Monday, January 25, 2010

Harper-Proofing Canadian Democracy: Candidate Nominations

Following up on my earlier posts, let's take a more detailed look at some ways of bring power back to the political grassroots - starting with the law which is normally seen as having centralized power in the office of each Canadian party leader.

Under the Canada Elections Act, the default rule is that a candidate requires a party leader's signature in order to be nominated. On its own, this might seem to be a fairly harmless step - but in retrospect, it can be seen as the source of much of the ability of many party leaders to trample on the grassroots, as preferred candidates can be assured of a nomination while anybody who's seen as dangerously independent can be ruled unfit to run by the central party.

Based on the few party structures actually required by the Canada Elections Act, there aren't many obvious alternatives to endorse candidates Canada-wide. But I wonder if a relatively small change in a nomination process might serve to restore at least some nominating power to the riding level.

After all, the Canada Elections Act does provide for the registration of riding associations (officially "Electoral District Associations"). With those serving as the most obvious possible source of local approval for a candidate, what would happen if the rules for nominations were changed such that where a party has a registered association, it's the riding association's officers who have to sign off on candidate nominations?

This wouldn't make for a cure-all by any stretch of the imagination, as riding associations themselves can only be registered with the approval of a party leader. But at the very least, I'd think it would be a significant source of embarrassment for a party leader to have to de-register a riding association and officially impose a new one in order to control candidate selection - in effect signalling a slight to the party's most visible presence in a riding rather than only to excluded individuals. And there would likely be some real costs to that step as well to the extent the previous riding association has any financial resources or volunteers that don't transfer over.

Again, the ideal solution in both registering riding associations and nominating candidates would be to develop some other mechanism aside from the leader's confirmation to establish a party's approval. But even if that isn't practical (and I wouldn't rule it out entirely - e.g. how does the U.S. certify candidates in the absence of official "leaders"?), it's worth seeing what can be done to loosen the hold that leaders now have on a party's potential candidates - and a direct connection between riding-level officials and candidate nominations would seem to be a good start.

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