Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Liberals, let's use the Two-Tier Primary system for electing our next leader

In an earlier post I mentioned the problem of raiding or hijacking which bedevil open primaries: your opponents might vote for the weakest Liberal candidate in the hope of reducing Liberal chances of success in the general election.

Blunt Objects, in a post well worth reading entitled Open Primaries – A Primer, suggested we could reduce the risk of hijacking by using the donor lists provided by Elections Canada to eliminate any voters who had donated to other parties.

However, I think my suggestion of a two-tier selection process works even better as an anti-hijack measure.

A rudimentary method of two-tier selection was done in the selection of the UK Tory candidate to replace an expenses-challenged former Tory MP in 2009.

The Tories are in favour of using open primaries to select their candidates for MP:
Sarah Wollason - UK Tory primary candidate

As a party, the Tories believe they have shown themselves to be democratic and inclusive.

They believe this kind of selection is a good way of reconnecting voters with the political process at a time when it is desperately needed.

It shows, the Tories say, that they trust the people. And up to a point, the Tories are right.

Open primaries - much used in the United States - do force candidates to appeal to the wider electorate and not just party members.

The process is clearly more democratic than allowing a narrow clique of party activists to rig the selection in a smoke-free room.

As several non-Tory voters told me here, they get the chance to choose which Tory might represent them even if they do not vote for them at the general election.
Their protection against hijacking was to force those who wished to vote to attend a meeting to vote at:
The party has already selected around 100 parliamentary candidates in so-called "open meeting" primaries where non-Tories can vote only if they turn up at the selection meeting.
The byelection in Tones in 2009 was the first all-voter postal ballot open primary, across a whole constituency in the UK.

Sarah Wollaston won election with good results:

On [general] election day, Wollaston was elected with a majority more than double the previous election.
The Tories anti-hijacking measure in Sarah's case was to have the Tory riding association select 3 Tory candidates who would run in the open primary:
The Conservative Association placed her on the shortlist of three to succeed Anthony Steen, who had announced his retirement after criticism as part of the United Kingdom Parliamentary expenses scandal in 2009; the Conservatives had already decided that the selection would be made by an 'open primary' in which non-members would have a vote.
The proof of the pudding was in her election during the general  election:
On [general] election day, Wollaston was elected with a majority more than double the previous election.
My proposal for a two-tier pre-selection, anti-hijacking process is simply this:

  1. We have a two-round system.
  2. In the first round, ONLY signed up members of the Liberal Party may vote for candidates.
  3. In Round One, voting will be done by preferential voting system (so that your second and third choices etc. are counted).
  4. Round One should result in three candidates being selected to run in the second round.
  5. Round Two will be an open primary, open to all voters in Canada who are registered as voters.
  6. Round Two will also have a preferenctial voting system so that the winner is the one who gets over 50% of the vote.
  7. To aid the party in enlarging its membership, any voter who wishes to participate in the Round Two open primary must provide an email to the LPC, along with an agreement to receive emails from the LPC for at least two years; they can take their names off our email lists thereafter if they wish. This will give us tens of thousands of potential members to send our information to, and to tap for donations.
  8. To aid our fund raising, any voter who wishes to vote in the Round Two open primary and who is not a member of the LPC, must pay a small amount to qualify for voting in the primary. These funds will help offset the costs of the system.
  9. Voting in both rounds will be done over the internet (and perhaps mail in for those without access to the internet).
And let's have this two-tier system use in the 2013 selection of candidates for running as Liberal MP in 2015.  However, I would give sitting MPs a free pass to be the Liberal  candidate in the 2015 election, but all MPs will be subject to the two-tier system in the following election.


  1. I like your idea a lot. Someone is still going to need to run for the leadership though, your idea won't work unless there are a number of candidates. At this point, though it's still early, nobody seems to want the leadership besides Rae.

  2. The race for permanent leader is not open yet, Jordan; when it does open, there will be half a dozen or more candidates. And using my Two-Tier primary process would allow Liberals to pre-select the best three to run in the modified Open Primary (which would allow Liberals plus voters who indicate "broad support" for the party's ideals etc to vote as well), to select the winning one, also using a preferential vote system.

    We would end up with terrific engagement of voters from a broad spectrum, enormous publicity, huge buzz in the party, and a much greater chance of winning more seats (if we used a similar system in 2013 to select candidates for MP).

  3. Slightly off topic, you are very knowledgable and intelligent and I enjoy reading your articles however we are looking at the problem from different angles.

    You are fixed on the Liberal Party as the solution but I am looking at any party that has candidates with commonsense, a heart and the knowledge that we cannot support every program and the programs that we support must be effective, not like the E-health and public housing abuses in Ontario.

    Rather than fix a broken party, and work to get it elected, let us fix a broken system.

  4. I know it's not open but the only Liberal that we hear from is Bob Rae. Dominic LeBlanc has been silent, he was thought to be a frontrunner but he's not well known and he's not standing out in a 34 person caucus. Trudeau is out and Brison is out. David McGuinty hasn't really be heard from but he's probably the only other one who may run within caucus. Ted Hsu and maybe even Shawn Casey could run. Borys Wrzesnewskyj has alluded to a possible run so he may potentially run. I know it's not as easy to get press when you're not a MP but there are no former Liberal MPs who are visible. Potentially we may see a provincial politician run, to bad Robert Ghiz isn't a possibility.

  5. Malcolm, the most broken part of our system is our massive democratic deficit. It is far more serious than the economic crises we have and are going through, because it leads to a small group of politicians being able to ignore the majority of the country in their decisions and plans.

    I would seriously consider voting for ANY political party that seriously advocated electoral reform in the form of a modified proportional representative system of electing our MPs (some direct constituency MPs plus a top-up layer of at-large MPs).

    This will allow the voice of most Canadians to actually be heard in our Parliament, with clear benefits for the country as a whole.

    Add to this parliamentary reforms of the sort we have seen in Australia and the UK, and we could have a properly functioning political system, representing the people and making decisions with all the people in mind.

    Right now, none of the parties are serious about electoral reform; the NDP pays lip service to it because it sounds good, but Jack Layton never really pushed it when he had the power to make it happen. The Liberal Party is fearful of electoral reform, and the Tories know it is the kiss of death for them.

  6. Once again I believe we agree on the bottom line but not the process.
    How will electoral reform change the mindset of politicians? They say anything to get elected and once elected they give us lipservice and follow their own agenda

  7. I have more faith in politicians, Malcolm. Of course, we must also reform the role of MPs so that they have a lot more clout to represent their constituents than they have right now. The power of the Prime Minister's Office should be diminished; cross-party cooperation on major issues in subcommittees should be a given; citizen attendance at and input in committees to be allowed; open access to all government information an automatic right subject to very limited restrictions; and much much more ...


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