Choosing the next Grit leaderPosted: April 1, 2013
I’m the type of Liberal – and voter – who has a few lines in the sand that can’t be crossed if you want my support. And that goes for Liberal candidates in my riding, too (my lefty heart will go elsewhere if necessary). For me, you must be pro-choice and pro-same sex marriage. These are true liberal values to me and frankly, if you don’t hold them I don’t know how you can be a Liberal (but perhaps that’s just me).
In terms of which Liberal leadership candidate I’ll be voting for this month, I have a few other factors to consider, too. One is winnability. There’s not much point in selecting a leader who has never held elected office and who isn’t well-known on a national scale. With an election only two years away, these are crucial factors. A bonus is having a seat, right now, in the House of Commons. Without it, I’m not sure how Canadians catapult Karen McCrimmon or Deborah Coyne to 24 Sussex or Stornaway in the next election.
Back to my choice… Once the candidates satisfy the above criteria, I look more closely at their policies. Which, today, brings me to Justin Trudeau, whom I’ve known, albeit not well, for a number of years.
Last week I attended the Empire Club luncheon during which Trudeau was to be giving a speech. Except it wasn’t a speech, it was an informal discussion of sorts. I liked the concept – speeches can be boring – but it felt a little too Inside the Actors’ Studio for my taste. My partner wrote about it in yesterday’s Sun, specifically when Trudeau said he wouldn’t “go negative,” which played out at our table exactly how Warren described it.
There was another moment, too, which was also a story. Trudeau has mentioned this before and I’ve disagreed with it on Sun News but he said it again last week: if elected leader of the Liberal Party of Canada, Trudeau will have open nominations in each riding across the country. Almost all of us around the table had the same reaction: What is he thinking?
In principle, I get it. I understand why people instinctively believe this to be a good thing. How can an open, democratic process be bad?
Two ways, exactly. First, we’ll see fewer women nominated as candidates and, more importantly, very few women nominated in winnable ridings. According to Equal Voice, when women are on the ballot, Canadians don’t discriminate between male and female candidates. The problem, however, is getting them on the ballot in the first place. In 2007, then-Liberal leader Stephane Dion promised that 33% of Grit candidates would be women. However, he was running them in ridings where they had little to no chance of winning. They were, in effect, placeholder candidates. I experienced this myself in 2009 when I was asked to run in Carleton-Mississippi Mills, Minister O’Connor’s riding, which he won in 2008 with 58% of the vote. Forget it, I said.
There is a lot of debate about how we get more women elected in Canada. I would suggest open nominations is not one of them.
Here’s another way an open nomination process is bad: without the party leader holding a candidate veto, you run a huge risk of having candidates represent a party that, well, don’t really represent the party. Trudeau this weekend said on twitter (in an exchange with Kady O’Malley) that he would “require” Liberal MPs to support “Canadians’ fundamental rights,” and that “a woman’s right to choose is a fundamental right.” (As an aside, I like this very much.) So, what happens when he has caucus members who don’t support a woman’s right to choose? Or, MPs who don’t support Canadians’ fundamental rights as Trudeau defines them? Good luck whipping a caucus who got elected through 338 open nominations.
With what Trudeau is advocating, the party runs the risk of having single issue candidates or groups, such as pro-life efforts, take over a riding association and nominate their candidate of choice. I’ve read that other Liberal leaders didn’t have to exercise veto power often, that the provision alone served as a deterrent to such efforts.
Trudeau has said that his goal is to have a “truly representative party,” which, in a perfect world, is a laudable goal. However it fails to acknowledge that women may not have the same access to resources that men do, or face other barriers. Former Prime Minister Jean Chretien understood this and in 1993 appointed nine women candidates – had he not done so, the entire metro Toronto region would have not had a single female Liberal candidate running in the 1993 election. So, if by “truly representative” Trudeau means white and male, then by all means, go for it. But to ensure that our party is actually representative of Canada, and representative of Liberal views, the party leader must retain some element of control over who he, or she, has running for it.
The fact that I don’t agree with Justin on this issue doesn’t mean I won’t be marking an X next to his name on the ballot next week (see paragraphs one and two). But it does mean that if Trudeau is chosen leader, I expect that he will find a way to ensure that women are properly represented in the House of Commons.