Monday, April 04, 2016

Party leadership: from membership to mailing list

I agree with the journalist Dale Smith often enough on parliamentary matters (not on the monarchy!)  to wonder if he follows this site.  But maybe not. There is the monarchy, after all.

On parliamentary leadership, he is quite right that the direct result of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's clever plan to change the Liberal Party of Canada from a membership organization to a mailing list will be to even more completely exempt party leaders from accountability. Not much of the press coverage and commentary will notice this.
Paying $10 to get buy-in to the party membership is “elitist.” My head is exploding right now. As with the way the Liberals blew up their leadership selection process to absolutely obliterate any trace of accountability, they are moving to the exact same thing with their party policy process, and shifting to a Big Data approach that eliminates any incentive for the meaningful participation in the process that our system is built around.
Right about the accountability gap.  But that second part, suggesting that there actually is room at present for "meaningful participation in the process" buys into press-gallery magic thinking: that existing Canadian leadership processes produce accountability and participation.  Actually, they are vote-buying contests. The moment someone wins the contest, the process is over, and the leader isn't accountable at all.

We might even speculate that this proposed further dilution of accountability might even have indirect results. It could spur some imagination and courage in backbenchers and caucuses, who indeed are free to remove and to replace parliamentary party leaders at any time to choose to exercise their authority.

A parliamentary leader who is not accountable to the parliamentary caucus is not accountable.

Update, April 5:  Worth noting that at the same time, the Conservative Party is making party memberships more expensive and more difficult to acquire:
While the Liberals look to further open up their party to all comers, the Conservatives are going in the opposite direction. For the current Tory leadership contest, only those who’ve been party members for six months will be eligible to vote, and the membership fee has been hiked to $25. Each member must pay by cheque or credit card in a bid to prevent leadership campaigns from paying for mass sign-ups of new members.
This attacks the most corrupt aspects of leadership vote-buying, but at any price it is leadership selection by vote-buying, and the accountability problem post-convention is unaffected.
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