Monday, November 14, 2011

Why Sheila Copps nearly made me scream at work

I should really turn off Twitter when I'm on the phone at work, because when I scanned my feed during a down moment in a conference call this afternoon and saw this story, I nearly let slip a stream of unparliamentary language that would have greatly confused the folks on the other end of the line.

As for Mr. Rae, Ms. Copps says the executive should not be able to restrict who runs and who does not. That’s up to voters.

She noted that when Mr. Rae took over the leadership, he agreed to rules set by the party’s “current” executive that the Interim Leader would not seek the top job permanently.

But a new executive could change that rule. And Ms. Copps will if she is elected president.
Speaking of rules, it's not a "rule" per se but I think it'd be nice if someone seeking to be president of the Liberal Party of Canada had some basic sense of the actual rules of the organization. Because it appears Ms. Copps either has no clue, or is just being deliberately obtuse.

For the umpeenth time, there IS NO RULE that prevents Mr. Rae from running for permanent leader. If he wants to run, HE CAN RUN.

There never was a "rule" at all. The current executive, when tasked with picking the interim leader, said they'd base their selection on several criteria: bilingualism, caucus support, and a promise not to seek the permanent leadership. Those weren't rules, they were screening criteria. They could have said we're only picking people that wear suspenders, it doesn't matter. Point is, once they make the appointment, it's done. There is no rule.

Mr. Rae is a member of the Liberal Party, and any member of the Liberal Party can seek the leadership if they gather the requisite signatures and pay whatever the entry fee will be. Even if the last executive had codified a "rule" preventing him, it wouldn't have to be changed because it would be constitutionally invalid. He has the right to run. All the executive could do is request he resign the interim leadership if he decides to run for the permanent job; we'll get to that in a second.

Once again, the only thing preventing Mr. Rae from running (besides clear statements that he doesn't want to) is his promise that he wouldn't. That is all. He is free to change his mind if he wants to. He can explain to the voters why he's changing his mind, voters can weigh that with all the other positives and negatives and decide to support him, or support another candidate.

That's why I want to scream when I read comments like those by Ms. Copps. Any motion by a new executive like she proposes would be a sham, a kabuki play, designed only to give political cover to allow Mr. Rae to change his mind. And I'm sorry, but I don't think it's the job of the national executive to do preemptive damage and spin control for potential leadership candidates.

The Interim Advantage

And if my blood pressure wasn't high enough already, I then read on:
Part of the argument in restricting a bid by Mr. Rae was that he could use his interim leadership as a launching pad for a permanent run. He’d have an advantage because of his profile and his ability to meet Liberals during his travels.

But Ms. Copps dismisses this. She doesn’t believe that being leader of the third party gives anyone the leg up.
I'm sorry, but that's just crazy. If you don't think the interim leadership gives someone a HUGE advantage in seeking the permanent gig then I'd love some of what you're smoking, because it must be pretty good. It confers a significant advantage.

I've been consistent on this point. I supported Michael Ignatieff during the last leadership race, but I told them privately and publicly it was a mistake for him to seek and accept the interim leadership while running the permanent job. It conferred a huge advantage that was unfair to his opponents, Rae and Dominic LeBlanc. They were left with little choice but to drop out, making it an acclamation. It was wrong then, and it would be wrong now.

The interim leader gets substantial media profile, is the go-to person for commentary and the lead performer in question period. They get a taxpayer and party-funded leader's office and budget. They pick who gets to ask questions in question period and who gets what critic portfolio. Lots of carrots and sticks to build support in caucus and lower the profile of potential rivals. It's a huge advantage.

And it's not one granted by the membership because the interim leader isn't selected by the membership, but by the national executive. The proverbial party elites. It would amount to the elites giving their preferred successor a leg-up, skewing the race. That would be unacceptable, and that's why it's a bad idea to use the interim job as a stepping-stool.

Bottom Line

If Mr. Rae wants to run, he is free to run. No rule prevents him.

If you want to be party president, you shouldn't be sowing disinformation and demonstrating such a fundamental lack of knowledge.

And given this recent quote from Rae (via here)...
"It won't be me. I'm not going to run for leadership."
...and similar statements since the day he took the interim job, why is this divisive can of worms even being opened? Is this really where our focus needs to be?

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7 comments:

Jordan said...

Cops seems to meet so much of the criteria you laid out for how you would vote for in the presidential election!

Jason Cherniak said...

I fear that you are burying the lead. Why is Sheila Copps making these sorts of statements? Is she trying to get Bob Rae's support for her campaign? Is she participating in the sorts of problems that she pretends to be complaining of?

Steve V said...

Jason

"The former deputy prime minister said she’s already spoken with Liberal leader Bob Rae about her possible candidacy"

From the very first story indicating a potential run.

http://www.thespec.com/localprofile/article/569720--copps-may-run-for-liberal-party-president

Peter Wrightwater said...

"Mr. Rae is a member of the Liberal Party, and any member of the Liberal Party can seek the leadership if they gather the requisite signatures and pay whatever the entry fee will be. Even if the last executive had codified a "rule" preventing him, it wouldn't have to be changed because it would be constitutionally invalid. He has the right to run. All the executive could do is request he resign the interim leadership if he decides to run for the permanent job;"

Jeff, consider this: people give up their constitutional rights all time in exchange for some benefit. In a plea bargain, for example, the defendant gives up his right to a trial in exchange for a lighter sentence. In a confidentiality agreement, an individual gives up their right to free speech in exchange for a job, usually. It happens every day, it's perfectly legal and it's what Bob Rae was asked to do. He agreed to forgo his right to run for the permanent leadership in exchange for being appointed interim leader.

Any candidate for Interim Leader acceptable to the National Board will be bilingual and, prior to any appointee being proposed to the National Board, be expected to:

1. demonstrate majority support of the Caucus including a majority of the Caucus from the House of Commons; and

2. agree to execute in writing a solemn undertaking that he/she will agree to be bound by the Constitution and that;

(a) he/she will not seek the permanent leadership of the Party as part of the next leadership selection process;

That solemn undertaking, in writing, is a contract. It has real legal weight as the basis for a lawsuit. To remove the threat of a lawsuit, the executive would have to formally release him from any obligation stemming from that contract.

Or we could agree to dis agree.

PDF of Liberal Party statement.

Jeff Jedras said...

Peter,

We'll have to agree to disagree. I'm not a lawyer, but I don't see that as having any kind of legal force and effect. And whether it's written or spoken is largely irrelevant -- a verbal contract can be just as binding, in theory. I'll leave it to the lawyers to legalize, but I still maintain we're not talking legal contracts or rules, we're talking a moral commitment he's free to break if he so chooses and the only consequences would be meted out by the membership, if they so desire.

Peter Wrightwater said...

Fair enough.

kacob said...

Yes, he should run. Question is, do we (Liberals) want someone as our leader who will be 67 at the time of the next election, and who will have to step aside within 2 to 4 years after that election, only to do a leadership race all over again?! Me thinks not.