Liberal Party “Primaries”

The best thing about floating new ideas, it generates debate, pumps some life into the process, gives a sense of "where the action" resides. I note quite a lot of conversation regarding a possible Liberal primary system as a leadership selection method. I’ve actually played devil’s advocate on both sides, ever since Rob Silver first put the idea out there, now reaching a crescendo with Bob Rae musing, the Liberals set to formally put the concept into the debate.

The whole key to a primary idea, does it strike the right balance, does it achieve what is intended without sacrificing notions of fairness and commitment? I’d like to wait and see any proposal truly fleshed out before jumping on board, but at the very least I now find the general concept attractive. Anything that opens up the process has advantages, particularly for a party desperate to reconnect, present a new face that operates in the open, for all to see and weigh in on. 

Some of the valid criticisms I’m hearing revolve around this idea of "instant Liberals", people with little real commitment to the party having influence that cheapens the role of the devoted membership. As well, any primary system runs the risk of shenanigans from other partisans, particularly if the process itself doesn’t result in a large turnout (a very real concern, given the apathy that exists). There is potential for unseemly outcomes, which is why any proposal must exclude active members of other political parties, this stipulation a bear minimum if logistically possible.

Right now, it is quite easy to join the Liberal Party, the financial commitment minuscule and not a barrier in any practical sense. However, that logic also speaks to a certain openness, you can join anytime, a couple bucks and you have a voice, that’s all that is required. Given the current flimsy nature of membership, there is something to be said for taking the process one step further and allowing anyone who bothers to come out and vote a say. The very act of casting a vote indicates a certain commitment to an idea proposed, pro or con, someone or something has MOTIVATED said individual to take time out of their day to participate. Rather than cheapening membership (which still has "advantages" in other matters, leadership isn’t the only expression of influence within a party), the line between partisan and simply political is blurred, tribalism replaced by a more general call to participate. For whatever reason, many people with strong political views stay outside of partisanship, they don’t like the labels, the designations. A primary allows almost anyone to participate, while still maintaining an independence, it casts a wider net of interest.

Under the current rules, it is almost impossible for a true "insurgent" to win the Liberal leadership. Party systems reward things like loyalty, networks, factions and self interests. Elites within parties can handpick potential leadership candidates, throw their organizational weight behind and immediately become a force, without going through any paces, without establishing a rapport with Canadians, WITHOUT ideas being the true impetus. In a general sense, any "advance" which opens up the process to a more grassroots potential immediately should be debated. In addition, given the well established history of the Liberal Party, some fresh air that eliminates the backroom machinations, ends the ass kissing esoteric culture, has some appeal in a general sense. 

I actually don’t care if a committed Liberal or a "outsider" ends up leading the Liberal Party. I care about what ideas, philosophy is put forth, a vision that speaks to modern "liberalism", something I can get behind. At present, the system favours "paid their dues" people, or at the very least a person who has the backing of powerful insiders. In this sense, the idea of a truly egalitarian system, that REACHES out to everyone and says lend your voice, the concept has potential to change how Canadians view this damaged party brand. 

I’m not quite ready to wave the "primaries now" flag, but nor am I ready to reject the idea out of hand… If anything, the underlying concept of open participation- a debate wider than tribal considerations- sounds very much like an evolution, and for that reason, a serious deliberation warranted.

Click HERE to read more from Steve Val.

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