Friday, January 04, 2008

On Orchard, Beatty and party organization

Having largely stayed-out of the blogsphere this morning I missed the news the Liberal Party has appointed former provincial NDP cabinet minister and aboriginal activist Joan Beatty as our by-election candidate in the Saskatchewan riding of Desnethé-Missinippi-Churchill River.

Certainly it’s good news for the party and for Stephane Dion that we were able to attract such a strong candidate, who I understand was also being wooed to run in that riding for the NDP. While this will be the toughest of the four by-election seats for the Liberals to hold (not that I think there will/should be by-elections), this will make it a very interesting race. As an aside, I was reading on a dipper blog the other day (can’t recall which) about how a past Liberal candidate in the Maratimes deciding not to run federally for the Libs again signaled doom and gloom for the party, and a coming orange wave. I wonder what greater message they’d read into Beatty’s decision to jump to the Libs?

But seriously, let’s address the criticisms that were widely raised today about the decision. First, on the appointment. While I myself prefer open nomination process driven by the local riding, I have little time for people calling appointments like this undemocratic. While I’d make an exception were the appointee unqualified/a party hack of no accomplishment, that’s clearly not the case here. So, as long as the LPC constitution gives the leader the discretionary right to appoint candidates, the leader exercising that right is just fine. The power of appointment was given to the leader democratically, and can be taken away democratically too, by amending the constitution. I don’t recall ever hearing of such a motion even being proposed, so such complaints have always rung hollow for me. Additionally, Dion campaigned on a promise to use appointments if necessary to run more female candidates. He’s fulfilling that promise, seems democratic to me.

Then there’s David Orchard, who was very interested in the seat. I’m not sure of his reaction to the appointment. I’m not a big Orchard fan, I’m a bit leery of the guy to be honest, but I hope he finds another riding and gets some support from the party because I don’t like the way he seems to have been treated here. It seems some in the party decided to try to put some distance between it and Mr. Orchard. If he was good enough to be a key part of Dion’s leadership win, he’s good enough to be a candidate now. I was at the victory party that night in Montreal, and I was surprised when, during his remarks to the crowd at the hotel, Dion brought Orchard up and signaled him out for his effort. While I think Beatty is right for this riding, I also think loyalty is very important in politics, and I think Orchard is owed better treatment.

What I really wanted to talk to though is a pattern that seems re-enforced by the party’s handling of the Desnethé-Missinippi-Churchill River nomination process. And that’s the emerging, and by now I think painfully obvious, pattern of sloppy and amateur management and organization by the campaign/electoral team.

This never should have gotten to the point of being controversial, and wouldn’t have were it not handled so sloppily. If they had an appointment in mind for this riding they should have waved off Orchard long ago, and let him focus his efforts elsewhere, making it clear from the outset. If he’d ignored such a wave-off that would have been his mistake, and his undoing. Instead things were allowed to fester, and degenerate into a public spectacle.

Sound familiar? It reminds me of the mess of a nomination process in Outremont that culminated with Jocelyn Coulon being parachuted in at the last minute. Now, I’m not predicting another Outremont. But Desnethé, Outremont, the whole March Garneau thing, the whole Justin Trudeau thing, the way Scarborough-Southwest was handled, and others paint a picture of a sloppy handling of nominations by the LPC.

And it speaks to a wider problem of avoidable communications and strategy mistakes and faux-pas that goes beyond just nominations. I don’t want to overstate the problem, as I do see positive developments in other areas, and clearly we’re not the only party to have nomination issues. It just seems like we’re being hurt repeatedly by entirely avoidable mistakes. That’s annoying, unfortunate, and left unchecked not good at all.

UPDATE: Thought I had this pic somewhere of Dion and Orchard at the victory party in Montreal, dug it out of my archives:

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Mushroom said...

As a party member who has welcomed Orchard's people into the Liberal fold, I agree with your post wholeheartedly. They are people who can still play a major role in our party and should be encouraged to.

Remember, Stephane Dion is not Peter MacKay. He must not be Peter MacKay.

Gauntlet said...

Hey, BCer:

I'm afraid I have to call you on a little spinmeistering you're doing here.

Appointments instead of nominations are inherently undemocratic. Voters don't get to decide who their representative will be if their options are selected by party leaders.

It may be in accordance with the constitution of the party, and is, in fact. Further, it's in accordance with the law. The Elections Act requires the leader of the party to certify any candidate, which effectively gives them a veto that is better exercised early than late.

But the fact that it is in accordance with the rules, and legal, and normal, does nothing to deal with the fact that it is extremely undemocratic.

You don't have time for people who complain that appointments are undemocratic? Make time. At the very least, don't claim that it's not true and then provide no evidence.

As I've talked about on my blog recently, and as I've decided to use my blog to focus on talking about, there are a couple of principles that ought to be more important than which party wins.

First, we should be encouraging participation in Canadian democracy. Second, we should be making it easier, not more difficult, for Canadians to have a meaningful say in their democracy.

Appointments instead of nominations violate the latter. In order to have a say, it matters not only who is in the house, but who they are accountable to. If it's the leader that giveth and the leader that taketh away, MPs are not accountable to their voters. It also violates the former in that nomination is the most important right of membership in political parties, and taking it away reduces the motivation to take part.

God knows, the Liberals need as many people taking part right now as possible.

So yes, this might be a good use, in a partisan sense, of an undemocratic power. That doesn't make it democratic. And it doesn't make it OK.

RuralSandi said...

Until such time the NDP and Conservatives stop doing this, there's no reason the Liberals can't. Can't have it both ways. Liberals can't and everyone else can?

Gauntlet said...

Just so I'm clear, barring significant changes, I don't think any party should be overriding nomination processes with appointments. I'm not making a special case for the Liberals. I'm just saying that just because everyone does it doesn't mean it's not undemocratic.

The Pontificator said...

I agree with you entirely BCer - but might go even a tad further. Firstly, I need to point out that the power to appoint (other than as recognized by law) is not in the LPC Constitution, but is given to Leader via the rules, of which certain parameters for consideration are spelled out in the the democratic/undemocratic nature of the power should be considered in that context.

Secondly, although again, while I agree with your sentiment about a preference for nomination meetings, the Leader and Party are often continually almost "forced" into appointments because the nomination process itself is so bad and frankly not very democratic. The Party really needs to address this (only after this election please) as it continues on its renewal path.

A BCer in Toronto said...


While I'm not adverse to doing some freelance spinmeistering from time to time, this time I'm actually not trying to spin, but giving my opinion. It would be a little odd too for me to try to spin this favourably for the party when I call them out later in the post.

I'll try to crystallize my argument a little further. I don't like the idea of appointments. While I think the leader needs to reserve the right to refuse to sign someone's nom papers, I'd rather have a proper nom process at the riding level.

However, the members of the Liberal Party gave the leader the power to appoint candidates at their discretion. That power was given to the leader democratically. Is it undemocratic for the leader to use that power, given to him democratically? Bypassing the riding pay be undemocratic in one sense, but I think the fact the membership gave that power to the leader is entirely relevant, and serves to, at least partially, nullify the undemocraticness of its use. As does the fact Dion openly campaigned on using appointments in just this kind of situation, and was elected.

That's why I said I have little time for those that get on the pulpit about the undemocracticness of appointments. The power was given democratically, and if they're really so up in arms about it...

...they can democratically take it away. Jason if you'd like to bring such a motion, constitutional ammendment, whatever, to the next biennial that would take away the power of appointment from the leader I'd be happy to second the motion, and vote in its favour.

But until the power is taken away from the leader, I don't have a problem with its judicious use.


I'm not sure of the exact legal mechanisms governing appointments, but I agree that the nomination process needs reform. Something does need to be done to balance the danger of riding association takeovers with the need for openness. Perhaps something along the lines of the primary system in the U.S., I don't know.

Gauntlet said...

The leader was given the power to appoint candidates by the party rules, says Pontificator. The rules, if I'm not mistaken, were decided upon by a body chosen in the majority by the leader.

The leader was chosen in a process that allowed individual party members a say only on who would be eliminated from the race first. If you wanted more of a say than that, you were required to spend over $995 plus the cost of travel and accommodations in Montreal.

95% of Liberal Party members did not have a direct vote on who the leader of the party would be. Some very small percentage (below 10%) of Canadians are members of political parties to start with.

That means Stephane Dion was elected by a relatively tiny, unrepresentative group of people. At most 20 of whom were from the riding in question.

Then Stephane chose the Liberal candidate in that riding, eliminating even the opportunity for people in that riding to have a say in the matter. He did it in accordance with the rules, rules which he's the only person with real power to set or change.

Saying that he was elected democratically is a stretch. It certainly isn't enough to justify the complete elimination of the rights of the people in this constituency to participate in deciding who will be on their own ballot.

Now I'm not disagreeing with you that he has the power to do it. But the use of the power is a violation of peoples' opportunity to participate in their own democracy, and by using that power - which he is under no obligation to do - he puts political expediency ahead of the democratic rights of those people.

That's not OK. If you're willing to second and vote for a motion to change it, I'm happy to hear that.

Arguing that it is "in accordance with the rules" despite the fact the leader sets the rules, though, minimizes the importance of the democratic values that it violates, blinds people to the problem, and prevents that kind of a motion from being passed.

People who think this problem needs to be solved should talk about it in ways that make it seem as serious as it is, and no less.

bhenry_ed said...

I hear Orchard now plans to try to inflict as much damage as possible on the Liberals and then run as an independent...

If he can't win the NDP nomination first.

And when he leave, he's take his flock with him, becsue they were never Liberals to begin with.

ml johnstone said...

The timing was way off. David Orchard has already put out a goodly amount of time and money in the riding. It comes off as betrayl. It has created disunity in the party and amongst First Nations people.