Dear Editor: At its convention in Ottawa last weekend, the Liberal Party of Canada considered several major changes. Delegates voted to create a class of “supporters” as an expansion of the party’s voting franchise.
These supporters will have a direct vote in future leadership selection process. Proposals to extend riding nomination votes to supporters, and to stagger leadership voting over a number of weeks in a series of regional primaries, were rejected.
As a result, the leadership process remains almost identical to the weighted one-member, one-vote proposal adopted at the party’s last convention. What has changed is the eligibility to participate, which proponents in the party hope will attract a larger segment of the population.
Rules and timelines for the leadership contest are based on the party’s constitution, the amendments made this weekend, and decisions taken in an extraordinary convention held in June 2011, via teleconference.
The race is also subject to the Canada Elections Act, which restricts campaign donations for leadership candidates for a national party in a similar manner as local candidates, electoral district associations and political parties during and between elections.
Here’s what we know so far:
On a date no earlier than Jan. 19 and no later than May 20, 2013 membership “cut-off” occurs. Presumably this deadline will apply to “supporters” as well. (A cut-off date is the last date on which you may register to participate in the leadership vote, and serves to allow leadership candidates equal opportunity to identify and campaign to potential voters) This date is 41 days before the date leadership voting takes place.
Within 14 days of this cut-off, the party is required to announce voting procedures.
The means of voting — whether Internet or paper balloting — the hours of operation and location of polling stations, and other such details are at the discretion of the party, and may be the subject of bylaws or determined by the leadership vote committee.
On a yet-to-be determined date between March 1 and June 30, 2013 members and supporters will vote in a preferential ballot. Votes will be counted and weighted by riding until one candidate receives majority (50 per cent plus one).
Each electoral district is allocated 100 points. On the first count for each electoral district, the first preference votes recorded in favour of leadership contestants on the ballots cast by Liberal members (and supporters) in each electoral district are counted and the 100 points are apportioned to each contestant based on their percentage of first preference votes received.
The total number of points allocated to each contestant from all electoral districts in Canada are added to produce a total “national count.” (There are presently 308 electoral districts in Canada, but that number is set to increase to 338 in the near future.)
Before each subsequent count, the contestant who received the fewest points on the preceding national count is eliminated and that contestant’s ballots are distributed in each electoral district among the remaining contestants according to the second preferences indicated, and counted as if they were first preference votes. This is repeated as necessary until a leadership contestant receives more than 50 per cent of the points allocated on in the national count. That successful candidate becomes the Leader.
For Liberals in Newfoundland and Labrador, this is as much a return to the past as it is a change for the future. Renewable and paid party memberships have only been in effect in this province for a few short years anyway, so the notion of free participation has a familiar feel to it.
It remains to be seen whether this new leadership selection process will provide federal Liberals with a much-needed spark after May’s historic defeat. One local analogy may be useful. When the leadership of the provincial Liberal party came open in August 2011, over half of the 3,400 participants in our hastily organized leadership town hall conducted by telephone were from the Corner Brook area.
This proves that if you make democracy accessible, people will participate.
Mark Watton is from Corner Brook and lives in Toronto.
P.S. It may be awhile before further details about the Liberal Party leadership process are online or publicly available. If you would like further information, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll pass it along when it becomes available.