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|I Am Skooter|
So here's us, on the raggedy edge.
Lost in the wilderness for years, the Conservative Party of Canada’s success can be largely attributed to the grass roots populist Reform movement started by Preston Manning (with a young Stephen Harper serving as the party’s first formal director of policy.)
Part of this populism meant putting a lot of power into the hands of riding associations. These associations did fund raising, community activism and had virtual carte blanche to choose candidates.
Candidate races are good for attention, sometimes. They also provide an incentive for people to get involved. They also, over the years, became not much more than popularity contests: basically the candidate with the most friends would convince them all to sign up for a modest commitment of $10 or so, and in return he’d lock up the race. Great for fund raising, but not great for true involvement.
Everyone was subjected to this, current status notwithstanding. It meant that anti-choice candidates like Russ Hiebert could launch campaigns to unseat sitting MPs. These were ugly fights, and caused fissures in the party. They gave opposition candidates great fodder for critique.
It appears that Stephen Harper has abandoned his populist beliefs, and these ugly fights are no more. From now on, sitting MPs won’t have to justify their seat to the local membership.
Conservative Party’s plan to acclaim incumbent MPs draws criticism
Last Updated: Tuesday, March 17, 2009 | 4:15 PM ET, CBC News
The federal Conservative Party is moving ahead with reforms to its process of nominating candidates for elections that will mean incumbent MPs won’t have to fight for nominations in their ridings.
The proposal would declare incumbent MPs acclaimed as candidates in the next election unless two-thirds of members in their ridings ask for an open nomination contest.
I don’t think this is a bad idea, but as a fundamental shift it’s interesting. I suspect that the motivation pretty standard fare: tighten the circle, keep the people you know and trust already close by, make it a bit harder for new people to get in so the boat can’t be rocked. Pretty much every Prime Minister has done it: Pierre Trudeau, Jean Chretien, Brian Mulroney and (perhaps most obviously and poorly) Paul Martin.
It’s exactly what dictators do too. It avoids dissent from within, and erects significant barriers to entry for new voices. It ensures that the guy in charge stays the guy in charge, at least until the opposition wins.
I suspect that’s going to happen in the next election. I suspect that Stephen Harper is nervous after having failed to achieve a majority government after four elections and that Michael Ignatief shows a lot of promise as a Liberal leader. This is a bit of a Hail Mary on Stephen Harper’s part.
I suspect it’s going to fail.