Let the caucus choose


Christopher Moore considers the BC Liberals’ current predicament in the context of how party leaders are chosen in this country.

The caucus, having done in Campbell, declined to take responsibility for selecting his successor.  They had one of those vote-buying orgies that are the rule in Canadian political leadership selection. A radio talkshow host, Christy Clark, with NO support from any member of the Liberal caucus, acquired the party leadership. She won a seat in the legislature (just barely) but, with no support from MLAs and no electoral mandate, she has been premier for more than a year. That parliamentary accountability thing….?  Naaah, this is Canada. Turns out the leadership convention’s choice was not so successful. Clark’s Palinesque performance has won few friends, and now she has polling numbers akin to Campbell’s. She too faces abandonment by cabinet and caucus members who never wanted her to be their leader. Latest out the door is leadership runner-up and finance minister Kevin Falcon.

Look where the caucus fire/convention hire system has left the BC Liberals. The caucus could probably muscle Clark out as it did Campbell. Except there must be a provincial election by next spring, so there is hardly time for a traditional leadership race — even if there was any faith that the hey-I-just-bought-a-vote party masses could make a better choice this time.  The whole convention system is simply too inflexible for the pace of parliamentary politics. Stuck with the leader imposed on them, the Liberal MLAs just have to go down in flames .

I’m somewhat torn on this one. I like the idea and the principle that the parliamentary caucus should be empowered to choose its leader. But I suppose the people who join political parties should have something to do. And I’m interested to see how the next Liberal leadership race functions with this new “supporter” thing. What we have is something like a cross between the American system of primaries and the traditional parliamentary system of letting the party caucus decide. And so we should probably choose one. Either we regard our Prime Ministers and Premiers as Presidents (and thus should open leadership elections to a wider vote beyond the card-carrying party membership) or we regard our Prime Ministers and Premiers as parliamentary leaders (and thus we should let the parliamentary caucus decide). And faced with those two choices, I side with the latter.

Update 2:47pm. It’s pointed out to me that Ms. Clark had one supporter in the BC Liberal caucus. He resigned in March.


Let the caucus choose

  1. There’s also the a case to be made – in the case of the federal liberals – that if supporters [who may not even be party members] can choose the leader then is the new leader beholden to the caucus in any sense at all? Or does he/she now have another power base? Not good. The old aphorism seems appropriate to me: if everybody’s responsible for something , then nobody is.
    That said i supported the change, since the party badly needs new blood and a much wider input from the country to dispel the notion of the LPC being an exclusive country club, run by party insiders and anonymous power brokers.

    • I tend to think that the mismatch between the Liberal caucus and the Liberal leader is that the caucus is chosen by the public at large. The leader only by those in the party. If those two populations have a different enough outlook on what the “Liberal” party is, you’re going to get clashes.

      With the federal liberal’s leadership scheme, they’ve at least removed that problem.

      • Well i’m not sure the membership were all that happy with sharing with the supporter’s category – still they voted for it at convention.

        The fact that the caucus is chosen by the public is the very thing that gives them a legitimate right to pick the leader; it also binds the leader more closely to his/her caucus.And it is a logical extension of representative democracy.
        Still, given the size of their caucus the LPC had to do something to shake the plce up a bit. It’s quite a gamble one way or the other. If it pays off it might well vault them right back into contention. They aren’t a party that likes to build from the draft.

  2. If you want to have caucus select the leader, one thing you then have to do, is to remove the requirement for the leader’s signature on nomination papers of candidates. Thus the power shifts back to the card carrying members, expressed in their riding associations, to select the decision makers. It would improve the lot of the humble back bencher to have the power to withdraw support from the front bench element of the party, which under the current system, can’t easily happen.
    The one major caveat parties might choose to consider is that in the run-up to an election, the nominated candidates in electoral districts that don’t have sitting MP’s might be included in the leader selection process. Votes from the Caucus ‘in potentia’ as it were.
    Under the current system too much power rests in the office of the leader of all the major parties. Hangers on from the leader’s office often wield more power and influence than duly elected members of parliament, and on the strength of the leadership selection process, and the threat of non-signing of nomination papers, the system reinforces this dichotomy.
    Either move forward and change the whole system to some form of preferential proportional system, (like Stephan Dion was proposing) or go back to the way a traditional parliament works best. The half way in between system we have now creates elected dictators, and distrust of the institution and system.
    I say all this in as non partisan a way as possible, and as someone who has participated actively in the process for over 20 years, having sought nomination with one party, having run as a candidate for a second party, and most recently having helped to elect an MP from a third party. The system has to change.

  3. Alison Redford was chosen in the same way as Christy Clark. With the same lack of caucus support and yet she went on to win the election.

    The fact is, no one who ran against Christy Clark would do any better with the public right now. During the leadership campaign, Falcon was the least desired choice by the public. He was Gordon Campbell II. Gordon Campbell was – and still is – the real problem.
    Maybe there should be a rule that there must be an election within a few months of a governing party choosing a new premier. Then that new premier would have legitimacy.

    • If that had been the case then BC would be lumbered with Clark for an extra three years. This way they have a chance to at least road test Clark. Obviously they aren’t all that happy – and it’s not all Campbell’s fault. She’s made plenty of false steps all on her ownsome.I don’t buy that anyone else would have done as poorly as Clark. But i grant you Gordon did the party no favours – and he did have caucus support. So in that sense the whole party has to wear the unfolding disaster they’re living through.

    • The premier should be getting their democratic legitimacy through the support of the democratically elected MLAs.

    • I agree with John, in the sense that the choice of Clark as leader, and the process behind it, is substantively irrelevant. There’s this implication that somehow if the selection process would have been different, the leader chosen would have been different and that somehow the BC Liberals would be in better shape now politically. It’s that last assumption that’s complete BS. The BC Liberals essentially cooked their goose with the HST fiasco. Period. That gave life to Vander Zalm, the anti-HST coalition and, most importantly, the BC Conservative Party. Jesus Christ could lead the BC Liberals in the next election and they would still lose.
      The matter of caucus voting is important, but this is the wrong context in which to consider it IMO because it’s so irrelevant to the ultimate outcome. The BC Libs are screwed and doomed no matter who the leader is.

  4. How about leadership race, party members vote, and then caucus chooses who leader is between top two or three candidates with most votes. Or have caucus nominate two or three MPs and let base vote for who they prefer for leader.

    • I would only go as far as having the party membership confirm the caucus-selected leader.

      We have to get back to the point where it matters who MPs are. Political parties selecting our premiers and PMs is a bit abhorrent. We give the keys to the kingdom to whoever can win a popularity contest in a private organization of whom the vast majority of Canadians are not members.

  5. “Either we regard our Prime Ministers and Premiers as Presidents (and
    thus should open leadership elections to a wider vote beyond the
    card-carrying party membership) or we regard our Prime Ministers and
    Premiers as parliamentary leaders (and thus we should let the
    parliamentary caucus decide). And faced with those two choices, I side
    with the latter.”

    With you 100% on this one, Wherry! @73fe406750ffbd032b8a1ef2339dd5db:disqus makes some very good supplemental points as well – esp. about nomination papers…

    • Not only is our executive branch a de facto presidency, the fact that the HoC serves as an electoral college means we have no effective independent legislative branch. Our system is the worst of both models.