Saturday, May 02, 2009

LibCon 2009: One Member, One Vote...sort of

By an overwhelming margin, the delegates have passed a form of "one member, one vote" to determine the leadership of the Liberal Party of Canada from now on. Earlier today, until the polls closed, delegates voted for Michael Ignatieff--the only name on the ballot.

I have always had problems with OMOV, and fought against it at an NDP Convention a few years back, but to no avail. The phrase, once "one man, one vote," is so deeply encoded in our political, social and cultural DNA that it seems no longer susceptible to rational argument. (I put the picture of Nelson Mandela up for a reason.) Yet I don't believe that one can simply apply that noble concept everywhere.

Another cliché that we live by is the "level playing field." But in the case at hand, the two concepts are utterly antagonistic. OMOV in a political party is virtually a guarantee that the incumbent will remain in place until he or she dies or chooses to step down. Without a substantial war-chest, a challenger is dead in the water: lacking the daily exposure of the incumbent, and the means to travel all over the country to talk to rank-and-file members even if no incumbent runs, he or she cannot hope to succeed.

Under a delegate system, people are chosen by their riding associations and are, at least ideally, accountable to them. They go to Convention where they have the opportunity to make their voices heard under one roof, and to have a serious run for election. While they are unlikely to prevail if they simply "come off the floor," they have considerably more opportunity to present themselves and their ideas by actively engaging other delegates, and they can do so with far fewer resources.

Moreover, complicating things further, the system just adopted by the Liberals isn't really "one member, one vote" at all. Every riding association has been placed on an equal footing, so that the votes from a 100-member association will count for the same as those from a 10,000-member one. A single Liberal member in the former will have 100 times the voting power as one in the latter. That's OMOV in name only.

The latter point was indeed raised during the foreshortened debate that ensued. But the fix was in. Bob Rae thundered clichés at the mic: "The Liberal Party is your party, not a private belongs to all the people of Canada...". "Make every vote count," said Belinda Stronach, who assured the delegation that she had "always considered the Liberal Party the party of the people of Canada." [!] None of the remarks had any direct, logical bearing upon the issue at hand. But that seldom matters in this sort of debate.

If a Liberal leader had an (admittedly slim) chance of being unseated before, the new system has ensured that the leader is politically impregnable. Welcome to the era of Michael Ignatieff, unchallenged today--and unchallengeable tomorrow.

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