Wednesday, February 10, 2016

What rough Donald slouches toward Ottawa? UPDATED

There is something appealing in the calculation that at least the nomination of Donald Trump as Republican candidate for the American presidency would do more than anything else to ensure that the Democrats will win the US presidency next fall -- and rebuild their numbers in the Senate and House and in local races too. But, God, to actually go through that race seems like a terrifying gamble -- though indeed having any of this year's Republican candidates so close to the presidency is pretty horrifying. Look how terrifying the whole Trump prospect is to some American commentators.

Americans joke (mostly joke) about moving to Canada if the wrong person becomes president.  But how secure against a Canadian Prime Minister Trump are we, really?

In direct elections, like mayoral contests, we have produced some doozies, for sure. Remember the recent gun-toting, coke-snorting, drunk-driving, obscenity-spouting, work-avoiding mayor in a certain large Canadian city!

But parliamentary democracy ought to protect us better than the plebiscitary popularity contest that the American presidential race has become. In a representative democracy, someone loathed -- or simply seen through -- by everyone he or she actually encounters in person, except their dependent flunkies, ought to be quickly blocked from power by his or her fellow representatives.

Unfortunately, we ain't so protected at all. We may have a parliamentary system, but leadership in our political parties is not parliamentary at all. In Canada just about anybody can aspire to become a party leader without support from anyone actually charged with representing the people.  

Indeed, we have already had a few examples. Someone from Vancouver told me the main difference between Sarah Palin and Premier Christy Clark of BC is mostly that Clark is in power and can do anything she wants for four years. Clark had the support of precisely zero of her cabinet and caucus colleagues when she secured the leadership of the British Columbia "Liberal" Party with the support of a lot of ten-dollar voters.  And there was  Bill Vander Zalm years before her.  In Ontario, it remains largely unexplained and unexplored how Patrick Brown, an unknown and little-regarded federal backbencher, somehow became leader of the opposition and alternate premier in Ontario. But he does seem to have been well-funded from somewhere.  And that's about all you need to buy the most votes in a leadership race in Canada.

Even in the larger federal arena, it would be pretty easy for, say, rich, colorful, egotistical, combative Kevin O'Leary to invest in purchasing the leadership of a major Canadian party.  Certainly it would be a hell of a lot easier than what Donald Trump is going through south of the border.  O'Leary would only have to invest, a million dollars in buying 100,000 party memberships and maybe another million recruiting people to hold them for him, and he'd be leader of the opposition.  Facing a sufficiently unpopular government, he'd have a good shot.

I like to argue that Canadian MPs should return to the parliamentary process, and hire and fire their own leaders because it would make parliament work, it would rebuild representative democracy, and it would create a direct line of constant accountability between voters, their representatives, and the leaders of governing and opposing parties.  That is, I like the positive reasons for making leaders accountable to MPs who are accountable to voters.

But we should give a thought to the more defensive, protective, just-stop-the-disaster side of making parliamentary democracy work.  Wouldn't it be nice to know Donald Trump couldn't happen here?  So we could prepare to offer all those Yanks asylum in good faith.

Update, February 15.  Adam Radwanski observes that for their upcoming vote-buying orgy/leadership selection process (pick your preference), the Conservatives are raising their prices and complicating the sale process.  You can still buy a party leadership, I guess, just not so fast or so cheaply.  The idea of leadership accountability in parliament is still beyond what's thinkable.
Follow @CmedMoore