There is a fight going on right now about the ability of individual candidates for the leadership of the Liberal Party of Canada being able to keep the names of their new supporters to themselves without revealing them to the Party and to the other candidates.
This right has been described by candidates Coyne and Murray as being akin to the privatization of Party property, as Joan Bryden of Macleans writes:
Party officials are under fire for allowing candidates to treat their lists of supporters as private property.
The new “supporter” category was supposed to give anyone willing to affirm support for Liberal principles — not just dues-paying, card-carrying members — an equal say in choosing the next Liberal leader.
Grassroots Liberals adopted creation of the supporter category at a convention a year ago to throw open the party’s doors and engage and empower average folks in the leadership contest.
But now two candidates — Vancouver MP Joyce Murray and Toronto lawyer Deborah Coyne — maintain the party has effectively turned thousands of new supporters into the unwitting private property of individual leadership contenders.
At issue is the party’s interpretation of the rules regarding supporters.
Officials have decided that leadership camps can keep to themselves the names and contact information of supporters who sign up through their websites — at least until the March 3 deadline for signing up new supporters and members, after which a list of all eligible voters will be made available to all candidates.
A supporter who signs up through, for instance, front-runner Justin Trudeau’s website will be known only to the Trudeau camp and will be contacted only by that camp until the final month of the contest.
The party’s stance appears to most benefit the front-running contenders — such as Trudeau — who are best equipped to sign up large numbers of supporters.
The party brass have this explanation for this puzzling move – it's for the administrative convenience of the central party office:
However, the Murray camp’s arguments were rejected this week in an interpretation bulletin issued by the party’s national membership secretary, Matt Certosimo.
Certosimo pointed out that each contender had to accept the rules, including those regarding contestants’ “proprietary” rights to information about candidate-recruited supporters, members and donors, before the party would authorize their candidacy.
He indicated that party officials decided on a “staged approach” to access to such information in a bid to “avoid a last-minute ‘drop’ into the system of candidate-recruited supporters.”
This decision by the party brass seems to me to run counter to the principles of openness that were debated at the party convention when the primary system was agreed upon, and contrary to the principles outlined in the various papers issued at the time.
The administrative convenience of the central office should not allow the rights of any person who signs up as a supporter through one of the candidates' offices to be denied access to and communication with and from the other candidates until so late in the campaign.
Doing so makes the openness of primary system a mockery, and clearly dimishes the rights of those new supporters to form a considered opinion.
The whole essence of the primary system is based on two phases: a first vote, which may or may not settle the race.
The race is over and a winner declared if any one candidate gets 15,401 votes allocated to him or her when the votes are counted in the first round.
These votes arise because 30,800 votes that are cast by the 308 ridings (each of which has 100 votes at the primary). Each riding has an obligation to allocate its 100 votes to each of the candidates according to the percentage of supporters and members casting votes in each such riding.
If candidate wins 15,401 votes in round 1, we go to round 2. The preferential voting system is being used, under which every member and supporter can indicate their second, third and fourth and so on choices. The allocation of each riding is then changed to reflect the preference for second choices, and the total votes counted yet again. If one candidate gets 15,401 votes, he or she is the winner.
If not, we go to round 3 and so on.
This method of allocation makes it vitally important that there be unrestricted access by all candidates to all members and supporters at all times once supporters are signed up, to allow them to make their case to them regarding their second and third choices.
To deny this access is to deny the rights of supporters, and this is what the administratively convenient decision of the party brass has done.
In the process, it has reduced the ability of supporters to consider all the debates and other information between now and the election date.
This is not what most Liberals thought they were voting for at the convention.
A far better rule by the party brass is for every candidate to IMMEDIATELY provide all details to the central party office as soon as they receive it.
This protects the supporters rights to make an open, informed decision when casting their votes, and prevents hoarding by candidates.
They are supporters of the party, not of any one candidate.
The rule should be changed forthwith.
If not, I encourage Coyne and Murray to take all legal and other steps they can to change it.
And I encourage all those who signed up as supporters, to also sign up with the other candidates, so that they can receive full information at all times from all candidates.