the Greens, etc.
Grassroots democracy. It’s a thing of beauty. Of course, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. And the process is so open and free that upsets happen. Not only that, the system is open to abuse and manipulation. We’ve all heard stories of one-issue candidates busing in the faithful, packing meetings, and overwhelming the incumbent with a show of force. Too bad — that’s democracy, Jack.
Well, the Tories are going to put a cork in democracy by implementing new rules that favour incumbents. If you are one of the 143 who managed to get elected last time, you’ll be sitting pretty; you will be acclaimed as your riding’s candidate unless two-thirds of the members want an open nomination.
Granted, the party will send the reforms to a vote, and anyone who was a Tory member as of March 10 will be eligible. But it’s the principle of the thing … accountability is a cornerstone of democracy, and if MPs aren’t accountable to members of their own riding associations, the people who recruited and nominated them in the first place, they will end up being more accountable to the Boss, the Right Honourable Stephen Joseph Harper, as if he doesn’t already have enough power over his merry band.
The Tories aren’t the only ones offering their MPs a measure of protection. If Michael Ignatieff’s 77 Liberals want to be protected from nomination battles they will have to meet membership and donations standards that should be pretty easy to hit: 400 members and 40 “Victory Fund” donors who give $10 a month. The NDP is the last bastion of free and open nomination battles among the Big Three: No protection — period — for its no doubt uneasy 37 MPs.
– Paul Sullivan is a Vancouver-based journalist and owner of Sullivan Media Consulting;