With Andrew Scheer stepping down as leader of the Conservative Party, it would seem to be a useful time to re-assess the Party’s method of choosing a leader. After all, in recent times this preferential method of choosing a leader has produced Joe Clark, Kim Campbell, and Andrew Scheer. None of them, it is suggested, personified the strong, charismatic, and popular leader who was capable of capturing the imagination and votes of the Canadian electorate.
THE CONSERVATIVE LEADERSHIP ELECTION SYSTEM
The Conservative’s system for choosing a Leader involves holding a convention of the registered members who choose their leader through a series of preferential ballots. If Each member votes by indicating their 1st, 2nd, 3rd, etc preference to be the leader of the Party. If no one gets a majority of the votes, the least preferred candidate is removed from the list and another ballot is taken.
Voting was on a one member one vote basis using a ranked ballot; however votes were calculated so that each electoral district had equal weight with each electoral district allocated 100 points.
During the series of ballots, more of the voters whose first preference was removed from the list chose Scheer as their second choice than chose Bernier. Scheer’s numbers kept increasing while Bernier’s stayed relatively stable until the last run off vote in which Scheer obtained a majority of the votes.
THE FLAWS IN THIS SYSTEM
It is suggested that this preferential system has two flaws, namely:
a) it promotes the selection of the least offensive person to be the leader rather than the person who would be the best leader, and
b) the system minimizes the power of the caucus members as the leader is not responsible to the caucus for his leadership victory.
THE PREFERENTIAL SYSTEM
The Conservative Member is responsible to indicate his 1st, 2nd, 3rd, etc. preferences for leader. This often means that the voter’s 2nd choice being someone who he/she does not consider to be offensive and whose policy positions are not objectionable to the voter. It is a vote for someone who the voter “could live with.”
As the number of candidates is reduced, it is the people whose 1st choice for leader was the last choice of the majority of the electors who become the decision makers. It is the people whose candidate was removed from the ballot because they were least popular who are now the “swing votes.” As the series of ballots occur, it is the people whose 1st. choice was the least popular who get to determine who, ultimately, will be the leader of the Party.
The modern history of the Conservative Party demonstrates that the leadership results from this preferential ballot process are less than spectacular.
THE CONVENTION SYSTEM
Since the days of Robert Stanfield the Conservatives have chosen their leader by a convention of the Members. Prior to that time, the leader was chosen by the Party’s Caucus Members.
This system obviously involves the candidates visiting the various constituencies and vying for the votes of the members because it is the membership which chooses the leader. The candidate who is successful forms a constituency of Registered Conservative Members from across the nation. It is this constituency of Registered Members to which he is indebted for helping him become the leader. It is the people in the backrooms that created this constituency of voters to whom the leader is indebted. He is not indebted to his fellow caucus members who had minimal influence in his electoral victory and who now cannot get him to step down if he proves unsatisfactory.
If the Party wins the general election and forms the Government, the new Prime Minister’s Office becomes the centre of power and the M.P’s are relegated to being voting puppets for government policy. The result is an over powerful P.M.O. and a Parliament whose power and influence is badly diluted.
THE BRITISH SYSTEM
It is suggested that the Canadian Conservatives should adopt the British Conservatives system for choosing a leader. The Brits do not use the preferential system. Furthermore, the Caucus is not eliminated from the decision making process.
In Britain, the Conservative Caucus, who have worked with their fellow MP’s on a daily basis and know them well, gets to choose 2 of their fellow M.P’s as candidates for leadership of the Party. Thereafter, the General Membership of the Party get to vote and decide which of these two candidates will be the leader. There is only one ballot and the Members get to vote for the person they think will be the best leader. The candidate with the most votes wins.
If the successful British Conservative Leader becomes the P.M., he is indebted to a substantial portion of his caucus for having nominated him. He is aware that the caucus can remove him. And he is ever mindful to accommodate the opinions and wishes of his back benchers because they retain the power to force him/her to stand down. In essence, the people who the voters elected get to influence the policies and positions of the Government . That would be a novel idea for Canadian Politics, but, it is suggested, should be considered.
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