Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Renewal: Liberal primaries

The idea of a primary style system being adopted by Liberals for the next leadership selection is the focus of John Ibbitson's column today. An excerpt:
The party executive will unveil a series of proposed reforms in a report later this week, to be decided upon at the party’s January convention. One of those proposals is for the Liberals to adapt the American system of political primaries to a Canadian setting when the party chooses a new leader in 2013.

“We need to give an opportunity to Canadians to have a voice in choosing who our next leader is,” Interim Leader Bob Rae said Monday in an interview. “We want to break the mould a little bit.”
While the exact proposals are to come, I have to admit to being a little excited on reading this. It could really be a major development in Canadian politics.

Coincidentally, the New York Times did a series yesterday on the issue of mandatory voting. Some of what was covered in the various contributions speaks to the rationale behind the primary idea raised above in the context of the Liberal situation. Law professor Richard Pildes said no to mandatory voting and instead made the point that instead you have to make elections more competitive. He said a few interesting things:
If we care about increasing voter turnout, we ought to care about enhancing political competition.

Increasing competition has other benefits as well. Competitive pressures keep elected officials more accountable and responsive to the average voter; these pressures moderate extremist tendencies in politics and governance; and competition generates more information and discussion among voters about issues and candidates. While presidential elections are typically competitive, the majority of other races, including Congressional, are not.
So beyond what this idea might mean for Liberals, it could have a wider impact on the Canadian political system as well. There might be a cascading effect. Turnout is not exactly setting records in this country and could use some shaking up. At the federal level, Harper and his tactics, including unprecedented year round negative advertising, indicate a tendency more toward voter suppression rather than encouraging voting. This might be a way of countering that tendency.

Back to Pildes, he also voiced support for the primary system itself in calling for what I guess what be a greater expansion of an open or semi-open primary system in the U.S. to the states:
Second, states should consider open or semi-open political primaries, in which voters not registered with a political party can vote in the primary of their choice. Broadening the primary electorate by opening participation to independent voters generates more centrist candidates and helps make general elections more competitive.
That is another angle that would become apparent if there were to be a Liberal primary, the types of candidates who might enter a less closed off system.

One of the other questions that might arise is covered in one of the other contributions in the Times, where political scientist Andrew Gelman writes about understanding nonvoters and what way they might lean if they actually voted. There are a few studies cited there that are worth a look. It would be something people would wonder about if a whole new pool of non-Liberals could vote in a primary, what kind of orientation would they have, what type of candidate would they be inclined to support, etc.

Anyway, interesting coincidence that all that material presented itself as a backdrop to possible primary proposals being in the Liberal mix for discussion. We'll see what they are and it should be an interesting debate.

See also: "Liberal Party executive at last proposes substantive change."