Tuesday, December 09, 2008

One Member One Vote - One Good Idea?

As Lembit brings forward his plans to travel to Canada to sink another Liberal (see No end of Liberal leadership elections!) I've seen an interesting opinion piece about the merits of a One Member, One Vote system for selecting aprty leaders at Globe and Mail: Andrew Steele: One member, one vote - one bad idea.

Now it's coming from the starting point that the main parties in Canada use either delegates to a convention or a remote voting system that either way is malapportioned to give each constituency (they use the term "riding") equal voting power regardless of members. That's different from the British system, where One Member One Vote came after elections by only MPs.
Giving up this process would have huge consequences for each party, and for Canadian democracy.

First of all, if all members across the country have equal weight, parties tend to get bigger where they are already big, while getting smaller where they are weak.

If the Conservatives went to OMOV, the huge membership rolls in Alberta and rural B.C. would control the leadership selection process, choosing leaders to the right of the party. These leaders would be popular in these areas of strength, but likely have little attraction where the party is weak: francophone Quebec and urban Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver. Memberships would drop in these areas, while growing in the base.

If the Liberals went to OMOV, the large membership numbers in Toronto – and to a lesser extent Montreal, Vancouver, Ottawa and other urban centres – would dominate the party. Rural Quebec and rural Western Canada would become deserts to the Liberals as leaders became more and more urban in focus to appeal to the members who controlled the party.

To go to OMOV is to abandon the commitment to 308 ridings, a commitment that is the first step in party renewal.

For the Liberals, OMOV would mean the death of riding associations in rural Quebec and rural Alberta.

For the Conservatives, OMOV would mean the end of their Progressive Conservative faction.

For the NDP, OMOV would mean sparks of growth in Quebec would never flare into flame.

OMOV does not renew a party; it speeds its withering away into a regional rump.
Looking at the British parties, is it true that One Member, One Vote has resulted in leaders who only appeal to large memberships in the heartlands? Would we do better with a system based on constituency parties (leaving aside all the problems of members who joined centrally), whereby I would get significantly more voting power than many others, and where in some parties in some constituencies an entire block of votes could be wielded from the back of one taxi-cab?

Bad leaders have been chosen by all systems, but so have good ones. And none have had to face issues about not being the "popular vote" winner the way in the process. Every member has had equal voting power and there hasn't been a drive by members to transfer their membership to weak branches to enhance their say. Nor has it led to a decline in membership in weak areas.

There were attempts to get rid of it in the Conservative Party in 2005, but who would seriously suggest abandoning OMOV now?

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