At great risk to life and limb, I am going to open a can of worms that the Liberal Party is just going to HAVE to deal with soon. Over the course of the leadership contest, the bold experiment of opening up the vote for all Canadians through the supporter category of Liberal membership has quite impressive and positive results. In fact it was so succesful, that for a short while, the Liberal Party is going to match the Conservative Party fundraising prowess, by tapping into this new pool of friends for monetary contributions. Justin Trudeau re-inforced the Liberals movement in a more open direction in his acceptance speech. Trudeau categorically stated that ALL nomination contests would be precisely that, an openly contested election of the Liberal Party’s candidate for each riding.
For very practical reasons, and a few philosophical ones, I applauded that iron-clad commitment. Philosophy aside, the biggest practical reason is that the Liberal Party has a long way to go before Liberalist has enough committed and motivated supporters to build the monetary and organisational strength of the Conservative Party. Over the coming 2 years, there will be 338 candidates selected, one for each federal riding across Canada. Whether those candidates are selected by closed membership votes, or Primary style supporter votes as I hope, there are going to be a LOT of new members and/or supporters keyed up and ready to GO in the next General Election. It is not unreasonable to expect anywhere from a few hundred new supporters in smaller weaker ridings up to thousands of supporters in perhaps 100 Liberal hotbeds. When added to the hundreds of supporters already identified, many EDA’s will have literally thousands of formally ‘registered’ supporters to call upon for their votes, for their volunteer hours and skills, and yes, for their money. With this kind of boost to the numbers, I would anticipate great gobs of cash, badly needed to fight the next election. This is the positive aspect of contested nominations, and it is hard to refute its significance.
In another vein, I have watched the leadership of the Conservative Party, and I have always been vitally interested in just which constituencies their prowess, and electoral strength actually comes from. From the early days of the Reform Party, the Alliance iteration, and the final destruction of the vestiges of Progressive Conservatism with the birth of the CPC, the Pro-Life movement has been front and centre. According to this Angus Reid Poll, “…one-in-twenty respondents (5%) would actually forbid women from having an abortion.” I do not think it will take much convincing for you to agree with me that this 5% is probably one of the best organised issues based group in the country. I mean, seriously, for most of the pro-life movement, they are literally on a mission from GOD. 20 years ago, this was an issue that divided Canadians right across Party lines, and geographical areas. It was treated pretty gingerly by politicians, and was characterised by open votes in Parliament for that very reason. If you CANNOT whip the vote, you better not even try to. Over the ensuing decades, the Reform Party (think Stockwell Day) and the successor party’s managed to turn this issue into what looked like a partisan issue. There is little doubt that Pro-Life movement has come to be associated with the Conservative Party, and that association has been integral to the fundraising, volunteer, and resulting organisational strength of the CPC. You see, it may only motivate 5% of the populace, but that motivation is strong. Strong enough to get thousands of volunteers out of bed early every day during an election, and hit the streets canvassing kits in hand. The long association of the Reformers and Alliance Party with the Pro-Life movement carried those supporters, and the Party they adhered to through to the grail itself. Majority Government!
Now that is where the wheels are starting to come off the bus for the Conservatives. It is not news that abortion is truly a third rail for the Harper Conservatives. Yes, their Party cannot survive in its current form without the organisational muscle the pro-life movement brings to their ranks, but at the same time this is a divisive issue, where passions run high on both sides. The fact is that it is not possible to win a majority from the electorate while openly seeking to re-regulate abortions in Canada. I would go a step further, and say that even a back-door attempt to pass a major pro-life bill would paralyse the Canadian government by mobilising literally millions of pro-choice men and women across the country to take to the streets. So it is perhaps not surprising that Stephen Harper has categorically rejected any and all attempts to introduce legislation, but he is definitely walking a tightrope, with the fiery pits of political oblivion boiling below. The danger for the CPC is pretty clear. The pro-Life movement might well feel an affinity for the Conservative Party after long association, but their primary motivation, their driving force is predominantly the drive to criminalize abortion. By taking away any hope that a majority meant their victory, their motivation has been removed, and THAT makes for a pretty shaky loyalty to the Conservative brand.
Back to the discussion about open contested nominations, and the potential of the supporter category of Liberal membership. I doubt I need to say it by now, but I think that any Liberal with half a brain knows what is likely to happen when the nominations are thrown wide open. If the nomination contests are open to paid Liberal members only, then a significant number of pro-life activists are going to be joining the Liberal Party, and they will bring little in the way of loyalty to the Liberals with them. If the nomination contests are open for the supporter category to vote, I think that Joyce Murray’s Leadership campaign has amply demonstrated that it is easy for people with zero interest in the Liberal brand to sign up on the spot, and they will do so to support pro-life nomination candidates. I would be willing to bet that Rob Anders for example, or his ideological clones will step forward. They will sweep the nominations in a number of ridings, and be standing for Parliament as Liberal Candidates all over the place. It will mean the death of the Conservative Party, but I suggest that it would be the death of Liberal Party hopes for a majority, or even a coalition government anytime soon. The only un-ambiguously pro-choice Party in Canada is the NDP, and I suggest that if the Liberals field a strong and vocal pro-life caucus of candidates, Canada through a plurality of pro-choice electors would engage in an interesting experiment with the first majority NDP government at the Federal level.
So there it is, and a major conundrum it is. The pro-lifers are motivated to bail from the Conservative Party, provided a credible path to criminalize abortion exists elsewhere. The Liberal Party has an awesome opportunity to engage many hundreds of thousands of Canadians in open primary style nomination contests, but it is probable that this will draw in a fifth column of highly motivated social conservatives. Thats the problem with democratic processes isn’t it? Even the folks we do not like get to have their say. What to do, oh what to do? All I can suggest at this time, is do not simply turn away from the idea of open primary style nominations. That is one potential key for a majority Liberal Government in 2015. Lets try to figure out how to have our cake, and eat it too, ok?