Monday, June 18, 2012

Electoral Co-operation and a New Kind of Liberal Leadership Contest

Of all of the things which have been on my mind over the past few weeks, tonight I find myself writing about the Liberal Leadership campaign. Why on Earth do I think that’s important enough for a blog post, when there are no announced candidates, and the vote won’t be held until next spring? I’m not even a member of the Liberal Party.

Well, frankly, what happens with the Liberal leadership contest is important to me, as a Canadian, as former member of the Liberal Party of Canada, and as a current member of the Green Party of Canada. Events which have transpired over the past week have meant that the Liberal leadership race is going to start to get very interesting. First, the Party changed its rules in order to allow Interim Leader Bob Rae to run for the leadership. And then Bob Rae announced that he would stay on as Interim Leader and not run, but he didn’t clearly state why he came to that decision. The political pundits had a field day with his announcement.

With Bob Rae out of the contest, the race to become the next leader of the Liberals is on, and frankly rather wide open. Justin Trudeau hasn’t declared one way or the other, but the pressure will be on him now to jump in. Marc Garneau and Dominic Leblanc are two other MP’s currently sitting in the House who have expressed an interest in becoming the next Leader. And Martha Hall-Findlay and Gerard Kennedy, both of whom challenged for the Leadership in 2006, may be back again.

But why do I think it’s important for Canadians and Greens to pay attention to a race which hasn’t even started yet? Well, tonight I’m spending a few moments to craft this blog entry, as I’m inspired by a few items which I’ve stumbled across this evening.

Electoral Co-Operation

First, this excellent editorial from Tim Harper appeared in today’s Toronto Star (“Liberal leadership race needs a co-operation candidate”, Toronto Star, June 18 2012). Harper argues that a Nathan Cullen-like candidate who promotes electoral co-operation or an outright merger needs to be a part of any serious Liberal leadership race. What can I say other than I agree whole-heartedly with this sentiment, as did a significant number of NDP members (and not just those who endorsed Cullen either).

Credit has to go to Nathan Cullen as the elected Member of Parliament who kicked off the conversation about the need for the NDP, Liberals and Greens to get their (our) act together in time for the 2015 election, in order to oppose the ruling Conservatives. Cullen proposed that in those ridings held by Conservative MP’s, the NDP, Liberals and Greens jointly nominate a single candidate to take on the Conservatives. I’m not certain that I found myself in complete agreement with Cullen’s proposal (in fact, I think that it such an agreement was to be made between the three parties, it likely should be broader in scope; but, I’m also not completely sold on the notion of depriving voters the opportunity to vote for a Party of their choice. Although I did really like the idea of a joint nomination process for local candidates). But kudos to Cullen and many NDP members who want to put the interests of Canada ahead of the interests of their own Party.

Over time, I think its fair to say that I have started becoming a convert to the notion that it may be necessary to co-operate with the NDP in the 2015 election. As a former Liberal, I’ve always been very aware of the policy short-comings of the Liberal Party, but I’ve also had a pretty good feel for its strengths, and I think it’s fair to say that I’ve been much more comfortable with the Liberal policies than I have been with the NDP. Don’t misunderstand me: I think that both the Liberals and the NDP have a lot of policies which would be good for Canada. And I think that they’ve got a number of things wrong, too. But the NDP’s policies on a number of (important to me) environmental initiatives would be, in my opinion, quite dangerous if they were ever to be implemented.

However, I can’t help but acknowledge that the Conservatives are proving to be disastrous for Canada’s future, and after witnessing the completely unaccountable and undemocratic passage of Bill C-38, I guess it’s fair to say that my own priorities have started to shift from creating the Canada that we need for the future to trying to save the Canada that we have today. In short, Stephen Harper must be stopped before the Conservatives transform Canada into something unrecognizable. If that means that I’ll have to put away my partisan banners and flags for a while and work with the NDP, so be it.

Of course, the NDP has to want to work with the other parties. I appreciate that NDP Leader Tom Mulcair has a lot on his plate right now in terms of establishing himself as a Prime Minister-in-waiting. But the backroom operatives who might otherwise want to broker a co-operation deal appear to be silent. Perhaps they’re waiting for the Liberals to pick a new leader. If that’s the case, well, I guess there is still time.

The Green Party – Grassroots Democracy in Action

We Greens do things a lot differently than the other parties do, though. The conversation which the NDP had around electoral co-operation largely manifested itself through leadership contender Nathan Cullen. And likely the same will be true with regards to the Liberal Party, once a Co-operation candidate declares his or herself. The politics of co-operation, however, shouldn’t simply be personality-driven, the will of a Party’s membership should not be arbitrarily disregarded by a Party Leader. Let me be clear: I’m not saying that Tom Mulcair has ignored those NDP members who want electoral co-operation, because first of all, it’s not clear that he has ignored them, and second of all, it’s not clear what percentage of NDP members favour co-operation over a go-it-alone approach.

What I am saying is that the Green Party of Canada continues to be a leader when it comes to implementing grassroots democracy. We Greens continue to walk the talk. The second item which came to my attention today has to do with motions to be voted on by the Green Party’s membership. Greens will be gathering in Sidney, British Columbia in August for our Biennial General Meeting. Prior to this meeting, all Green members in good standing will have the opportunity to vote on numerous policy, constitutional and directive motions. Two motions in particular caught my eye, as they have to do with electoral co-operation.

Both motions are actually very similar, and if approved by the Green Party’s membership, they will have the effect of directing our Federal Council (the Green Party’s governing body) to enter into discussions with the Liberals and NDP about electoral co-operation in the next election. Both motions allow for an incredible amount of freedom for our Fed Council to negotiate with the other parties, insisting that the implementation of electoral reform by a new government be the only caveat.

If Greens support these motions, we will do so with the knowledge that these negotiations could potentially lead to very few, or zero, Green candidates running in the next federal election. We will essentially be giving our governing body the right to negotiate away our Party’s ability to participate in the next election, based only on a political promise made by the NDP and Liberals to implement electoral reform.

I, for one, will be supporting these motions. For all of the risk they pose to my Party’s continued relevance, and frankly, to its very existence, I firmly believe that the risk to Canada posed by another Conservative majority government is far greater.

I just hope that the Liberals and the NDP decide to come on board.

A New Kind of Liberal Leader

The Liberal Party of Canada in particular now has an opportunity to demonstrate some real leadership. Electoral reform has never been a priority of the Liberals; they’ve generally been satisfied with the anachronistic first-past-the-post electoral system which we rely on to elect MP’s in this country. Of course, the Liberals have also never found themselves as the third Party in parliament.

While the media has been very focussed on which big-name Liberals might step forward to challenge for the leadership, let us not forget that the Liberal Party recently changed the rules regarding who is able to vote for the Liberal leader. Now, anyone who identifies themselves as a “supporter”, and fills in a form on the internet will be able to vote in the Liberal leadership election. The old days of sending delegates to a convention to represent individual ridings – gone. Now, all voting can be done at home in front of a computer, by any Canadian who is interested in casting a ballot (as long as they’ve pre-registered, and are not a current member of another political party).

Bluegreenblogger Matthew Day refers to this as a “game changer” for the Liberal Party of Canada (see Day’s excellent blogpost “Complete Game-Changer for the Liberal Party: Supporter Votes for Leadership”, June 15 2012). I agree. What this change in voting rules does is it allows for a non-traditional candidate to emerge amongst Liberals. Potentially, this non-traditional candidate could be one whom relies less on traditional media to get the message out, and more on social media. Rather than being focused on personality, this non-traditional candidate can choose to focus on ideology. The candidate can focus on motivating new supporters to lend them a one-time vote, potentially with the promise of electoral co-operation with the NDP and Greens, at the price of electoral reform.

In the past, Liberal leadership candidates have had to raise significant dollars to remain viable. We keep hearing that money tends to win elections, but with the changes made by the Liberals, it is quite conceivable that a non-traditional candidate would be able to exploit users of social media networks with a conversation about ideas. Day says that Liberal Bloggers may find themselves on the frontlines in a tussle of opinion, rather than traditional media sources. I think that there’s some merit to that assertion, especially if a candidate who champions issues important to youth can emerge.

After all, how many votes will it take to elect a new Liberal Leader? The NDP elected Mulcair with what? About 60,000 ballots. Conceivably, a successful Liberal leadership challenger would want to shoot for about the same number. Is it not conceivable that NDP and Green members (or supporters) might opt in to becoming Liberal Party “supporters” in order to cast a ballot for a non-traditional candidate promising electoral co-operation and reform?

I think it’s very likely we’ll see this happening (and very likely too that the mainstream media won’t catch on until near the end of the leadership race). A new Liberal Leader, even one with significant non-traditional support, might not be in a position to become Canada’s next Prime Minister, but he or she would be in a position to make a strong case to Tom Mulcair that electoral co-operation between the Liberals, NDP and Greens makes sense for his Party too.

And it could very well lead to the NDP forming the next Government of Canada. And as much as I find that idea a little scary, I can tell you that I would find that prospect immanently preferable to four more years of Conservative destruction of my nation.

(opinions expressed are my own, and should not be interpreted as being consistent with those of the Green Party of Canada)

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