Aaron Ginsberg has a good post in defence of the delegate system for choosing a new leader. He argues that one member-one vote can be a recipe for disaster because:
- It all comes down to how many new members a candidate can sign up.
- It doesn't give extra weight to party insiders.
They are both valid points. The first can be handled: just set a cut-off date, such as the last election, for party members. People who sign on after that can't vote. We should be doing that with either system, because people who want to be delegates currently sign up new members to get themselves to the convention. And as we saw in this election, those new members from the last leadership race did not vote Liberal.
The second is a bit trickier. I agree that party insiders, who after all are the most knowledgeable, should have more influence. There are other ways of achieving that. In the last leadership race there wasn't nearly enough information coming from insiders. Even worse, the Dion/Kennedy camps used the strategy of demonizing insiders to discredit the more experienced camps supporting Rae and Ignatieff. (We had the ridiculous situation where the 12-year cabinet veteran claimed that the guy who just became a resident of Canada and the guy who just joined the party were "insiders".) In fact, people now criticize Dion for not listening to Liberal party advisers enough, but that was the platform he won the convention on. He confused "renewal" with "rejection of experience", and his supporters enthusiastically provided him with a mandate to continue with that losing strategy.
One of the many problems with rejecting the influence of insiders is that then we have to rely on the media to tell us what's in our best interest, and the media is not always our friend. We should be getting a lot better information about candidates from within the party: not just of the form "I endorse so-and-so" but position papers on each candidate, what their leadership would mean for the party, and so on. To make this important decision we need better information, and we need some direction.
Some media pundits have opined that the Liberal party needs an Obama to fire up the grass roots. I disagree. A good leader can make use of different people to appeal to different groups. For example, the leader could bring out Justin Trudeau and Ken Dryden as motivational speakers. But there needs to be good strategy for when and where to use them.