RE: "A voting system for a united right"
Andrew Stark, National Post, 12th March, 2001

by Margret Kopala

for general distribution

Andrew Stark helpfully suggests adopting a leadership selection process based on the PC Party's equality of riding principle as a way to remove the biggest obstacle to achieving a merger with the Canadian Alliance. Although giving the 301 riding associations an equal say in the party would go against the Alliance's tenet of popular majority rule, he states, it would nonetheless be compatible with the Alliance's position on Senate Reform which aims to protect the interests of thinly populated parts of the country.

I would add that besides protecting against takeover of the party by regional interests, a leadership selection process based on equality of riding associations would also protect against takeover by single issue groups. Stockwell Day's victory in the Alliance is one example of how large, well organised single issue groups - in this case Family Coalition and Pro-Life groups, can succeed under majority rule while David Orchard's leadership bid, supported by anti-free traders and environmentalists, was thwarted in the Tory party under its majority of ridings selection process.

Another argument in favour of equality of ridings is that it promotes expansion of the party into areas of Canada where it might not otherwise enjoy favour. A leadership bid like Tom Long's, which lacked depth but enjoyed reach, would have benefited under this approach. Instead of raising the dead in Gaspe, his supporters could more credibly have opened riding associations with small numbers in the far reaches of the Maritimes and Quebec, thus helping both Tom and the Canadian Alliance gain crucial footholds.

The problem with the equality of ridings leadership selection process is that, as practised by the Tories, it lacked transparency. No one except those counting the vote ever knew who received how many votes nor even how many members existed in any given riding association because only the candidates' percentages of riding support was tallied into the final figures. Another problem is that it is much easier to 'stack' the memberships of poorly populated riding associations than it is to 'stack' the membership of a whole party.

Even so, I believe Mr.Stark is on the right track, if not quite near his destination. Equality of riding associations needn't prevail over equality of membership because both processes could in fact be used in a merged Tory/Alliance party. As an example, the requirement for a double majority of ridings and membership determined the Reform party's acceptance of the results of the UA process, so the practice is already known in many quarters within the Canadian Alliance.

By why stop there? A third majority requirement might fruitfully complete the picture. In its excellent series on parliamentary reform, the National Post cited the practices of of the United Kingdom's Tory party where leadership selection is the purview of caucus members. Since everyone in Canadian parties from the executive to the grassroots seems to want to tell MPs what to do, allowing caucus members some say in leadership selection would be a refreshing and simple way to empower them. Though a triple majority requirement is probably unrealistic, winning even two majorities of the three possible constituencies - ridings, membership and caucus - would also give the party's future leader great credibility going into an election.

Margret Kopala

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