OTTAWA — The Conservative policy convention in Vancouver this week is a chance for the party’s leadership and its MPs to take the temperature of the membership.
It seems to be running a bit hot.
Scathing comments on how the party is run; accusations from both rural and urban members that they are being ignored; and calls to curb the power of the leader — these are among the top concerns raised in nearly seven dozen amendments to the party’s constitution put forward by riding associations across the country.
“We have grassroots concerns and it’s important that the convention hear those concerns,” said Harold Albrecht, an MP whose riding association has suggested several of the amendments, mostly aimed at opening up the closed door of the party’s executive.
It’s the first time party members will gather since the Conservatives lost power last fall when Stephen Harper stepped down as party leader. He is the only leader the party had ever known up until that point and a number of proposed amendments suggest frustration with the way he and the party’s executive exercised their control.
Albrecht’s Kitchener-Conestoga riding association had a few harsh words about how Dimitri Soudas, a former director of communications for the prime minister, became the party’s executive director.
Harper handpicked him for the post — and under the terms of the party’s existing constitution, that’s how the position is filled.
But Soudas was eventually forced to step down after interfering in the efforts of his partner, then-Conservative MP Eve Adams, to secure the party nomination for an Ontario riding. (The duo would go on to leave the Conservative party and Adams joined the Liberals. She lost her bid to run for them in the last election.)
“The leader’s pick for executive director was an absolute disaster,” the riding association writes in its proposal to put the national council in charge of choosing the executive director’s job.
With the party set to choose its next leader in 2017, the membership appears to be looking for more control of the process both before and after the vote.
The current system sees leaders elected through a points system. Each riding is worth 100 points and how many points each candidate gets reflects their percentage of the vote in that riding.
It’s an unfair system, one proposal suggests.
“It renders the party vulnerable to a candidate leader who can concentrate his/her resources to gain support from relatively few people in arrangements redolent of the rotten boroughs of 18th century England,” two district associations in Thunder Bay, Ont., and Nepean write.
The way the Tories choose their leader has been a recurring fight at conventions dating back to the merger of the Reform and Progressive Conservative parties in 2004. At the last convention, some tried to get the rules changed to reflect one member, one vote, but ultimately lost.
After that leader is chosen, party members are looking for more control over how long they stay.
There are several calls for more frequent leadership reviews. One is linked to the fact that while in government the Conservatives decided to proceed with lawsuits against veterans and suggest there is no social covenant with them _ despite party policy that urges the contrary.
Requiring leaders to submit to a review at each convention would encourage them to “respect the wishes and direction of the membership,” the South Surrey-White Rock association writes.
Other riding associations suggest a term limit — a leader would only stay eight years after he or she becomes prime minister.
Harper served as prime minister for nine and had he been re-elected, was widely expected to stay on for about another two years.
“Based on past experience, it would be valuable for the grassroots to evaluate the leader of the party on a more regular basis,” one proposal connected to term limits says.
“The grassroots have an ear to the ground and can provide an objective view of the greater majority — the public.”