A pox on both your houses

By Chris Morrison

It is at times like this I am glad I voted for Joe Clark in the last federal election.

Two weeks ago I discussed the problems within the Canadian Alliance, and I will get to them again, but I think something must first be said about the battles within the Liberal party to succeed the little guy from Shawinigan, because they are similar to the problems that undid the Alliance before it ever began.

Apparently, the Liberal Party leadership in Ontario, ostensibly Paul Martin supporters, decided to change the rules for membership in the Liberal Party. It seems the Ontario Liberal riding associations are only giving out one membership application at a time, as opposed to the five they could previously.

The Martin camp, though not the Finance Minister himself as he is apparently ignorant of the actions of his supporters, claims the one application rule is necessary to prevent "instant Liberals" and special interest groups from hijacking the party. There have also been allegations of racial profiling aimed at the Martin camp, probably to prevent non-Martin, or rather Alan Rock supporters from taking over provincial executives, such as the recruitment of a large number of Sikhs aided Rock’s cause in Manitoba and Alberta.

The Liberal party could learn from the Stockwell Day debacle of two years ago. Day’s two main campaign organizers, Calgary MP Jason Kenney and strategist Rod Love-the man most responsible for Ralph Klein’s tenure as Premier of our fine province-looked at the Alliance leadership race as a members drive. Day, Kenney, and Love brought new members to the Alliance yet fractured the party because Day, elected as the new leader by the Alliance membership, did not have the support of caucus. Preston Manning did but he lost, and that is why the Alliance is in the state it is in today.

Now Stephen Harper, former Reform MP and most recently leader of the National Citizens’ Coalition, a lobby group based in downtown Calgary with the sole aim of lowering taxes, is accusing Day of narrowing the appeal of the Alliance by courting the anti-abortion vote.

As an aside, I must note that a high ranking member of the Catholic Church, itself anti-abortion, told Catholic Canadians to vote for the Alliance in the last federal election. However, most of the Catholic Canadians
I know-my parents, my brothers, my editor, and myself-did not vote for the Alliance. Maybe we’re all closet Proddies? Or maybe we’re just going to hell.

Harper’s concern is not the abortion debate but the greater appeal of the Alliance. Day as leader will have solid support among a certain segment of the voting public, namely the aforementioned anti-abortionists, but because of this he will turn off many voters in the next federal election, namely Ontarians.

It seems our two largest parties cannot figure out how to run a leadership campaign. It can’t be too open, like what happened with Day, because new members and special interest groups will hijack the party, as Paul Martin’s supporters fear. It can’t be too closed however, like Martin’s supporters are accused of making it, or the democratic process turns into something for only a select elite.

What to do?

I think former Prime Minister John G. Diefenbaker had the answer. He lost a leadership vote with the membership yet still had the support of the majority of his caucus. And as it is the caucus in Ottawa that has to work with the leader on a day-to-day basis, I think it is the caucus who should be responsible for picking the leader of a party.

Had the Alliance followed this idea, Preston Manning would still be the leader and I believe they would have gained some seats in Ontario and possibly held the Liberals to minority government.

I’ll be the first to admit democracy is a good thing yet there is a time when it must be subverted or ignored. For the good of the party and for political unity within said party, the Liberal and Alliance parties should ignore their membership, disregard democracy, and listen to the caucus. If it works for Parliament as a whole, it should work for the federal parties that compose it.

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