Monday, October 13, 2008

The Arbitrary World of Politics

The Conservative Party shifted far to the right after a hostile take-over by the Reform-Alliance. There is no question that the Progressive Conservatives did not want to be taken over by the Reformers. When the Progressive Conservatives elected Peter MacKay to be the leader of the party, they made him promise in writing that he would not form an alliance. MacKay signed the agreement, but then immediately reneged on it. The vote to merge gave equal voice to Reformers and PCers, and since the Reform-Alliance party was stronger, they won easily. Now the remnants of the venerable old party is in tatters, led by the iron-fisted and ideological Stephen Harper.

It defies belief that such an important party could be perverted by the ambition of one man, and yet it happened - and it happened with very little fuss. A few prominent Tories left the party and there was a fair bit of grumbling, but most party members seem to have stuck by their brand, even it's really only the color of the signs that stayed the same.

On the Liberal side, there is a much more minor example of the arbitrary and personality-based nature of politics. Stephane Dion entered the leadership convention in fourth place (in terms of committed delegates). But because of a secret deal he made with another candidate, he won the leadership. As leader, he is farther to the left than recent leaders Martin and Chretien. I don't oppose this shift to the left, and Dion has involved the caucus very strongly in his policy formulation, but still - there's an arbitrary nature to this shift that doesn't seem quite right.

In the case of the hostile takeover of the Tories, it's difficult to see how it could be prevented. When there are powerful people who are as unscrupulous and crafty as Harper and MacKay, democracy will be trampled. Mulroney wasn't quite as unscrupulous, but his election to leader in 1983 was also marked by some dirty tricks. I hate to say it, but the Tories have a record of employing some pretty shady tactics. Unless the party decides to stop tolerating dirty dealing, they're vulnerable to corruption.

In the case of the Liberals, it seems we need to reform how we elect leaders. We should give up the delegate system and adopt "one member-one vote", as other parties do.

On the NDP side, sometimes I wish there was a little more growth in the party. Policy-wise, they stay pretty much the same, and sometimes their rhetoric sounds a little stale and obsolete.


Warren said...

Hi Yappa,

I’m not sure I agree with your assessment of the Liberal leadership process here. Certainly Dion was not the first choice of many (though he was mine), however he was the legitimate ‘second choice’ of the large number of disappointed Kennedy delegates who subsequently went over to him. The fact that Kennedy was able to deliver his delegates en masse suggests that the deal between the third and fourth place candidates was as much about ideological compatibility as it was about political practicality. In terms of the way the party picks leaders then, it would seem more problematic to elect the frontrunner with a mere 30% support, rather than let the process play out.

Yappa said...

Hi Warren,

Thanks for the comment. My take on the convention was that Kennedy had attracted a lot of younger delegates who were more willing to go where they were told. They appeared to be largely male, in their early 20s, and very devoted to Kennedy. I don't recall them showing any particular affinity for Dion.

I wasn't a Kennedy supporter though, so I could be wrong. If it's true that the final vote reflected second choices, then your point is good.

I still don't like the delegate system. For one thing, it was very badly administered. I submitted two applications to be on the ballot to be a delegate, and called the office to make sure they got them (and was told they did) - and yet I wasn't on the ballot. Also, it seems that the party machinery in ridings managed to get their people in as delegate. Finally, there's too much split-second timing possible in a convention that can skew results (like Kennedy dropping out seconds before the deadline so it was difficult for the other candidates to react). It seems to me that the only reason for a delegate-run convention is to have a big TV show.

I'm not against Dion at all, by the way. But his selection just seemed a bit arbitrary.