Canadian sausage[Aliza's note: This article was timely in January when it was commissioned "on spec" by a Canadian paper that shall remain graceless. I rewrote it twice for them, and they responded by ignoring me. Curse be the laws of supply and demand that free editors from the obligation to be polite....]
There is an old adage that laws are like sausage – you don’t want to see how they’re made. Canadians have extended this cliché to party leadership contests - while in the
It’s nine months until the 2008
A Canadian wanting to help select the new leader for the Liberal party in 2006 would have had to join the Liberal party three months before the vote. This commitment just doesn’t happen on a major scale. The Liberal party brags that they have over 100,000 members, but that isn’t much to brag about. If every single party member participated in the choice of Stephane Dion in 2006, then fewer than 1% of Canadians selected the man who might be
I’m sure there are party stalwarts from all parties who don’t want the non-committed participating in “spoiling” their primary by voting for a leadership candidate who they think would be easier to beat. But the system that has evolved in
So why don’t more Canadians join political parties? It is a simple task – just go to Liberal.ca, click on the large “Join the Party” icon, and fill out the simple online form. Just don’t forget your Visa or Mastercard. The Conservative Party of Canada also has a “Join” button on their webpage, with one key difference – they also take American Express.
And they call the
Canadians who join can have their voices heard, as Liberal voting is proportional - their constitution sets out a system where riding members pick candidates, and delegates are assigned proportionally. This favors the parts of
What these early primary contests say about democratic ideals is too important to miss. Imagine if Paul Martin had had to visit dozens of living rooms across
Political parties here are still making their decisions in the back rooms. Canadian politics are set up so that insiders make decisions and voters get to choose from the lesser of many evils, little of which they can influence without a concerted effort.
The American system puts the job of running primaries and recruiting voters on the state, and many do their job aggressively. The Canadian system places early decisions in the hands of the party, who can change the rules as often as they like. Like in the
It is the independent, uninformed, and easily disenfranchised voters who get lost in the shuffle. Since it takes greater effort in
Though the best first step would be for leaders and decision-makers to make party membership free and easy, ordinary Canadians have to do their part by refusing to be sidelined from decisions of major significance. No one can ignore the messy American system, which brings representative democracy to life. If Canadians want popular involvement, perhaps we have to be willing to get our hands dirty.
- Aliza Libman is a freelance writer and teacher in