Timing, what a thing it can be. It was just yesterday afternoon that I wrote an admittedly long-winded piece on leadership races, their rules and how I thought they should be done. What kicked that off was the opining of Conservative MP Michelle Rempel Garner on Twitter about what her party should do in their case. Well within a few hours of that piece going up, a virtual flood of information about the Conservative Leadership Race came out and I got to admit, some of it is quite something:
Yep, it looks like the race to replace Andrew Scheer is now officially on and Mr. Scheer can book the movers to move him and his family out of Stornoway for before Canada Day. With these details though, there are some very interesting observations to come with this. Firstly, as many on social media have pointed out, June 27th is on Pride Weekend in Toronto, where the Conservative convention will take place. The Metro Toronto Convention Centre is literally blocks away from the largest Pride celebration in the whole country, and given the facts of how the Conservatives ended up in this leadership race to begin with and the tensions in the party, it’s interesting timing to say the least.
There are probably as many delegates to that convention who would go to protest the Pride Parade on the Sunday as participate in it, so it will be interesting to see what those various parts of the Conservative coalition decide to do on that Sunday. The other question should be “Where will the new Conservative leader be on their first day of their leadership?” Given that there will be ample debate in this race about this, a smart socially progressive candidate in that race would not only show up on Sunday after celebrating their win the night before, but would promise to show up there early on in this race. But we’ll see what happens there.
The other undertone of the rules that the Conservatives announced yesterday is one that I spoke to in yesterdays piece, about getting the right balance in the rules. From what I saw of yesterdays announcement some parts of it send a stronger signal than others. Requiring 3,000 signatures is not difficult (especially if it’s just 3,000 periods, with reduced regional requirements), but it is more difficult than the 300 required last time. To me, that’s not a deal breaker.
It’s the other two that I find to be just too far and pretty tone deaf on the part of the Conservatives. A $300,000 entry fee, in Canadian politics, is completely unprecedented. That’s $300,000 before you do so much as print a leaflet for your campaign, and under Elections Canada rules for financing these races, that is extremely difficult. Ask Kevin O’Leary all about those rules and how they stop someone from plunking down a lot of their own money to run for leader (which is a good thing in my mind). This isn’t like it was back in the day when someone could give you a loan for that amount then you raise the money. Granted the rules are better now around donations then they were a decade ago when it comes to leadership races, but having to come up with that kind of money off the hop isn’t a subtle way to tell people not to run, it’s a sledgehammer to the shins. And while I agree that candidates need to show they can raise money, this just seems like an over-the-top figure for such a race. It sends a strong signal to potential candidates for sure.
And is that entry fee wasn’t enough of a message to “Stay the Hell Out| of this race, they added another layer that is just badly thought out. Basically giving potential candidates a total of 10 days to get into a race is just crazy, and gives a massive advantage to people who started to plan and organize for a leadership run as soon as Andrew Scheer resigned or before that time (hint, hint, nudge, nudge). I’m not sure if it’s a good thing for party moral or general fairness to give a huge organizational leg up to any candidate who was trying to create a leadership race while they prepared for it (hypothetically of course), yet this is what this rule does. It also could look like the Conservatives were trying to protect certain candidates, making for a more favourable environment for more establish candidates to run and win. That adds a whole new level of problems that could cause longer standing problems.
The irony of these rules from the Conservatives is that they are using the current minority government situation as a reason to go in June rather than, let’s say, November. Under most minority government scenarios this explanation would make a lot of sense, as time would be of the essence. But as we are starting to see early in the government, this isn’t a very typical minority situation thanks to the influence of the Bloc Quebecois, who have made it very clear they won’t trigger an election anytime soon or put any pressure on other parties to force them to prop up the Liberals. The chances of any minority government going back to the polls less than a year after an election in Canada are very slim. But the chances of this minority government going back to the polls less than a year after this last election are practically zero. There is not fire here, no rush and should be no urgency for the Conservatives to do this in June instead of the Fall. This decision seems more about ensuring a certain result than having a fulsome leadership race.
In the end, leadership races, when done right, can be an invigorating exercise for parties. That usually comes from new voices and ideas becoming a part of the debate, regardless if they win or not. And while I agree that there can be such a thing as too many people in a race (like the 13 the Conservatives had last time or the school bus full the Democrats have seeking their Presidential nomination in the US right now), I believe that things can go too far in the other direction and have their own negative effects. In this case, it feels to me like the Conservatives seriously over adjusted here and in doing so, have open themselves up to criticism from supporters and members while at the same time potentially undermining the potential of what their race could be. As a New Democrat, you could say this should make me happy, which is not to say it doesn’t. But the poli-geek in me can’t help but observe and note when others make big mistakes like this, not only for the effect it will have on their race but for the lessons that other parties can learn from their experience. In any case, it’s official now; the Conservatives will have a new leader by Canada Day and the ground rules, no matter how you judge them, are set. Let the next drama for the Blue Team begin.