Tag Archives: Jimmy Carter

Do the Liberals need a national primary?

Liberal Party of Canada logoJohn Ibbitson thinks they do.

Mr. Rae is touring the country and consulting what political types like to call the grassroots, though Alykhan Velshi, a former aide to Conservative Immigration Minister Jason Kenney, astutely calls them the grasstops. The grasstops are the riding executives, policy wonks, activists and other need-to-get-a-life types who make up the infrastructure of a political party. They’re not the grassroots. You’re the grassroots, and you wouldn’t be caught dead at a Liberal (or Conservative or NDP) barbecue.

Many grasstops belong to one or more of the special interests that weigh down the Liberal Party. The youth commission, the seniors commission, the aboriginal commission, the women’s commission. You can’t swing a dead cat in that party without hitting a commission.

Toss them all out, party executive, and toss yourselves out while you’re at it. But before you go, put forward this proposal for the January convention. Have the next leader chosen through a series of primary contests across the country, in which any Canadian who wants to can cast a ballot.

Right now, the Liberal leader is directly chosen by party members. But it costs money to join and who would want to? People who belong to political parties aren’t entirely normal.

In the United States, you have to register to vote. Everyone who registers as a Democrat or a Republican has a say in that party’s leadership contest through the primaries and caucuses.

This weakens the party elite because outsiders such as Barack Obama (or Bill Clinton or Ronald Reagan or Jimmy Carter) can do an end run around the establishment by appealing directly to voters. Because the weaker a party gets, the more powerful its few surviving poobahs become; a strong party will have a broad base and a weak elite, the very opposite of today’s Liberal Party.

Renewal could come for the Liberals if a leadership contest galvanized hundreds of thousands of people to, say, take out a free one-day party membership so they could vote in the New Brunswick primary, which everyone would be watching because the Northern Ontario primary the week before had vaulted an unknown but charismatic minority candidate into the front ranks of the contest.