There is no question that the Liberal Party of Canada needs to pick a new leader, and fast. Not only do they have to do it quickly, but they have to do it right.
While Michael Ignatieff might be the right choice, and might even be the winner at a convention, Bob Rae’s observation that a process of installing him is “undemocratic” carries some weight. Simply installing Ignatieff based on polling results and some “consultation” with riding leadership may be prudent, but it’s not smart.
I put “undemocratic” in quotes for two reasons. Firstly, the word has been horribly misused over the past few weeks. All the political drama we have just experienced has been nothing but democracy. Those who call it otherwise are merely uninformed. Anyone who says “I voted for Harper, not Dion” is in desperate need of education on the political system that this country uses. On the second count, the normal process that the Liberals use to pick a leader is anything but democratic. To anyone who wants to argue this, I merely observe that this was the process that got Dion the leadership in the first place.
The “transferable delegate” system might make for great television, but it has clearly been demonstrated that not only is it out of touch with the party grassroots, it doesn’t pick the best leader. Time to chuck this tradition along with Mr. Dion. This time, let’s lose the baby and the bath water.
This gives the Liberals an amazing opportunity to demonstrate that there is a fix for the problem. What they should do is quickly set up an online leadership voting system. They should mail cards with a security PIN code to every party member in good standing. Party members should then be required to combine this PIN with some piece of personal information that’s on file, such as the member’s phone number and year that they joined the party. There will need exception handling process for those who have problems, but I guarantee that they’ll get a democratically elected leader in a short period of time and at a lot less cost than a convention.
The catch to all of this is that we’re talking about a party that can’t manage to get a critical video for a national address done on a reasonable schedule, and even then they can’t do a job that wouldn’t embarrass a grade seven student. It’s painfully evident that the Liberal communications people are under siege at best, or woefully incompetent at worst.
Still, an online leader selection process would be relatively straightforward. I’d even be willing to help implement such a system, because I think real democracy is important. Then we can talk about moving federal elections to a Single Transferable Vote system (in particular, BC-STV) and then maybe we can get on to building governments that are formed from meaningful, relevant, and functional coalitions. It is possible.